Dec 03: The Meaning of Terrorism & the Meaning of NATO

OK, so the NATO summit is an unholy disaster on every level and a few that I hadn’t imagined possible.

But because it’s all high tea diplomacy, it looks like a couple people got their feathers ruffled and that’s about it.

Meanwhile, NATO is being challenged at its most existential core of legitimacy and has not responded to push with shove. There is an indictment of basically western civilization going on and NATO is not covering us in glory.

tl;dr: NATO is being challenged to come out and say that states cannot engage in racist policy and NATO is refusing to do so. This means that no people of non-European descent/extraction should ever trust NATO ever again because NATO will not support its central philosophic claim and justification that trust can transcend  things like racial and ethnic division.

So this is actually very bad. But let’s work through the coverage and the arguments.

Let’s start with the core practical issue that informs all else: Turkey is supporting terrorists.

Macron Accuses Turkey of Cooperating with ISIS Proxies

This is not a factually contentious claim in real life.

And yet.

Ahval: Macron accuses Turkey of cooperating with ISIS proxies – live blog

The first day of the NATO leaders summit in London was marked by a tense press conference between U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron, as the pair traded barbs over Turkey and Islamic State (ISIS) fighters.

The French president expressed concern regarding the lack of agreement by Nato members on the definition of terrorism, pointing to Turkey and its designation as terrorists of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Democratic Forces (YPG), which make up the bulk of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), allies of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS in Syria.

Macron also accused Turkey of working with ISIS forces in Syria, where it has launched an offensive targeting the YPG.

Turkey’s decision to buy and begin testing the S-400 Russian missile system was also a topic of contention on the first day of the summit as Macron questioned how a NATO member could purchase a system that is not compliant with the alliance. Trump, for his part, blamed the previous U.S. administration for refusing to sell Turkey the U.S. Patriot System, forcing Ankara to turn to Russia.

Ankara is expected to face further blowback during the summit from members of the world’s largest military alliance, which it has been a part of since 1952, over the risk NATO believes the Russian system poses.

The United States in July removed Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet programme after it began to take delivery of the Russian system and has threatened Ankara with potential sanctions.

The United States and its NATO allies see the Russian system as incompatible with NATO systems and posing a security threat to the F-35 stealth fighter.

A deal signed between Ankara and Libya’s internationally recognised government last week denoting new maritime boundaries in the between the two nations is also likely to be at the fore of the summit.

Athens has said it will seek support from NATO during the two-day gathering, condemning the accord as contrary to international law.

That’s a pretty good run down, possibly because it’s from a foreign paper; the only really good write-up I’ve found in a US based source is from U.S. News which I link to below.

In that vein, here’s a very good 03m30s video from Voice of America that frames things very nicely—and which is, of course, put out by the USA.

VOA: NATO Leaders Clash as Alliance Marks 70th Anniversary

The meeting of NATO leaders in London to mark the alliance’s 70th anniversary got off to a difficult start Tuesday as the leaders of the United States, France and Turkey clashed over burden sharing and the future direction of the alliance. The official summit is set to take place Wednesday, where the various threats to NATO are due to be discussed – but as Henry Ridgwell reports, the biggest challenge could be keeping a lid on tensions within the organization.

The Challenge

I said before that the key practical issue confronting NATO is Erdogan’s support of terrorism. This issue manifests itself in two ways, macro and micro:

  • Turkey is challenging NATO to recognize and support its campaign to exterminate the Kurds; otherwise Turkey will withhold it’s support for a new defense plan for Poland and the Baltics against Russian aggression.
  • Embedded within that broad challenge is the more forthright, physical, challenge to NATO that Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 air defense system from Russia represents.

Reuters: Turkey to oppose NATO plan if it fails to recognize terrorism threats: Erdogan

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey will oppose NATO’s plan for the defense of Baltic countries if the alliance does not recognize groups that Turkey deems terrorists, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday, ahead of a NATO alliance summit in London.

Relations between Turkey and its NATO allies have been strained over a host of issues, ranging from Ankara’s decision to procure Russian air defense systems to Syria policy. Several NATO members condemned Turkey’s decision to launch an offensive into northeastern Syria against the Kurdish YPG militia.

Ankara has refused to back a NATO defense plan for the Baltics and Poland until it receives more support for its battle with the YPG, which it views as a terrorist organization.

The Reuters article goes on to note the statement that Erdogan made before leaving for London.

Al-Monitor: Erdogan to hold up NATO plan unless allies recognize terror threats against Turkey

Speaking as he departed for the NATO summit in London Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reaffirmed he would oppose a defense plan for the Baltic nations and Poland unless the allies classify a Kurdish militia as a terrorist organization.

“If our friends at NATO do not recognize as terrorist organizations those we consider terrorist organizations … we will stand against any step that will be taken there,” Erdogan said, referring to the Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northeast Syria against which Ankara launched a military operation in October.


Erdogan is insisting that two things that ought not to be linked, specifically, Turkey’s willingness to fulfill it’s already existing treaty obligations under NATO, and Erdogan’s ethnic cleansing efforts in northern Syria.

Erdogan links the issues by claiming that they are both NATO obligations under the treaty; that NATO supporting Turkey in fighting against the Kurds is no less valid than NATO demands that Turkey support Poland and the Baltics against Russia.

By making this a quid pro quo, Erdogan not only links the issues for purposes of pursuing his ethnic cleansing, but also moves the focus to NATO.

What we will learn is that this accomplishes two things.

