French President Emmanuel Macron criticized NATO for its response to a Turkish intervention in Syria on Friday, as NATO member states take different positions on their ally’s intervention.
“I consider what’s happened in the last few days [in Syria] to be a serious mistake by the West and NATO in the region,” Macron told reporters at a European Union event on Friday. Macron also called the intervention “crazy.”
Turkey’s intervention in Northern Syria loomed large of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly event which concluded this week in London.
While the conference discussed several issues from the African Union to Afghanistan, the war in Syria was the hot-topic in side discussions during the event.
Most however, seemed to prefer to side-step the issue entirely. United Kingdom Defense Secretary Ben Wallace offered that “Turkey needs to do what it sometimes has to do to defend itself,” when pressed for comment. Some in the British media accused Wallace and the Tory party of taking a soft line due to the possibility of a U.K.-Turkey trade deal after Brexit.
In addressing the assembly on its final day Secretary-General of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Jens Stoltenberg also took a conciliatory approach.
“Turkey is important for NATO … We risk undermining the unity we need in the fight against Daesh (Islamic State),” said Stoltenberg as some of the parliamentarians in the room murmured their disagreement.
Turkey isn’t more than just “important for NATO”, it is the second-largest military in NATO. During the Cold War Turkey was the only NATO country other than Norway to share a land border with the Soviet Union. Today, Turkey shares a border with Syria, whose brutal civil war has left Turkey home to 3.5 million Syrian refugees.
Stoltenberg appearance in London comes after a visit to Istanbul where Turkish Foreign Minister questioned the alliance’s position toward Turkey.
“Is this because Turkey is the only country in NATO whose inhabitants are Muslims?” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglou asked Stoltenberg according to a European media outlet. Though its worth noting that Albania, is also both a Muslim majority state and a NATO member.
At the NATO Parliamentary Assembly concerns about increasing authoritarianism in Europe boiled over in voting on resolutions. A representative of Italy’s Populist 5 Star movement attempted to remove a clause in a resolution which asked that NATO, a security alliance, engage in democracy monitoring.
The issue was contentious, and the resolution passed without the amendment – though the President of the Parliamentary Assembly Madeleine Moon twice had to correct herself when noting that the efforts to remove the measure failed.
Northern Syria is mostly under the control of Kurdish – Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) but, Da’esh and far-leftist groups continue to operate there.
“For a long while, north-eastern Syria was a haven for terrorist organizations. Not just for Da’esh but PKK and far-left organizations,” said Emir Gurboz, a member of the Turkish Atlantic Council’s Executive Board. Gurbuz said such groups had hidden in northern Syria.
“We believe it is a time to end this masquerade ball. SDF-linked groups needed to fight against ISIS for their survival…we cannot leave the fate of this region to a ruthless terrorist organization.”
Like President Trump, President Erdogan wants to increase security along what he perceives a southern border that is a perceived security threat. The U.S. has worked with SDF forces in Syria during its fight against Da’esh in recent years. However, the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) is widely considered a terrorist by the United States, the European Union and Japan. The supporters of the two groups overlap.
Though an uneasy cease-fire has been declared in northern Syria, it is unclear how long that will hold. Operation Peace Spring ( as the Turkish operation is known) is the third Turkish intervention in northern Syria since 2016. Syria has been the site of a brutal civil war since 2011.
Syrian Democratic Forces have taken hundreds of casualties since the launch in fighting with the Turkish Army. Roughly a hundred Syrian allies of Turkey have been killed along with four Turkish soldiers. Meanwhile, some 20 Turkish civilians and 50 Syrian civilians have been killed.
The Trump Administration and Vice President Mike Pence have forged a cease-fire though it remains to be seen if the cease-fire agreement will bring peace to the border region.
Many at the NATO PA agreed in principal with of the Turkish operation but, worried about the humanitarian impact on the Kurdish majority areas of northern Syria. Media reports suggest thousands have been displaced since October 9th.
It is likely the issue of Syria, and Turkey’s intervention will again be agenda at the NATO Summit scheduled for December. That event will bring President Trump, President Erdogan and the heads of states of the other NATO member states to London.