U.S. Central Command chief: U.S. maintains a NATO Article 5 commitment to Turkey
General Kenneth McKenzie, chief of U.S. Central Command, applauded the scheduled meeting of President Joe Biden and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the sidelines of the North Atlantic Treatment Organization summit to be held in Brussels on June 14.
In a virtual discussion with the American Enterprise Institute think tank, the commander praised Turkey as “a longstanding ally” (which first proved its value to the U.S. in the Korean War, thereby gaining NATO membership in 1952) and “valued NATO partner,” according to Turkey’s Anadolu Agency. He also reiterated the fact that the U.S. maintains a NATO Article 5 commitment to Ankara. That article mandates all NATO members to come to the military assistance of any other member or members seeking it. (That is, an attack against one is construed as an attack against all.) Article 5 was first invoked in 2001 after the attacks in New York City and the Pentagon, and was used as the basis of NATO’s now twenty-year war in Afghanistan (with related deployments to Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) as well as the Operation Active Endeavour (succeeded by Operation Sea Guardian) naval surveillance and interdiction throughout the Mediterranean Sea, the Operation Eagle Assist AWACS aircraft deployment over the U.S. and five other operations.
NATO’s Article 4, which calls for military consultations between all NATO members when “the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the parties is threatened,” has been activated four times at Turkey’s request: in regard to Iraq in 2003 and to Syria twice in 2012 and once in 2020. As a result of the 2012 requests, NATO has maintained three Patriot anti-ballistic missile batteries in Turkey since 2013, also in alleged response to threats from Syria.
General McKenzie also said Turkey has legitimate security concerns with regard to its borders with Iraq and Syria, which the U.S. fully supports. In violation of international law Ankara maintains military bases in northern Iraq and northeastern Syria. It is currently conducting a large-scale military offensive in Iraq and has been waging war and supporting a proxy war in Syria for seven years. The U.S. also supports those actions.
Despite differences over Turkey acquiring S-400 anti-aircraft weapons from Russia, McKenzie hastened to say: “You can still be friends, even if you disagree. There are some areas that we disagree on. So I think a good sign is the fact that the two presidents are going to talk at the NATO summit, I think coming up in the next month or so, and I think that’s a positive step forward.”
Turkey has recently been directly involved in military actions in Iraq, Syria and Libya and in proxy wars in the South Caucasus and Yemen. It is involved in a territorial dispute with Greece in the Aegean Sea and in a sovereignty dispute with Cyprus, either of which could erupt into a military conflict at any moment.
Those locations should be kept in mind in reading the following comments from McKenzie’s colleague General Tod Wolters, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, while testifying before the House Armed Services Committee earlier this month:
“Turkey remains a strategic U.S. Ally, critical to NATO and U.S. interests in Europe, Eurasia, North Africa, and the Middle East.”
“Turkey retains a pivotal role in countering Russia.”
On the last quote, the Turkish government has condemned Crimea’s return to Russia in 2014 and demanded Russia cede control of it, and has consistently trumpeted the rights and denounced the alleged oppression of Crimea’s ethnic Turkic Tatars in a manner that unavoidably suggests it would be ready to intervene on their behalf.
Not only does the Pentagon support Turkey’s wars and proxy wars in the present, the recent past and to come, but it confirms it will rally its NATO allies to enter armed conflict on behalf of Turkey should the latter request it.