  • It promotes his ability to continue his campaign against the Kurds and other peoples of northern Syria
  • It calls into question the very justification for NATO and the legitimacy of its interventions in the world at the most fundamental levels.

It’s pretty bad.

That the challenge is much larger in scope than is widely realized seems to be what is driving French President Macron to push for clarification:

  • recently, when Macron urged a reassessment and consideration of what NATIO is supposed to be all about;
  • And now for, for an accounting of what exactly it is Turkey is doing in the world.

Reuters: Macron says time for Turkey to clarify ambiguous stance on Islamic State

LONDON (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron accused Turkey on Tuesday of working with Islamic State proxies and said Ankara’s ambiguity toward the group was detrimental to its NATO allies fighting in Syria and Iraq.

Relations between Macron and Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan have soured ahead of Wednesday’s NATO summit in London with the two leaders trading barbs over Ankara’s cross-border offensive in northeast Syria targeting Kurdish militias.

Speaking alongside U.S. President Donald Trump, Macron directly linked Turkey to Islamic State fighters, while dismissing Trump’s concerns that Paris was not bringing home French Islamic State fighters held by Kurdish groups in Syria.

“The common enemy today is the terrorist groups. I’m sorry to say, we don’t have the same definition of terrorism around the table,” Macron told reporters.

“When I look at Turkey they are fighting against those who fought with us shoulder to shoulder against ISIS (Islamic State) and sometimes they work with ISIS proxies.”

Turkey has threatened to block a plan to defend Baltic states and Poland against Russian attacks unless the alliance backs Ankara in recognizing the Kurdish YPG militia as a terrorist group.

The YPG’s fighters have long been U.S. and French allies on the ground against Islamic State in Syria. Turkey considers them an enemy because of links to Kurdish insurgents in southeastern Turkey.

“I think any ambiguity with Turkey vis-a-vis these groups is detrimental to everybody for the situation on the ground,” Macron said. “The number one (priority) is not to be ambiguous with these groups, which is why we started to discuss our relations with Turkey.”

Now, what has happened is that Macron has taken a lot of flak for taking this stance, both in terms of insults and abuse from Erdogan and Trump, but also general criticism for engaging in ego wars with these other high powered characters.

Before looking at that, though, in the interests of further clarification: The Baltics don’t think the defense plan discussion is a big deal.

Like, at all—if anything, they have some minor security concerns about even having it.

Defense News: Two Baltic defense chiefs shrug off Turkish threat to freeze NATO’s eastern defense plans

But to Raimundas Karoblis and Jüri Luik, the defense ministers of Lithuania and Estonia, respectively, the kerfuffle over the latter issue seems almost pedestrian, based on their comments at Tuesday’s NATO Engages think tank powwow in central London.

“It’s only one of the topics we have at NATO,” Karoblis said during a panel discussion. “Life will continue. We’ll see.”

Karoblis previously said his government seeks “more precise defense planning” capabilities, greater alliance help with air defense as well as more military exercises involving NATO partners. The batch of plans now blocked by Turkey constitutes a “revision” and an “adjustment” to contingency plans already in effect, he said.

Luik said he is “sad” to see the issue of defense plans — which exist for all countries bordering Russia — make it into the public sphere, given that documents related to the topic are highly sensitive.

“I am absolutely sure that we will find a compromise,” Luik said. “If we don’t find a compromise here, we hopefully will find it a bit later.”

So Macron has pushed for everyone to be clear about what this is really about.

His contention that a lot of this is a distortion is clearly supported by the fact that the Baltics think this is dumb.

How Rude of Macron to Say So.

So now there’s tons of smoke swirling about any attempt to discern the underlying threads of what is going on because Macron has been accused of incivility.

And lots of people are more than willing to run with the soap opera.

euronews: Macron and Erdogan to discuss Turkey’s Syria offensive after ‘brain dead’ insult

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson could be hosting a testy affair, with the Turkish president telling his French counterpart on Friday “you should check whether you are brain dead”, in response to Macron’s recent comments about NATO.

The French president said last month that NATO was experiencing “brain death”, due to American unpredictability, and the Turkish offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria, which has strained relations within the military alliance.

Macron’s comments sparked a war of words between the two leaders, with Erdogan accusing him of having a “sick and shallow” understanding of the situation.

The French foreign ministry summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Paris in response, with a French presidential adviser calling the words “insults”.

The issues at the summit are frequently described in terms of personality conflicts between the leaders.

This framing undermines legitimate concerns by suggesting the problems are simply ones of ego or style.

This framing in turn colors how the negotiations are viewed and interpreted.

Ahval: U.S. should avoid knee-jerk responses in Turkey policy – analyst

Washington, in recognising Turkey’s drift away from NATO, should refrain from moves that do not people of Turkey and the United States and ensure it maintains credibility in the Middle East and eastern Europe, wrote Nate Schenkkan, director for special research at Freedom House.

Turkey has proven its strategic realignment away from the United States and NATO under the autocratic rule of Erdoğan, Schenkkan wrote, but Washingon must take steps demonstrating U.S. support for democratic actors in Turkey and across the region.

A recurring mistake in U.S. policy on Turkey over the past decade has been subordination to the Syria policy, the article said, pointing to Turkey’s latest offensive in Syria.

Certainly, personality conflicts ought not to dominate important decisions, so caution and restraint are urged; it just seems appropriate until people cool down a bit, yeah?

Let’s revisit the 02m02s of that VOA video from before.

