Alberta Politics
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and other NATO Ministers of Defense and of Foreign Affairs met together at NATO headquarters to give final political guidance in preparation for the meeting of Allied Heads of State and Government at the upcoming NATO Summit in Lisbon, Portugal in November in Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday October 14, 2010. DOD photo by Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison(RELEASED)

Reassessing NATO: Canada shouldn’t let itself be ‘Article Fived’ into a war by Turkey’s Islamist president

Posted on November 29, 2015, 12:58 am
10 mins

PHOTOS: A bunch of NATO political bureaucrats try to look busy in this file photo. Recognize anyone? Below: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Does it benefit Canada in any way to remain part of NATO, an organization that harbours at least one member country that quite openly supports the so-called Islamic State terrorist organization?

I speak, in case you had any doubts, of Turkey, which is now apparently willing to risk dragging the North Atlantic Treaty Organization military alliance, of which Canada is a fully paid-up member, into a shooting war with a righteously angry nuclear-armed power – an ill wind, if ever there was one, that’s likely to blow no good!

Erdogan-LAnyone who has been following the news knows that last Tuesday fighter jets of the Turkish Air Force on Tuesday shot down a Russian bomber over Syria that may or may not have flown through Turkish air space for 10 to 17 seconds on its way to bomb undoubted militants who may or may not have been associated with Islamic State. One Russian crew member died; another was rescued. A Russian Marine was also killed during the rescue of the surviving crewman.

Obviously, in a relatively sane world, even with a vicious civil war raging in the country next door, such a momentary border violation would not have resulted in a military plane being blown out of the sky, even if it didn’t happen to belong to a nuclear power with a historical and geographical interest in the region. This should be especially obvious since the nuclear power in question was already very, very angry because it had just lost 224 of its citizens in a terrorist attack for which the very same Islamic State group had taken credit.

As someone who should have some expertise in such situations said not so very long ago: “Even if the plane was in their airspace for a few seconds, that is no excuse to attack.”

The speaker quoted above, by the way, was Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, back in 2012, when the Syrians shot down a Turkish military aircraft that violated their airspace for a few seconds. But that was then and this is now, I guess, and this is not a particularly sane world.

Anyway, when they pulled the trigger on the Russian plane, our Turkish NATO partners and their Islamist president were furious about the Russians’ military opposition to their regime-change project in Syria, of which Islamic State clearly appears to be part. They were quite likely also enraged that the Russians had bombed a convoy of Islamic State fuel-tanker trucks full of purloined Syrian oil thought to have been owned by a company run by, wait for it … Mr. Erdogan’s son Bilal.

Putin-RRussian President Vladimir Putin described the Turks as “accomplices of terrorists,” which given their support for Islamic State as an agent of regime change in Syria, and perhaps for religious and ideological reasons as well, sounds about right.

For their part, having shot down the Russian bomber, the Turks quickly retreated behind NATO’s skirts, with NATO gingerly supporting them. The alliance’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, mumbled something about how “we stand in solidarity with Turkey.”

Lots of folks in the West seem to be willing to elucidate a somewhat clearer sense of what’s actually going on in the region: German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, for example, noted that “there is a player in the region who is unpredictable, and that is Turkey and not Russia.”

Veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn observed that many NATO leaders “will not be dismissive in private of President Vladimir Putin’s angry accusation that Turkey is the accomplice of terrorists. Turkey’s support for the Syrian armed opposition, including extreme groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, has been notorious over the last three years. Its relations with ISIS are murky, but it has been credibly accused of allowing the self-declared Islamic State to sell oil through Turkey.”

Even the New York Times, ever cautious when dealing with supporters of regime change in places on the U.S. State Department’s hit list, oh-so-cautiously observed: “NATO officials acknowledge that Turkey’s agenda in Syria does not always match that of Washington, Britain or France – let alone Russia.”

Stoltenberg-LBut notwithstanding all this, Turkey remains a part of NATO, and NATO continues to welcome Turkey in its ranks. In other words, the “we” in Mr. Stoltenberg’s solidarity pledge to the Turks includes Canada.

That means that no matter how crazily they act, if the Turks invoke the notorious Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which states that an armed attack on one member “shall be considered an attack against them all,” we’d be obligated to go to war on their behalf – and on behalf of their presumed Islamic State proxies too!

No wonder the French, who like the Russians now have their own serious beef with Islamic State, have always been leery of NATO, maintaining a military posture with one foot in the alliance and the other firmly outside.

Now, you may be wondering what Turkey is doing in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the first place. Indeed, you could argue that as a powerful southern country led by an Islamist president it belongs in NATO about as much as, say … the Islamic State?

As for NATO itself, it’s not entirely clear why it continues to exist either. We are informed the alliance was set up in 1949 to challenge the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact, which actually wasn’t formed until 1955. (Don’t trouble your little heads about the dates, children. We have always been at war with Eurasia…)

One might have thought that with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, NATO would have been quietly dismantled. Instead, the alliance has done its best to find excuses to keep its expensive military bureaucracy in business by absorbing new members right up to the borders of Russia – which some cynics dismiss as just an attempt to find new markets for the U.S. military-industrial complex, but which is naturally viewed in a considerably darker way to the east.

