NATO’s deputy secretary general has reaffirmed the alliance’s commitment to Turkish security, telling senior students at the Turkish National Defense University in Istanbul that “NATO stands in solidarity with Turkey in the fight against terrorism.”
Rose Gottemoller’s address on Tuesday comes a day after Turkish forces launched a new offensive against American-allied Kurdish forces in northwestern Syria.
The recent Turkish incursion into Syria to fight the Kurds, who Turkey believes pose an existential terrorist threat, is only the latest point of conflict among alliance members. Despite strong protests from NATO allies, Turkey recently finalized a deal for Russia’s S-400 surface-to-air defense system in favor of the American Patriot or Franco-Italian SAMP/T systems, and plans to borrow money in rubles instead of U.S. dollars.
Additionally, in a blunder by a Norwegian private contractor, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the country’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, were included on an “enemy chart” during a NATO military exercise, leading Turkey to withdraw 40 troops from the drill.
In an attempt to cool tension, Gottemoller outlined mutual benefits Turkey and NATO receive through the country’s membership. Gottemoller specificially highlighted NATO’s contribution to Turkish air defenses.
“Today, Patriot and SAMP/T systems help to defend Turkey against the threat of missiles from across the border in Syria. This mission is important now more than ever, and the allies are committed to it,” she said.
The deputy secretary also noted the role Turkey’s Konya air base serves as a forward-operating base for NATO airborne warning and control system surveillance aircraft. With an eye to the East, Gottemoller commented on NATO’s increased naval presence in the Black Sea and eastern Mediterranean, the later of which has served as a common launch point for Russian cruise missiles into Syria.
Looking forward to NATO’s 2018 Brussels Summit, Gottemoller promised attendees that “terrorism will be front and center.” Other issues at the top of the summit’s agenda will be Russia, the reorganization of NATO’s command structure, and additional security cooperation between NATO and the European Union.
Daniel Cebul is an editorial fellow and general assignments writer for Defense News, C4ISRNET, Fifth Domain and Federal Times.