VOA: NATO Leaders Clash as Alliance Marks 70th Anniversary


Analysts say NATO is suffering from a clash of personalities.

Kori Schake — International Institute for Strategic Studies

This summit has the three presidents problem. President Trump, President Macron, and President Erdogan.

And the challenge for the institution is celebratin NATO’s 70th anniversary without one of those three Presiddent’s driving the whole things off the rails.

So apparently the progressive neo-liberal view is the super-woke insight that toxic masculinity can get in the way of things… in this case, the celebration of NATO’s birthday.

I’m at a loss here. Not really a score-one-for-the-good-guys moment here.

But, I guess it makes sense. Because, as already noted above, this is a rhetorical tactic employed by Erdogan and, since everything else he’s done has worked, why wouldn’t this work too?

Anybody who cares to do so can learn easily enough what this is really about, yeah? And it’s a lot more than a couple’s spat.

To whit:

Ahval: Turkey and NATO locked in failed marriage

“Rather than Erdoğan’s spat with Macron, Turkey’s purchase and testing of Russian S-400 missile defence systems and blocking the NATO defence plan for Poland and the Baltics are two examples of the major shift in Turkey’s axis,” said Süleyman Özeren, a Turkey expert at George Mason University.

“The spat with Macron was a tactical move for Erdoğan to divert attention from this shift,” he said. “Erdoğan also aims to gain Trump’s sympathy by attacking Macron and NATO alliance ahead of the summit in London.”

While Özeren anticipates some issues may be resolved at the summit “Erdoğan will probably seek new opportunities to play the black sheep of the family in NATO.”

“Erdoğan’s quest for crisis with NATO also reflects the ideological position of the Eurasianist bureaucratic and military structure in Turkey and his alignment with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin,” he said.

Özeren said Erdoğan was tactically using his country’s NATO membership as “leverage and a bargaining chip against the rest of the alliance.”

So Erdogan’s strategy is to use everyone’s incredible wokeness to his advantage to make Macron look like a big meanie for bringing up his Kurdish extermination campaign, one which Erdogan wants them to help them by the way, just because he’s being so damned prickly and, you know, French about it.

And it’s working.

I wonder what people close to the ground think about something like this.

Good talk.

The Real Issue

So, bracketing for the moment whether or not Macron is a jerk—I really don’t have an opinion on the matter and don’t know enough to form one—let’s look at Mr. Macron’s alleged “point.”

“Shoulder to shoulder.” That’s the US military’s line.

Macron is talking about who is and is not a terrorist.

And he’s talking about we say and agree is and is not a terrorist—who we define and designate as terrorsits.

This designation is terribly important in a world where identification of a person as a terrorist provides legitimate justification to kill them.

Macron is almost definitionally correct to emphasize this issue, as it is fundamentally the issue that Erdogan himself is pushing:

Erdogan wants NATO to legitimize his ethnic cleansing campaign by using the magic words that YPG are terrorists.

This is Turkey’s claim but, of course, there is disagreement on this issue.

Erdogan is demanding that NATO take a side.

As per above, critical to Erdogan’s argument is that Turkey asking NATO to validate and support the campaign against the Kurds is functionally equivalent with pledging to support member states against Russian aggression.

He’s saying they are the same.

Lest anyone still think this is an ego battle with Macron, he’s not only not alone on this matter, but supported by no less than the US Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper.

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.

The kicker to reducing things to a clash of personalities issue is that it makes the subject matter less real, to seem to have less substance.

This is not a hypothetical or academic matter, but one which Erodgan has made an issue of substantive concern with the purchase of the S-400 air defense system from Russia.

Turkey Chooses to Threaten NATO

Many are reporting on Macron’s claim that Turkey can’t buy the S-400 and still be a member of NATO.

This takes some unpacking to understand why a single defense system could be so consequential, but it does make sense in the end.

Horrible, horrible sense. But first, here’s how the contention works.

First, this claim France is making comes in the context not only of past sales, but future as well.

Ahval: Turkish official says new deal for Russian S-400s close at hand

A security official from the Turkish Presidency said the country would soon purchase more Russian S-400 missile defence systems, Reuters reported on Monday, citing Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

“The date of the purchase of a second set of S-400s is just a technical question. I think it will happen before too long,” Reuters cited the official as saying.

Al-Monitor: Turkey flirts with buying even more Russian missile systems

Russia and Turkey have both confirmed they are considering a new deal for Ankara to purchase more S-400 missile systems despite the threat of US sanctions, a Russian news agency reports. However, Turkey appears to be offering a compromise to the United States.

Alexander Mikheev, director general of Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport, said Nov. 26 that Moscow hopes to seal a new deal on the sale of S-400 missile systems to Turkey in the first half of next year. Rosoboronexport is currently under sanctions by the United States for selling weapons to Iran, North Korea and Syria.

“We hope that in the first half of 2020 we will sign the contract documents,” Mikheev said, as cited by RIA News.

He added, “But I want to stress that military technical cooperation with Turkey is not limited to the supply of the S-400s. We have big plans ahead.

The critical thing to understand here is that the problem is not that Turkey is buying weapons from Russia Rather, the concern is that possession of this specific weapon system means alters the balance of power between NATO, Turkey, and Russia.

Specifically, given possession of US built fighters by Turkey, the simultaneous possession of the S-400 allows Turkey and, almost certainly by extension, Russia to learn about the capabilities of NATO aircraft for the purpose of defeating them.

