Tuesday

5th Mar 2024

Turkey objects to Iran-centric Nato shield

As negotiations on a missile defence shield enter their final days before a Nato leaders' meeting in Lisbon, Turkey is turning out to be more of a problem to the alliance than Russia, whose hostile attitude towards its former Cold War enemy is starting to fade.

One of the main sticking points in agreeing the final text of Nato's new strategic concept is the language in which countries describe the potential missile threats to Europe, EUobserver has learned.

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  • Russia has signalled interest in taking part in the project (Photo: Wikipedia)

Despite being one of the early members of the military alliance which it joined in 1952, Turkey has grown increasingly at odds with its Western allies as it seeks closer ties to its eastern neighbours Iran and Syria, which the US and also some European allies, such as France, want to name as threats.

Not mentioning the Middle Eastern hotspots would create renewed difficulties with Russia, Nato diplomats say, just as Moscow has started to give signs that it no longer considers the shield to be directed against itself.

Other Nato sources say that "it is not Turkey alone" which is creating a problem for the shield, but a broader "nexus" of issues connected to missile defence, such as France's reluctance to join the aim of a "nuclear-free world" and Germany's insistance on nuclear disarmament.

Speaking on Monday in anticipation of the Lisbon summit, Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen played down the importance of country-naming, despite having specifically mentioned Iran on numerous occasions before.

"The fact is that more than 30 countries have or are aspiring to get missile technology. There is no reason to name specific countries, because there are already a lot of them," he said during a press conference in Brussels.

When asked about Ankara's reluctance specifically, Mr Rasmussen voiced confidence there will be a deal in the coming days.

If agreed by all 28 member states, Nato's decision on missile defence would allow to interlink existing and planned anti-missile systems under a single operator. The cost of plugging all the radars and missiles into a joint computer program stands at €200 million, without taking into consideration the hardware that national governments will have to purchase.

As part of the pre-summit bargaining, Ankara is now pressing to host the central command of the anti-missile architecture.

"If the missile shield system is thought to be installed on our territory, its command should definitely be in our hands, otherwise, it is impossible for us to accept such a thing," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday, as quoted by Anatolia press agency.

Meanwhile, Russia, which had up till now been the biggest obstacle to missile defence, is signaling a new direction.

"If this is equal co-operation, beginning with joint analysis, joint estimates of those risks that exist in the sphere of missile proliferation then such co-operation is quite possible," Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said last week on the fringes of the G20 summit in Seoul. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has in a sign of friendship accepted an invitation to join Nato leaders in Lisbon on Saturday.

While not being granted joint command of the Nato shield, Russia is expected to be offered "co-operation" which may include intelligence sharing and risk assessments. As Nato sources point out, Russia does not want to be left behind, creating an uneven balance between the Western anti-ballistic capabilities and its own.

Shifting the focus from a "eastern-European-centric architecture" to a more flexible one, with ships deployed in the Mediterranean, has helped to ease tensions with Russia, Ian Lesser from the German Marshall Fund of the US, a Washington-based think-tank, told this website.

"There is a certain irony here that the US and Western partners have spent a great deal of time in recent years trying to bring Russia on board a missile defence architecture, to create one that Moscow can live with and perhaps contribute to, and that at the same time the politics of missile defence in Turkey have become more difficult," he noted.

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