NATO is having a summit.
Among other things, the situation in Syria will be addressed.
Specifically, NATO wishes to address this fact:
Turkey is holding up a defense agreement for the protection of the Baltics from Russian aggression unless NATO pledges to label the YPG of the Syrian Democratic Forces a terrorist group and assist Turkey in their destruction.
This is very difficult to follow in the American news media as the situation in Syria tends to be divorced in coverage from the political context.
The result of this disconnect is that it appears that little can be done when, in fact, as we shall see below, it’s really a matter of political will.
But first: Erdogan’s opening salvo right before the talks to set the scene.
We will get to that later, at the end of the piece. The images are difficult to view and I want to give readers the option of reading this post and not seeing them if they so choose.
I think the images are important, but I understand they are deeply disturbing.
So first, we’ll go over how Rojava and the conflict in Syria fit into the NATO meetings and the politics. And then we will return to the news of the mortar shelling of the school.
Back to NATO
The Masters of the Universe are having a summit beginning tomorrow in London.
Among the biggest issues to be addressed is Turkey’s refusal to sign onto Baltic defense against Russian aggression unless NATO agrees to classify the YPG as a terrorist organization and agree to help fight them.
Al-Monitor: Acrimony erupts ahead of NATO summit as Turkey stalls defense plans
Turkey wants NATO to support its fight against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), including designating the group a terrorist organization, before it signs off on plans to defend the alliance’s eastern flank against Russia. Turkey entered northeast Syria in October, forcing Trump to hastily evacuate troops who were battling the Islamic State (IS) alongside the Kurdish militia, without consulting European partners; this effectively turned over territory to Russia and the Syrian government.
Turkey can’t expect solidarity from NATO if it presents a “fait accompli of a military intervention which endangers operations against IS by the coalition, of which NATO is a member,” Macron said Thursday. Turkey has drawn the ire of other European countries for the invasion.
The acrimony reached full throttle Friday when Erdogan called Macron “very inexperienced” and told him to “check your own brain death first.” France in turn summoned the Turkish ambassador over the insults.
American sources are barely even covering Syria at NATO, even though Turkey’s demands with respect to Syria, like, hold up all of NATO. They literally call NATO itself into questions.
Seems relevant, one would think.
Everyone in the world, especially people on the ground in Syria, knows that’s what this meeting is about—what it has to be about. NATO.
Like, beyond Syria, it’s about the integrity—and not just moral—of NATO. Turkey’s pressure is an existential level crisis for the organization, as Macron of France has been trying to tell anyone who will listen. Which is nobody.
Instead, it’s presented here as mostly ego battles between leaders, what with Turkey buying the S-400 air defense system from Russia, which is a thing that happened, yes, but as a way of framing the summit it is basically wrong on its face.
I mean, even bracketing the awfulness in Syria—to hell with the Baltics, amirite?
What do they have to do with NATO and defense against Russia anyway, right?
NATO Summit in the News
Time: What to Know About the 2019 NATO Summit
The biggest issue on the agenda is what Macron was referring to in his “brain death” comments. Macron’s intervention was a thinly-veiled criticism of President Trump, the commander in chief of the U.S. military — the force that has largely underpinned NATO’s might since 1949. Trump has said the U.S. is footing too much of NATO’s military bill, and has suggested he could pull out of the alliance unless other members begin to spend 2% of their GDP on defense.
In October, Trump withdrew U.S. troops from northeast Syria, clearing the way for a Turkish incursion against Syrian Kurds in the region — longstanding allies of the U.S. in the fight against ISIS, but seen by Turkey as enemies. Trump’s move angered Macron because he refused to notify NATO members of his decision before acting on it.
The French leader has made his frustration clear at Trump’s unilateralism, and will be seeking to convince the U.S. President to think about foreign policy in terms of Western interests instead of through his America-first lens.