As per the Al-Monitor article above, what appears to be an issue of technical integration of weapons systems and who buys what from whom is in practice:

  • a push for Turkish military independence with respect to NATO;
  • an attempt to insulate Erdogan against a military backed coup in his home country.

Several Russian military experts told the prominent Kommersant newspaper that in the current situation, Ankara is attempting to use more than mere rhetoric to gain room to maneuver. The experts conclude that Turkish Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar’s statement that the S-400 would operate autonomously, without being integrated into the NATO air defense system, represents Turkey’s first compromise with its Western allies. Turkey’s NATO allies view the S-400’s integration into the NATO structure as a threat to their security. Washington worries that Russian engineers could access sensitive information about the US F-35 fighter jet.

It is debatable, however, whether Turkey’s offer indeed represents a “compromise.” Integration would be technically and politically quite challenging.

Ret. Col. Mikhail Hodarenok, a Russian military expert and columnist, said he believes that aligning S-400 controls with the automated combat control systems of NATO air defense equipment is technically possible, yet a lot depends on the time and associated costs. To achieve such integration, he argues, specialists would need to solve such problems as frequency alignment, equipment communication compatibility, installation and coding of the target identification system. This would require cooperation between Russian and NATO developers, which is politically impossible.

Thus, the necessity of expensive and complex technical maintenance inherently limits the S-400’s functionality. Without integration, a Russian identification radar can be substituted for a Turkish one to ensure that Turkish forces are independent from the S-400 provider while working with NATO air defense systems.

The political factor is also important in this.

A two-day military exercise at Turkey’s Murted Air Base, which happened to be held on the anniversary of Turkey’s downing of a Russian fighter jet, is a flashy illustration of paradoxical relations in the Russia-Turkey-NATO triangle. In 2015, following the Nov. 24 jet crisis, Moscow rapidly deployed S-400 components in Syria — not only to restrain Turkey, but also to monitor the actions of NATO air forces from the Incirlik base. Currently, Turkish officers are testing Russian-made radars using F-16 Viper and F-4 Phantom jets made in the United States.

The shift of Ankara’s focus in developing its air defense is also significant. In 2012, Syrians downed a Turkish F-4 Phantom aircraft. In 2013, Syrian capabilities were at the core of threats posed to Turkey. Nowadays, however, Ankara is trying to track the threat of American-made aircraft by deploying the S-400 equipped with the Russian substitute radar.

Since the Russian-Turkish rapprochement, cooperation between Moscow and Ankara has been marked by a number of barter deals, with the S-400 agreement standing out as the central one. Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, rightly points out that the deal was entirely a political decision, since the limited use of the S-400 system did not objectively meet the demands the Turkish government had made during the tender for Turkey’s long-range air and missile defense system. Back then, China’s HQ-9 systems won the competition, but in 2015 Turkey had to break that contract under NATO pressure.

The purchase of S-400s was ultimately triggered by the 2016 attempted coup in Turkey. Those who rebelled against Erdogan used American F-16 jets and AH-1 Super Cobra helicopters to attack government buildings, the hotel where Erdogan was staying for the moment and the presidential residence area. To keep the jets in the air long enough, KC-135R fuel tankers had to be brought in from Incirlik Air Base. Several months later, Turkey announced the S-400 negotiations.

Thus, the S-400 agreement helped Ankara create independent, object-oriented air defense systems —– an area fraught with conflict with the United States in any case — but one that Turkey otherwise would have difficulty achieving if not for Moscow. At the same time, limited use of the S-400 is the card Erdogan is likely to play with Washington now that US President Donald Trump seems ready to turn a blind eye to Ankara’s steps beyond the “red line.”

There may be an ego war here, but that’s not the only thing going on here.

Turkey is threatening NATO.

One of the things that is distressingly annoying even within all the awful is how the drive to sensationalism in the reporting and how it frames issues causes good info to be lost in fray.

Based on the title, I thought this would be clickbait.

Arab News: Trump slams European allies before NATO summit in London

  • Trump warned he could see France ‘breaking off’ from the allies, after Macron in an interview criticized NATO’s leadership and strategy
  • Trump demanded that Europe pay more for defense and also make concessions to US interests on trade

Like, that’s a horrible way of framing this in terms of points of emphasis.

But then it offers us this gem.

Under NATO’s 1949 founding treaty, an attack on one ally is an attack on all, and the alliance has military strategies for collective defense across its territory.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday branded NATO’s continued expansion as pointless because the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 had removed the threat, and told a meeting of military leaders in Sochi that it was a danger for Russia.

While Trump hailed Turkey as a good NATO ally, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper earlier warned Ankara in a Reuters interview that “not everybody sees the threats that they see” and urged it to stop blocking the Baltics plan.

So yeah: The purchase of the S-400 is an implict attack on NATO.

Moreover, as per below, it’s not only an attack on NATO military capabilities, but on its very claims of legitimacy as a world organization of any kind, much less a military one.

Erdogan is challenging NATO to prove it’s not just as racist as everyone else.

“NATO”‘s Response

So how is NATO responding?

That question is complicated by a gap between what the member states want and what positions NATO is able to take.

Reuters: UK, France, Germany, Turkey say attacks on civilians in Syria must end

LONDON (Reuters) – All attacks against Syrian civilians, including in the rebel-held area of Idlib, must end, the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Turkey agreed on Tuesday ahead of a NATO summit in London.

“The leaders said they would work to create the conditions for the safe, voluntary and sustainable return of refugees and that the fight must be continued against terrorism in all its forms,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said in a statement.

