Politics

Germany seeks to block NATO summit in Turkey: report

Germany and other NATO allies have tried to prevent Turkey from hosting next year's NATO summit, according to reports. Officials allegedly wanted to avoid the impression that NATO supports Turkey's "internal policy."

Symbolbild NATO Patriot Einsatz Türkei Sicherheitsbündiss (picture-alliance/dpa/Bernd Wüstneck)

Germany, France, the Netherlands and Denmark have reportedly led a drive to block next year's NATO leaders summit from taking place in Turkey, according to a report published by German daily Die Welt on Wednesday. The newspaper said that 18 EU nations and Canada agreed with the decision to prevent the meeting from taking place in Istanbul.  

Turkey allegedly offered to host the summit slated for 2018 in Istanbul during the alliance's 2016 meeting in Warsaw. However, NATO nations at that time agreed to postpone the decision to a later date, the German daily said.

NATO defense ministers are expected to make a final decision when they meet in June. According to the report, the favored proposal envisions the meeting at NATO's new headquarters in Brussels.

Since a failed coup to overthrow the Turkish government, Ankara has launched a massive crackdowntargeting journalists, teachers, soldiers and judges.

"We do not want to enhance Turkey's international credentials and we want to avoid the impression that NATO supports the Turkish government's internal policy," high-ranking NATO diplomats said, according to Die Welt.

However, NATO deputy spokesman Piers Cazalet told DW that member states have not yet taken a decision on the "venue or time of the 2018 NATO summit."

"At the meeting of NATO leaders last week, Turkey made an offer to host one of our next summits, although not necessarily next year," Cazalet said. "Having a full-fledged summit at the new headquarters in Brussels is also an option. These options are not mutually exclusive.

Worsening relations

The move effectively marks another twist in relations between Berlin and Ankara, which have seen a notable downturn over the past two years.

Earlier this month, Turkey blocked German lawmakers from visiting a Bundeswehr deployment stationed at Incirlik air base. Ankara said it was in response to Berlin's decision to grant asylum to Turkish military personnel accused of participating in a failed coup to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Since then, Berlin has assessed alternative host countries for the deployment, including Jordan, Kuwait and Cyprus, according to German officials.

Ahead of a key meeting with Erdogan during last week's NATO summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel threatened to withdraw the German deployment at Incirlik if the two leaders were unable to find a way to move forward.

"I will make it very clear to the Turkish president during our talks that it is indispensable for our soldiers to be able to be visited by members of the German Bundestag, as ours is a parliamentary military," Merkel said.

An eventual decision to withdraw troops was postponed on Wednesday when a parliamentary majority agreed to hold off on a committee vote, reported Christian Thiels, managing editor at German public broadcaster ARD.

More than 250 troops are currently stationed at Incirlik to aid in the US-led coalition against the "Islamic State" militant group, providing reconnaissance and support for the international operation.

Infographic showing Incirlik air base in Turkey

Incirlik: Alternatives and the issue of withdrawal

Since the dispute kicked off last year, Berlin has assessed alternative host countries for the deployment, including Jordan, Kuwait and Cyprus, according to German officials.

Major Rayk Hähnlein, defense expert at the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told DW that Jordan's Muwaffaq Salti air base offers the "best alternative" to Incirlik.

He said that several factors, such as the US military operating out of the base, its proximity to the main area of operations in northern Syria and Iraq, and Amman's willingness to host the deployment, make it a suitable choice for the German division stationed at Incirlik.

Some analysts have warned about the potential fallout a withdrawal could have on NATO operations and the US-led coalition against the "Islamic State," especially as the alliance has agreed to formally join the coalition.

But Hähnlein told DW that while a withdrawal would have a "short term impact," especially due to preparations to recapture the "Islamic State" stronghold of Raqqa in Syria, it would not undermine the operation.

"From 2014 to December 2015, the coalition got along without German support as well, so it will overcome the situation," Hähnlein said. "If prepared well and with full support from Jordan and US partners on the Jordanian base, Germany's absence would only be felt for several days or weeks."

Hähnlein warned, however, of withdrawing all German troops from the country, noting that removing the five soldiers stationed in Konya "would be a wrong signal to NATO" since they are key to the AWACS surveillance operation.

When asked about the reported attempts by Germany and other NATO nations to block a NATO leaders summit in Turkey, Hähnlein suggested that it may be too early to comment on the impact.

"But of course, one can question if it is the right signal that Turkey hosts a NATO summit under the current circumstances," Hähnlein said.

NATO values at risk?

The fallout between the two military allies partly stems from concerns for democratic processes in Turkey. While NATO effectively forms a military alliance between its member states, it also forms a political one that seeks to "promote democratic values."

In 2016, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told an audience of students in Georgia that part of what makes NATO stand out from other military alliances is that member states share common values. 

"Democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of the media, independence of the judiciary (and) protection of minorities: these are the values that unite us. They are the values NATO has defended since its foundation in 1949," Stoltenberg said.

However, although member states have not used NATO as a medium through which to voice concerns over Turkey's crackdown and its consolidation of power under the presidency, European institutions, including the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, have warned that the country is "on the road to an autocracy."

Teri Schultz in Brussels contributed to this report.

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