“You have no coordination whatsoever of strategic decision-making between the United States and its NATO allies. None,” Macron told the Economist ahead of the summit. “You have an uncoordinated aggressive action by another NATO ally, Turkey, in an area where our interests are at stake.”
So according to Time, the issue with Syria is that Trump didn’t warn Macron about pulling US troops out. Plus they’re gonna talk about China and space.
Space is cool, I guess. I like space.
Rojava is responding with pictures of their dead kids. Frequently with apologies for doing so, but sharing them nonetheless, as hard as that must be. (See below.)
Turkey appears unfazed by these messaging tactics insofar as they appear willing, by recent and current shelling, to provide more such pictures for the world.
Like, basically right now.
The View from America
Despite the atrocities being committed in Rojava and Syria by a NATO member, American media continue to portray the problem as one of Turkey refusing to cooperate on Baltic defense over some silly sticking point or another.
Reuters: Exclusive: U.S. defense chief calls on Turkey to stop holding up NATO readiness plan
LONDON (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper urged Turkey on Monday to stop holding up support for a NATO defense plan for the Baltics and Poland, as Ankara presses the alliance to support its fight against U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG militia in Syria.
In an interview with Reuters ahead of the NATO summit, Esper warned Ankara that “not everybody sees the threats that they see” and added he would not support labeling the YPG as terrorists to break the impasse.
Of course, Turkey doesn’t care about the Baltics—though Russia surely does—but rather is basically staging a grand performance demonstrating Erdogan’s ability to paralyze NATO and hold it hostage.
Turkey is effectively stating that it expects not only non-intervention on the part of The West, but expects its active support.
NATO, of course, has no constitutional way of expelling a member and constitutional amendments require unanimous approval.
Because apparently they don’t remember what WWII was, somehow. But that’s how NATO was started. It’s a mess.
Turkish Independence of NATO
Now, it’s not clear that Turkey had the school shelled on purpose to make a statement, or if it’s just more of the ongoing fighting that is ultimately meant to drive the people from their homes.
But it should be noted that, though not by Turkey, this has happened before in a similar way in roughly the same place, and it received international attention.
That is to say, it’s a meaningful place to do something like this.
New York Times: Children’s Art at Syria School, and Then a Bomb
Organizers had worked until dawn hanging children’s artwork on the wall of an elementary school in Syria’s largest city: a bright green tank under a round yellow sun, a girl in pigtails defying a soldier’s bullets, a missile plunging from a warplane toward the school building.
But hours before the exhibit was to open on Wednesday, creating a rare space for children’s creativity in a ravaged district of the northern city of Aleppo, Syrian government aircraft bombarded the school, residents and anti-government activists said. At least 20 people, including 17 students and two teachers, were killed, they said, and many were wounded, including the school principal and the local artist who mounted the exhibit.
Whether or not that was a strategic power chess move to hit the school in Aleppo the day before the NATIO summit, it is undoubtedly symbolic for the people on the ground, as this is the site of some of the greatest atrocities and humanitarian disasters of the war on ISIS.
The war on ISIS, which continues to this day, is of course the reason for the international coalition’s Operation Inherent Resolve in the first place, and remains the reason for the US military’s continued presence.
Finally, the politics of NATO trying to get Turkey to agree to Baltic defense while Turkey demands support in designating YPG of the SDF, the US military’s stated partners in fighting ISIS, as a terrorist organization, is really just the context for the larger unspoken issue:
Turkey’s will to operate independently of the norms of NATO.
We set up NATO for a reason, y’know.
Apparently intelligence analysts think the whole S-400 business with Russia is really actually about being able to protect Erdogan from a potential coup launched with the support of Turkey’s own air force’s US built jet fighters.
This is bad.
It’s actually turns out to be pretty obvious.