Johnson, France’s Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Angela Merkel and Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan also said they supported U.N. Libya envoy, Ghassan Salame, in efforts to move forward with a Libyan-owned political process to end conflict in the country.

OK, so that’s good. I mean, it hasn’t actually done any good. But it’s a start, I guess.

But how is NATO responding.

Reuters: NATO will respond to any attack on Poland or Baltics: Stoltenberg

WARSAW (Reuters) – The NATO alliance will respond to any attack on Poland or the Baltic countries, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in an interview published on Tuesday.

“Through the presence of NATO forces in Poland and in the Baltic countries, we are sending Russia a very strong signal: if there is an attack on Poland or the Baltic countries, the whole alliance will respond,” he said before the NATO summit.

So it’s immediately clear that the member states have one set of goals as individual entities, but different ones when conglomerated into NATO.

That’s important. Apparently, member states can say things when speaking for themselves that NATO as an entity somehow cannot.

One of the reasons for that, obviously, is disagreement among member states.

Ahval: Trump defends Turkey, Erdoğan 8 times during meeting with NATO chief

U.S. President Donald Trump during a press conference with NATO Genel Secretary Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday defended Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan multiple times, while accusing France of trying to break away from the alliance.

Trump failed to criticise Turkey’s Erdoğan, even when asked about his country’s procurement of the Russian S-400 missile defence missile system, a source of ongoing tensions between Ankara and Washington.

Ankara and Moscow in Sept. 2017 signed a loan agreement for the supply of Russian S-400 air defence systems to Turkey. The United States and its NATO allies see the Russian system as incompatible with NATO systems and posing a security threat to the F-35 stealth fighter. Turkey began to take delivery of S-400 components  in late July, prompting Washington to remove Turkey from the F-35 fighter jets programme.

As such, there isn’t a lot of clarity here.

Things like this don’t help any either.

NATO: Expectations

Treaties are all about stabilizing expectations between states. That’s their purpose.

First and foremost in any considerations of NATO must therefore necessarily be whether or not we can expect members to comply with the treaty.

And the US just said: Nope.

The members of NATO don’t even agree on what is and is not a big deal.

Trump, for one, keeps talking about things like financing of forces, the prickliness of the French, Obama sucks, and so forth.

Others fear that there are more fundamental concerns in play.

U.S. News: NATO Turns to Threats From Within as Turkey Defies Bloc
Turkey’s recalcitrance against NATO norms, on display at this week’s London summit, are causing grave concern among some of the alliance’s most powerful leaders.

AN ALLIANCE THAT STOOD for seven decades as a bulwark against Soviet aggression showed visible signs of strain at its annual summit in London amid political infighting by members that some believe threatens the future of the bloc itself.

The persistent threat of the Islamic State group, a rising China and new threats posed by Russia were among the traditional concerns at the forefront of discussions among the leaders of NATO countries gathered in the British capital Tuesday.

But issues internal to the alliance are becoming increasingly thorny and perilous. Disagreements over climate change, funding for defense spending and the disposition of former fighters with the Islamic State group led to uncharacteristically testy exchanges. Perhaps no issue emerged as a more immediate concern to the integrity of the bloc than the recent behavior of one of its own members.

“The real question was, is the spirit of the alliance respected when a member, Turkey, acts unilaterally in northeastern Syria, endangers the fight against ISIS and in doing so harms a key security interest of other NATO members?” Charles Thepaut, a visiting fellow at The Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy, tweeted Tuesday.

Some NATO leaders think not.

. . .

Macron pushed back forcefully against Trump’s misleading assertion that the only reason Turkey didn’t purchase a U.S. system like Patriot missiles instead is because the Obama administration wouldn’t let them.

“It’s their own decision,” Macron said of Turkey, adding that it could have instead purchased a European system also compliant with NATO standards. “So, they decided not to be compliant with NATO.”

So has anyone noticed that the whole Baltics thing has disappeared as a pressing issue?

Almost as though that’s not actually a practical matter that needs resolution?

Are they a concern or is this all just performance art?

At this point, it’s clear that this is all terribly important—life and death at significant scale, as in northern Syria—and it is not about Turkey just being a jerk about signing on to Baltic defense of Macron being French.

Macron, anyway, insists that this is about a core concern for NATO.

Now, as they say, states don’t have feelings: States have interests.

At the end of the day, money, along with lives, is how a state pursues its interests.

So for Macron to say this, he must believe that this is an existential concern for NATO—one which calls into question the reason for NATO altogether.

The Meaning of NATO

Even after sorting through all of the above, I couldn’t figure out what this all meant. And it seemed like there was a lot of “there” there, but I couldn’t work it out.

Fortunately, I had my friends on the message board to work it through with me.

It went very well.

What we think we determined is horrific.

I’ve reviewed this and I’ve decided it makes the most sense to present the conversation as it happened to see how we came up with what we did, being informed by all of the above.


I know we discussed this before, but it’s absurd to me NATO has no way to expel members. I appreciate the optimism in the face of thousands of years of warfare and two recent world wars, one of which was started in part because of stupid treaty making, but, like, what if France and Germany decided to go to war again for old time’s sake? There’s no mechanism to deal with that scenario?

Shit, if I had a stake, I’d just cut and paste the treaty into a new document, add a clause to deal with this kind of nonsense, and form NATO2.0 without Turkey.


I thought about that. What I came up with is that to break NATO, all the countries break the norms upon which such organizations are based. So there can be no faith in the institutions.

