International Relations

The Turkey coup failed… But it is Nato that is weaker, says GENERAL SIR RICHARD SHIRREFF

  • Turkey and Nato have been weakened by the attempted coup in the nation
  • Fear is Erdogan regime use coup for an authoritarian Islamist backlash
  • Bloodletting will leave deep scars within the Turkish forces in future

As I watched the remarkable scenes play out on Friday night my thoughts turned to my friend, Chief of the Turkish General Staff General Hulusi Akar, who was taken hostage as part of the coup and has thankfully since been rescued.

I worked with him closely both as Commander of Nato’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps and when Deputy Supreme Allied Commander.

A well-educated, highly capable and Western-orientated officer, he is committed to a democratic, secular Turkey and to serving the elected Government. In that respect he is typical of the highest echelons of the Turkish military, many of whom have been educated at American and indeed the UK’s staff colleges.

Clothes and weapons beloging to soldiers involved in the coup attempt that have now surrendered lie on the ground abandoned on Bosphorus Bridge

Very much a 21st Century general, I think he would have been horrified by the attempted coup.

Now his thoughts, like mine, will turn to the implications of the coup not only for the Turkish Armed Forces, but also for Nato and what this means for the alliance.

The coup was shocking and highly destabilising for Nato at this critical time. Turkey’s role in the fight against Islamic State, deterring Russian aggression and in the migrant crisis cannot be overstated.

Turkey’s armed forces are the second-largest in Nato after the United States, and highly professional. Its generals are on an equal footing with British and US commanders.

Sadly, not only will Turkey be weakened by the failed coup, which saw soldiers firing on other soldiers, but Nato as a whole will be weakened – at least in the short term.

In the wake of the coup, Erdogan has threatened to ‘cleanse’ the military and there are even calls for executions. Such bloodletting will leave deep scars within the Turkish forces and compromise Turkey’s ability to contribute to our military alliance. This at a time when Nato needs to stand united and strong.

My fear is that the Erdogan regime may use the coup to justify an authoritarian Islamist backlash and to take a more isolationist stance.

Yet the international family needs Turkey more than ever. It occupies such a significant geopolitical position, at the axis of Europe and Asia.

If, for example, it takes its eye off the Black Sea I fear Russia will exploit that vulnerability.

Soldiers and civilians brawl outside airport during Turkey coup

People gather for celebration around Turkish police officers, loyal to the government, standing atop tanks abandoned by Turkish army officers

‘Shoulder to shoulder against the coup’: People chant in streets

Similarly, the international community does not want Turkey to go down a more Islamist path, because this will lessen Turkey’s contribution to Nato and make it more difficult for the West to do business with Turkey; while for its part the UK must now show solidarity to a Nato ally at its hour of need.

The Turkish Army is the guardian of the secular legacy of Ataturk – the founder of modern Turkey – and an increasingly autocratic President will be as much a concern to Nato, an alliance founded on principles of democracy, individual freedom and the rule of law, as would have been a successful coup.

I hope the events of Friday do not damage the UK’s military relationship with Turkey. Our ties are close. There are Turkish officers studying at our Joint Service Command and Staff College and serving in the HQ of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps.

For our part, we have UK officers serving with the Turkish-led National Rapid Deployable Corps (NRDC) in Istanbul and in key roles at Nato’s Land Command HQ at Izmir.

For these officers, and their families stationed with them, Friday night must have been very tense.

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