Center for Strategic & International Studies (wiki): Coup-proofing? Making Sense of Turkey’s S-400 Decision
Stated U.S. concerns about the deal have primarily centered on the threat to the advanced F-35 tactical aircraft Turkey was slated to acquire. Most of the time, the F-35 flies with an exaggerated radar signature so that anyone observing it will not see its true signature. Turkish operation of the two systems together—and more specifically, when it is in stealth mode—would allow the S-400 to acquire intimate knowledge of the F-35’s radar signature. Such insights would almost immediately find its way back to Russia, and the capability of F-35s around the world could thereby be degraded. The location of the Russian sensors on the territory of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally also provides a more forward-based position from which to observe other NATO aircraft and military exercises.
Analysts have struggled to explain Turkey’s air defense actions. Western officials and analysts alike have gone, as it were, through four of the five stages of grief: denial that Turkey would go through with a seemingly inexplicable decision, anger at the repercussions for the NATO alliance and threats to withdraw F-35 participation, bargaining with renewed offers for the Patriot, and now depression over the forthcoming deployment.
Getting to the acceptance stage requires an appreciation of Turkey’s foreign and domestic political calculations, above all Erdogan’s desire for survival. Analysts have been scratching their heads as to the U.S. failure to dissuade Erdogan, but Occam’s razor may be helpful here. Erdogan may want the S-400 for the exact reason the United States does not want Turkey to have it: precisely because it is built to shoot down the American-made aircraft currently operated by the Turkish Air Force. Both political and military aspects of the S-400 decision make sense inasmuch as Erdogan’s top priority is his own political survival.
So Turkey buying the S-400 from Russia is really about the bad guys in the world trying to get the goods on the fifth-generation stealth F-35 Lightning II air superiority aircraft (wiki).
That’s bad. I mean, it’s Mission Impossible plot line bad.
Let’s also remember that Turkey could have just had the F-35. They were kicked out of the program for buying the S-400 from Russia.
So Turkey chose the ability potentially to shoot down the F-35 over the F-35 itself.
And yet, it’s worse.
A Capability to Shoot Down Its Own Planes
During the Turkish military’s attempted coup in July 2016, Turkish F-16 pilots bombed the Turkish Parliament and threatened Erdogan’s own plane. In the months that followed, Erdogan tried to “coup-proof” the country through mass arrests and by reportedly purging some 2,600 military officers, including half of Turkey’s fighter pilots.
Acquiring the S-400 may, in short, be part of Erdogan’s hedge against another coup, both by deepening his strategic relationship with Russia and by acquiring specific air defenses meant to combat another attempt to overthrow him.
Acquisition of the Patriot system would not fit in with Erdogan’s developing partnership with Russia. Nor would it suffice as coup insurance, since it is not tailored to shoot down Western aircraft. Having accused the United States of being behind the 2016 coup, Erdogan may be distrustful of U.S. air defenses to protect him in the future. Whether he is better off staking his survival on the Russians remains to be seen.
So Turkey wants two things out of this NATO summit:
- The ability to insulate itself from any threat from NATO powers.
- The acquiescence and even support of NATO in Turkey’s efforts to assert itself over the region with an eye to a return to the greatness of the Ottoman Empire with Erdogan at its head.
This ultimately all rests on Turkey’s—and Russia’s—ability to maneuver Turkey in such a way that NATO’s treaty obligations work against NATO’s norms and mission.
So at the end of the day, this really is a battle of political will—as true a battle of wills as we are wont to see these days.
Which is why it’s vitally important that people understand what is going on, and how the politics of the thing fit into the larger context of what Turkey is trying to do and how.
Which gets us back to Rojava. First, a plea from the ground.
Following this will be disturbing images; as per above, I think it’s important, but also, I feel obligated to offer fair warning. It’s bad.
An Open Appeal to NATO.
WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES
This really is the only way to understand what is going on on the ground, what is happening in the war, and what it means to the people there.
Meanwhile, in Idlib:
One would think that the member states of NATO would just, like, set up a new NATO without Turkey. NATO.2 or something clever like that.
But to do so, all the countries would have to break the norms upon which such organizations are based. So there can be no faith in the institutions.
Or so it is alleged by those who would destroy them.