Basically, the same thing that’s been happening in our domestic politics.


Of course, that favors the prime movers, who are the bad actors. There really aren’t any good options, but countries have broken and reformulated treaties for as long as there have been treaties. I mean, how many wars over how many centuries did England and France fight before buddying up lately?


True. When Germany really pushed hard to handcuff its own economy to the fate of Europe, it basically nullified all the theories of international relations that said a state would never do that.

Learning happens sometimes.

barbed wire Bob

According to this article it is legally possible to expel Turkey from NATO for failure to comply with the basic principles of the alliance. Essentially Turkey would be material breach of Article 60 of the Vienna Convention on The Law of Treaties.

Pursuant to Article 60, a material breach consists of:

(a) a repudiation of the treaty not sanctioned by the present Convention; or
(b) the violation of a provision essential to the accomplishment of the object or purpose of the treaty.

To constitute a material breach pursuant to sub-paragraph (a), the violation of the principles underlying the treaty would have to be so extensive in scope, so severe and so persistent as to effectively “disavow” or repudiate the treaty (cf. Namibia Advisory Opinion, para. 95). Turning to sub-paragraph (b), there can be little doubt that continued compliance with the values set out in the preamble and Article 2 is essential for the accomplishment of the object and purpose of the treaty.

Should the conditions for the existence of a material breach be satisfied, NATO’s member states would be entitled, by unanimous agreement, to suspend the operation of the treaty in whole or in part or to terminate it either in their relations with the defaulting state or among them all (Article 60(2) of the Vienna Convention). For these purposes, a unanimous decision of the North Atlantic Council, excluding the defaulting state, would suffice. No further procedural requirements apply, including those laid down in Article 65 of the Vienna Convention.

Just Security: Can Turkey be Expelled from NATO? It’s Legally Possible, Whether or Not Politically Prudent

IMO a unanimous agreement is highly unlikely so I think expelling Turkey from NATO is wish casting at best. But I don’t think they need to since they could suspend military cooperation with Turkey and freeze them out. Combine that with some economic sanctions and they could really put the hurt on Erdogan.


It’s unanimous without the defaulting state – you don’t think that’s possible?


I was not aware of that. Hadn’t seen that anywhere and thought I had saw otherwise.

Seems like a good thing, yeah?

It does seem likely that the social contract is logically prior to a treaty.


This isn’t my area at all. But I assume if NATO incorporates that Vienna Convention article by reference, then it would have controlling effect on the matter.


Would be interesting to see a list of good reasons for Turkey to remain part of NATO.

Compare that to the list of reasons they should be on their own, or aligned with Russia.

Is it because of our missiles there and the F35?


And keeping them away from Russia. I guess a bad ally is better than a newfound enemy?


How reprehensible do the actions of an ally have to be, before the alignment becomes untenable?

In some way, we are about to find out.


It’s because they’ve threatened to open their border and release 2+ million Syrian refugees into Europe.

Like, I that’s fucking it. Germany even just offered more monetary to Turkey to help with the refugees. I think Europe really is behind in the financial commitments to Turkey for the refugee crisis, but I mean, still, right?

Well, they may also be about to attack Greece or something weird like that too. Or at least savagely fuck with them. And Cyprus.

Libya was concerned too, but they cut a side deal with Turkey.

Al-Monitor: Turkey-Libya agreement shakes up eastern Mediterranean

On Nov. 27, Ankara signed an agreement with Libya’s internationally recognized government denoting new maritime boundaries between the two nations. The area spanning from southwest Turkey to northeast Libya cuts across a zone currently claimed by Greece and Cyprus, where plans for a future gas pipeline are in the works to link eastern Mediterranean gas fields with European markets.

Control of the east Mediterranean. Oil.

Israel appears to be thrilled.

I think these pipeline issues were predicted years ago to cause problems in the Middle East but I wouldn’t begin to know how to look it up.

Might have been in a Clancy book in fact. Or books.

Like @barbed wire Bob keeos emphasizing, the bigger issues are things like ports thst don’t freeze over for Russia.

The pipelines are another one. Lots of news about a deal between Kurdistan in northern Iraq and Russia too.

Foreign Policy: The Future of Iraq’s Oil Is Russian
With ongoing protests making other investors nervous, Moscow is charging ahead.

Despite ongoing protests in Baghdad, which have seen the departure of many foreign diplomats for security concerns, Russia has doubled down. Not only has its embassy stayed open in the recent weeks of turmoil, but its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, also paid a visit last month, first touring Baghdad and then Erbil.

His tour did not look like a regular diplomatic mission. There were no official agreements signed; politics, Syria, and terrorism seemed like an afterthought; and diplomats were in the minority during the week’s events. In fact, the majority of the participants were businesspeople, including representatives of such Russian oil and gas companies as Gazprom Neft, Rosneft, Soyuzneftegaz, and Lukoil. Also in attendance were representatives of Technopromexport, a Russian company that builds energy facilities, and from Russia’s Federal Service of Military-Technical Cooperation. “Only bilateral trade relations were discussed on the meetings,” one source with ties to the Iraqi prime minister who requested anonymity told us this month. “Russians wanted to make sure everything is going smoothly regarding Russian energy companies’ projects in Iraq.” Another source with links to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which is headquartered in Erbil, concurred.

It should come as no surprise that, after investing more than $10 billion into Iraq’s energy sector over the past nine years, Russia’s interest in the country mostly centers on commercial concerns.


