August 15 – 08:30 – In a wide-ranging interview, Turkey’s Defense Minister has lashed out at NATO, saying that the alliance needs to re-evaluate its approach after failure to back the Erdoğan Government during the July 15 coup attempt. Fikri Işık stopped short of blaming the US for support of the coup, as other Turkish officials have. He said that Ankara will continue its commitment to NATO, and that “Turkey will not give up on fighting ISIL [the Islamic State under any circumstances]”. However, he said in a pointed criticism: NATO has to engage in some self-criticism about its stance on the night of July 15. There is huge anger among Turks and that needs to be taken into account by our allies. The people’s will is a priority for us politicians.
If our allies continue to keep Turkey at an arm’s length, that will increase the anger of the people and that will not be good for either Turkey or NATO. Işık also set out specific complaints, notably over co-operation on military systems:
Our NATO allies are very [selfish] in terms of sharing technology. Turkey needs to develop these systems. We can’t accept the approach of “I will only sell it to you.” If our NATO allies will remain [selfish] on sharing technology, Turkey will find another way. Our priority is NATO allies, but if not, we could just say, well then, let’s do it without air defense.
Significantly, those “other ways” included closer relations with Moscow and Beijing:
Defense industry cooperation is vital for Turkey. No one has the right to criticize Turkey. Proposing a price twice as much as that of Russia and then telling us “we would be offended if you cooperate with Russia” is not the right approach.
Our priority is our allies, but that cannot prevent us from cooperating with Russia or China when necessary. If our allies’ approach remains to keep Turkey at arm’s length, that will force us to develop our own capacity with other types of cooperation. Asked specifically about Turkey’s reconciliation with Russia following the Turkish downing of a Russian warplane near the Turkish-Syrian border last November, the Defense Minister pointed to last week’s declaration — following a meeting in Moscow between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin — of “a close working relationship to solve the problem in Syria”. He expalined:
Everything is getting back to normal; Turkey and Russia will work together both in terms of military activity and in terms of finding a lasting solution. Now that the tension is no longer there, we will find it easier to move together with Russian and the coalition. It is unclear if Işık was referring to the US-led coalition against the Islamic State, or the Russian-Iranian-Hezbollah coalition between the Assad regime.
A Defense of Erdoğan After the Coup Attempt
Işık defended the restructuring of the military after the failed coup, putting it under the control of the President and civilian agencies and eliminating the existing military academies in favor of a National Defense University. The Defense Minister sidestepped the point that the changes could put the military “under the tutelage of a political party”. Instead, he focused on the need to face a continuing threat of the organization of the US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, blamed for the coup. Asked “Can you say that you have totally eliminated the threat of the Gülenists?”, he responded:
We can’t say that. The main spine has collapsed. There could be some crypto Gülenists that might have remain behind. All our work is to ensure that we don’t come across such separate structures within the army. www.mesop.de