İncirlik, the Paris Climate Agreement and NATO’s future - MERVE ŞEBNEM ORUÇ

İncirlik, the Paris Climate Agreement and NATO’s future

The Gulf-Qatar crisis overshadowed the crisis that has come to be visible on the West side of the world. 

The differences of opinion that were clearly revealed at the NATO and G7 summits held one after the other in Europe in the last week of May had led to the rift between the U.S. and Germany grow further. This fracture right at the center of the Transatlantic pact German Chancellor Angel Merkel, who is about to go to her fourth election in October, established in a beer tent in Berlin and,  has become clearer with her words, "It seems the days we are able to trust others is over. I experienced this in the last few days. We Europeans must fight for our own destiny ourselves," referring to U.S. President Donald Trump as well as the U.K. which is going to elections this week. Trump's response further increased tensions: “We have a huge trade deficit with Germany, plus, they don’t pay the money they should to NATO. It’s very bad for the U.S., this is going to change.”

This statement had an earthquake effect in German, with Social Democrat Party (SDP) leader Martin Schulz saying Trump “destroyed Western values,” while SPD Parliamentary Group Chairman Thomas Oppermann openly claimed Trump sees Germany as a political enemy. Many, primarily including other European leaders and the U.S.’s new generation millionaires, agreed with them.

Trump’s not making any reference to the 5th Article, namely the joint defense article, while many of his atttitudes drew great attention in Brussels from criticizing NATO to his behaviors toward other leaders, was discussed plenty and his saying, “I am going to announce the final decision on the Paris Climate Agreement next week,” added fuel to the fire.

However, when Trump, who, this Friday, 15 days later, mentioned “the U.S.’s devotion to the 5th Article” at a joint press conference during the Romanian state leader’s White House visit, stated in the first week of June as expected and as he promised in his election campaign that the U.S. is withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, it caused quite a stir.

All this opened the future of the Transatlantic alliance to debate in the Western front. As NATO’s first Secretary-General Lord Hastings Lionel Ismay explained the founding purpose of the organization 70 years ago as, “Keeping the Americans inside, the Russians outside and the Germans under control,” were Americans perhaps going outside the alliance? Then, how was Russia, which is no longer an existential threat but continued to be a threat for Europe geostrategically, going to be stopped? Were the Germans taking the ropes in their hands once more? These questions which were long whispered have now come to be asked openly.

Meanwhile, the İncirlik tension between Turkey and Germany, which had been ongoing for some time, was continuing. As is known, a crisis was continuing between Ankara and Turkey for a long time due to Germany’s acceptance of Armenian genocide claims in 2016, the request of July 15 coup plotters to seek refuge in Germany, the extradition of Fetullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ) members, its support to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the tension in the April 16 referendum campaign period. While Germany was giving messages through the media that “the base could be moved elsewhere,” it was also expecting the U.S. to relax Turkey on this matter. German authorities were passing on their demands in this regard through their American counterparts. However, it is understood that the fraction in the Transatlantic alliance after the NATO and G7 summits, led Germans to give up their insistence on İncirlik.

The visit by German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel to Ankara on June 5, despite all their bluffs, showed the critical importance of İncirlik for Germany. As is known, İncirlik is not NATO property; it is Turkey’s property and, ever since it was built, the U.S.’s military presence here is due to NATO’s defense operations as a requirement of bilateral agreements. Germany has some 280 military personnel at the base along with one fuel aircraft and six Tornado observation aircraft. The items to be moved weight about 10,000 tons. In addition to the resulting work load and cost, there is no other base in the region that can replace İncirlik; none of the alternatives like Jordan are dazzling.

Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım did not meet with Gabriel in Ankara and the meeting with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu yielded no results in terms of İncirlik. However, this lack of result, does not explain the Germans, who are known for their patience and stubbornness, announcing their decision to withdraw from İncirlik within the same day. So, why did Germany decide hastily to withdraw on June 5, instead of continuing to insist? And why was the decision and approval process, which should last about six weeks, completed in a period as short as two days?

Could Turkey’s declaring on the same day that it has suspended the Paris Climate Agreement have an impact on this? Turkey, which has been stressing NATO’s ineffectiveness in discussions on NATO’s future and repeating at every opportunity that NATO needs to take a more active role in the fight against terrorism, is one of the few countries that fulfill their responsibility at the point of sharing the expenses. While in this sense, Turkey falls in the same front as Trump within the Transatlantic alliance, it has also made obvious where it stands with its decision to suspend the Paris agreement following Trump’s decision to withdraw. Turkey said it will follow the developments to complete the approval process. Yet, the withdrawal of the U.S., which provides the greatest source to the fund, has endangered the future of the agreement and, the Paris agreement, holds a much more important place than the agreement itself in terms of the future of the Western alliance that takes steps together in every area from defense to the environment, from culture to economy.

The decision that made Germans to give up on their İncirlik persistence, even though it will have a negative effect on its operations in the north of the Middle East, is not only an attitude toward Turkey, but it also seems like one of the bridges that collapsed between the U.S. and Germany.

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