So we have established that NATO (or Nato if you prefer, Rev 😉 ) can’t kick Turkey out even if they’re being total dicks like they are.

That said, does it really matter? I mean, is Turkey really the difference between whether NATO can defend Latvia? If so, it’s probably time to further rethink this alliance.

I suspect that the game Turkey is going to play here is to expect NATO to say to Turkey, we aren’t going to go after the Kurds, and then Turkey will say, no Baltic defense and then NATO will threaten Turkey (sanctions?) and then Turkey will say, “fine, enjoy all the Syrians we are going to send into Greece, Bulgaria and beyond” in an effort to bring Europe back to the table.

Why does NATO give a shit about what Turkey thinks here?

Does someone know whether NATO can just say to the Baltics, “we’ve got your back, well, all of us except Turkey.”


Well, that’s the $64k question, yeah?

How long would you tolerate someone behaving like that in your house, right?

barbed wire Bob

My guess is that Hungry and possibly Poland would veto any attempt to kick Turkey out of NATO. The alliance isn’t as solid as you think.

The Atlantic: The Threat Within NATO
An alliance built on democratic ideals is seeing the rise of strongmen in its midst.


Yes, if this was 10 years ago, they might have been able to buy Poland and Hungary off with increased aid, e.g. to deal with refugees, for their votes. But now, it seems like Hungary is more aligned with Russia than its NATO allies and it and Turkey would block each other’s removal. Hungary’s realignment is a new challenge – as the article points out, NATO has dealt with autocrats and illiberality amongst its members before, but none have ever been aligned with its enemies like Hungary (and to a lesser, and likely temporary extent, Turkey).

barbed wire Bob

There is some strategic benefits to keeping Turkey in the alliance. For one thing Turkey straddles the land bridge between Europe and the Middle East and Asia and it controls the Bosporus and Russia’s access to the Mediterranean. Secondly, Incirlik air base is an important staging area, but most importantly, it’s easier to keep an eye on Turkey with them in the alliance than if they were on the outside. It’s the old “keep your friends close and your enemies even closer” strategy.


Oh absolutely. I’m not even saying to kick Turkey out. I’m saying that the rest of NATO says to the Baltics, “will will protect you. Don’t count on Turkey (or perhaps Hungary), but everyone else that matters will come to your defense, individually if necessary.” I don’t see why that can’t be done within NATO, but I don’t know the charter.

barbed wire Bob

That’s most likely what will happen. FYI this is the tex from Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security

The bolded can be interpreted rather broadly so you could even throw Turkey and Hungry a bone and say their territory won’t be used for offensive purposes in the event of a Russian attack on the Baltic states. Sometimes an effectively neutral country can be just as useful as an ally.


Thank you for that. So it seems like Erdogan is holding the threat of refugees then as his main card to play with the Europeans…still.


It’s a bit of a brilliant ploy in that he’s also creating more refugees as well. But, if the European countries turn the refugees away or take measures to stop them at the border, doesn’t he risk having a lot of pissed off Syrians massing in Turkey? Or does he just kill them?


I think his deal is that he puts them right into Ain Issa and Tal Tamr or wherever else Kurds used to be.

barbed wire Bob

Bulgaria reinforced their border in 2016 and the EU is helping to patrol it.

Wikipedia: Bulgaria–Turkey border


So, yeah I’ve been thinking about your question, @candylandriots, about why not just tell the Baltics they’ll defend them. It’s unfortunately, a very good question. I’ve been working on an “answer” and… it’s not good.

The problem here is that the the United States has already broken this bargain.

How many countries believe they can count on NATO right now? Some. All? And who? And why some and not others?

That issue itself erodes NATO.

How many communications have occurred between non-allies discussing resuming or improving relations, conversations predicated on the argument that one or both parties cannot rely on the US anymore?

Like, I’d have to double check, but I know of several, including Iran and Saudi Arabia.

I agree with you that the US shouldn’t be the world’s policeman. But abrupt and erratic policy—especially when accompanied by threats to come back and punish people if they misbehave—is not a neutral, but an affirmative and substantive act. It exacerbates uncertainty, which is one of the primary drivers of decision making. Inconsistent policing is often the worst of all possible worlds.

Turkey, and by extension Russia, is actively proving that NATO can’t be relied upon. It’s not something that can sorta be noted or seen as a side effect; it’s a central part of their “project,” and they are making their point by demonstrating it.

Erdogan doesn’t just want to kill Kurds. He’s throwing Turkey’s weight around to prove it dictates things. They’re attacking the balance of power itself, and NATO’s reason for existence is to maintain that balance.

That said, NATO has said they would protect the Baltics. So yeah, you’re totally right that that’s the track.

But what if Putin looks them in the eye and says, “Do you really trust them to protect you?”

Both Russia and Syria have explicitly directed this message at the SDF. Very explicitly. Amazingly, the SDF has said it still prefers the US military which is sorta mind boggling. But it’s also amazing. And what’s even worse is that it also makes sense.

We would do well to consider what that tells us about Russia.

But the subtext here and elsewhere is, “Do you really believe the Europeans consider you one of them?”

The backdrop to all this appears to actually be significant dislocations Europeans felt from the Libyan refugee crisis.

Demonstrating to the world how Europe feels even about sorta white-ish refugees has basically been weaponized by Turkey and Russia.

The threat of releasing the refugees into Europe is tactical. Showing the world NATO doesn’t care about people who they see as not like them and what they will tolerate to prevent their entry into their countries is strategic, and it’s being deployed as an indictment of Western civilization.

Which, to circle back, obviously erodes trust in things like treaties between different peoples, the possibility of which is the premise of our current neo-liberal international system.

A lot of people have real problems with the system, but reverting back to ethno-tribalism isn’t the road forward—one man’s opinion here 😉 —and Russia and Turkey are actively exploiting this problem.

It’s an attack on the West. All of it.

Great post, by the way, I’ve been trying to work some of this out but it’s easier to talk it through. I mean, it seems so big as to not be possible. But then you read their news media and see that this is not speculative; it’s exactly what they’re saying they are doing.

Who was quoting the other day that line, like, if someone tells you who they are, listen to them?


Ha. And I just realized:

The Baltics are pawns. Fucking… again.

Think about that. That’s what they’re entry into NATO was suppose to mean the end of in the first place.

NATO’s triumph was to take them off the board, a promise backed by the might of the West.

And now they’re back in play. That’s the 4-D chess going on.

And it only took about three hundred Green Berets to prevent this from happening.

This offers fairly devastating insight into our cost-benefit calculations and let’s others know how reliably we value things and how much. Three hundred men! Who wanted to be there and are pissed if they were pulled out! And, now that the norms upon which this all rested have been broken—norms that operate even under a real politik framework but lose force immediately if violation is accepted as legitimate—we have no ability to offer better guarantees in the future, and the fact of the matter is that our very form of government can now be invoked as to why trusting the West may now be understood to be a liability.


I still haven’t actually figured out what it even means, literally, that Turkey won’t sign off a defense plan for other member states. Like, why do they need this to happen? Is it symbolic performance shit or are they refusing to send troops or what?

I don’t get what this signing off thing is all about. Why is it even a thing?


Because it’s a win-win for Russia.

Fuck you Latvia, or fuck you Turkey. Either way, NATO is weaker and more chaotic.

And Erdogan thinks that the whole thing is his idea.


Why do they need Turkey to sign off on an agreement to fulfill the treaty obligations though?

I get why they would refuse. I don’t get how it came up in the first place.

Approve a new Baltic defense plan? Why does it matter if they like it or not if and when Article 5 is invoked? Isn’t that what the NATO treaty is?

But I want to look at this for a sec:

And Erdogan thinks that the whole thing is his idea.

Today’s posts have me curious about how deep a rabbit hole it is to work out the history of moving from accusations of the war on terror as being racist to the realization that you could get away with overt racist policy if you invoke terrorism.

Turkey and China are currently defining entire ethnicities as terrorist and getting away with treating them appropriately. So basically, if you swap in “bad guy” for “terrorist” you basically get, “We’re killing them because Kurds/Uighurs are bad people.” And that’s apparently “legal” now.

How did we get here?


Holy shit


You can’t define terrorism in any coherent way that doesn’t implicate the state in acts of terrorism. So it just becomes the “bad guys” who can be terrorists.

Do I have to become an anarchist now? Fuck.


I’m trying to weave it all together into one post right now, but yeah, I am not a happy camper right now. I didn’t get it.

I really thought that this was an argument that the West was winning. There’s something tragic about Macron, the President of the nation with the most explicitly philosophical approach to politics, is either the only one who gets it or the only one willing to communicate the problem, however coded.

And I can’t currently tell the difference between whether or not people don’t understand him or are willfully ignoring his message. Like, I really don’t know which it is.

And because of that, Trump and Erdogan are using the silence to publicly bash Macron for being an asshole for bringing it up.

Which in turn is causing soap opera coverage of the tiffs and egos instead of whether or not Macron’s statements have any validity. And, for that matter, a member of the meeting referred to it as a “three presidents problem” as though the problem was one of egos, which basically underscores the implicit attacks of nihilism on the organization if people think Macron daring to say Erdogan is supporting ISIS is a matter of poor taste and bad decorum.

Reviewing VOA’s coverage—which again, is remarkably better than MSM American media coverage (which is a disturbing of our free independent press versus government sponsored media on several levels)—does a really good job in this three minute video, but also includes the reduction of this to presidential ego. It won’t embed though.

VOA: NATO Leaders Clash as Alliance Marks 70th Anniversary

I assume Macron is on sedatives to sleep at this point.

So this is largely a symbolic or performative act. Turkey’s trying to make NATO say that racism is a legitimate state policy. Hell, he’s demanding their support for such policies to legitimize it.

To the extent that NATO wishes to present itself—and the West—as holding the moral high ground by privileging peace above race, ethnicity, and so forth, this is catastrophic.

That norm is the basis for their claim that disparate peoples may safely join into alliance; that being united in principle can triumph over tribalism.

Outside of Macron, it seems like the other members are willing to work to save NATO even if it means undermining the very principle which is the source of it’s alleged authority, its right to use kinetic violence against others.

Without a dedication to that principle, there is no reason to trust NATO, and it would be foolish to rely on NATO.

Macron comes from a tradition of both philosophy and Catholicism. He’s saying that NATO is brain dead. What he means is that its soul is being ripped out.

What do we think of a person about whom it might fairly be said that they have a sharp mind but no soul?

If it’s worth anything, the people close to what’s happening in Syria are handling all this much better than I am.

Which is nice. But I really can’t believe Europe is trying to let shit like this fly:

Of course, there are other narratives that can be extracted from the summit.

Here’s another story line that came out today, told in four tweets.

Meanwhile, in Syra.







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