Canadians should be asking themselves what we are doing in a military alliance whose stated purpose no longer exists that ties us to an aggressive and increasingly Islamist state.

You shouldn’t doubt for a minute that if Turkey invokes Article Five, those same NATO military bureaucrats will argue it must be honoured despite the Turks’ ideology and irresponsibility lest the alliance lose credibility, never mind that pride goeth before destruction.

So if the Russians were to respond to the Turkish provocation in the way the United States certainly would have, with a tit-for-tat shoot-down of a Turkish aircraft, we could be Article Fived into a war we want no part in, and on the side of real terrorists to boot!

Fortunately, the Russians have kept their cool. But as NATO allies, we obviously shouldn’t have to depend on our supposed adversaries, not our supposed allies, to save our skins!

I recognize there is likely absolutely no appetite for this in any of the three neoliberal-dominated parties that hold the bulk of the seats in Canada’s Parliament, but we Canadians really should be reassessing our membership in this alliance.

The bottom line is this: If Turkey remains part of NATO, Canada should get the hell out.

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13 Comments to: Reassessing NATO: Canada shouldn’t let itself be ‘Article Fived’ into a war by Turkey’s Islamist president

  1. Expat Albertan

    November 29th, 2015

    Are you saying, Dave, that the NDP is one of those “three neoliberal-dominated parties that hold the bulk of the seats in Canada’s Parliament”? Is is just because of the party’s current leader? I’m afraid I will have to ask you to explain yourself on that one.

    Otherwise, good article.

  2. jerrymacgp

    November 29th, 2015

    NATO was not set up to oppose the Warsaw Pact, which did not yet exist; it was set up to contain postwar Soviet hegemony over Eastern Europe, by holding a nuclear Sword of Damocles over the Soviets’ heads at a time when geography lent them an overwhelming strategic advantage in conventional forces. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, many in the West hoped that NATO would lose its raisin d’être; certainly early post-Soviet Russia was much less threatening to the West than today’s Putin-era Russia.

    However, Putin-era Russia is not engaged in trying to export any ideology into the West; instead, Putin and his kleptocracy are engaging in 19th-century-style brinkmanship motivated by simple greed and lust for power, and a desire to expand their sphere of influence. In addition, there is a well-justified streak of paranoia in the Russian worldview, having been invaded from the West twice in the last century, not to mention by Napoleon in the early 19th; seeking to establish a buffer zone around their borders is
    somewhat rational, given that worldview.

    As for Canada’s place in NATO, I blow hot & cold on it. Canada is not really militarily relevant, but from a diplomatic perspective, as the only other North American member state, we did once hold a bit of a buffer role against anti-US feeling about NATO; that role has been squandered by the HarperCon government, and I’m not sure we’ll ever get it back. But if we were ever to leave NATO, I think we’d need to step up our game in the area of national defence. Our Air Force has fewer combat aircraft than a single US Navy aircraft carrier, we have virtually no modern, capable warships, and our Army is little more than a corporal’s guard. (I once calculated that to have a military the same size, per capita, as that of France, for example, we would need about 225,000 personnel in all branches of the service; instead, we have about 68,000 regulars & 27,000 paid reservists).

    I for one would like to see us having the kind of military that could enact a truly independent foreign policy, one which did not
    depend on the assistance and support of the US to get our troops there, support them in the field, and get them home safely. Currently, we can stay out of affairs the US wants us to get into (as Mr Chretien did over Iraq, to his eternal credit), but we cannot get into actions the US isn’t. That is not the mark of a truly non-aligned nation, which we would become if we left NATO. This is not congruent with the NDP’s usual reflexive pacifism, but this is the one policy arena where I part ways with my party.

    Clausewitz’s famous dictum that “War is the continuation of policy by other means” still holds true: an effective foreign policy must have a military component (even if it is just to transport refugees from civil war to safety on our shores), and defence policy must serve a foreign policy goal. We need to figure out, as a country, what foreign policy we want to support, and how much we are willing to pay, not just in treasure but in blood, to support that policy, before we make decisions on the size, scope and role of our armed forces. We haven’t really had that conversation since the end of the Cold War.

  3. anonymous

    November 29th, 2015

    When Jason ‘Canada’s Chubbiest Army Cadet’ Kenney (Calgary-Southwest) starts tweeting about Article 5, you realise that Canada’s withdrawal from NATO would evoke, at least, lots of public shouting – especially in western Canada.
    Jason Kenney ‏@jkenney Nov 14

    1/ Our NATO ally France has declared yesterday’s atrocity “an act of war.”This has implications for Canada under the NATO Treaty’s Article 5

    • David Climenhaga

      November 29th, 2015

      A small edit was made to this post, dear anonymous, to delete the best line. Sorry, but I’m sure you understand why. I want you to know, though, that I laughed out loud when I found it.

      • anonymous

        November 29th, 2015

        I understand the editing David. I was being rather too cheeky.

  4. Chris McKerracher

    November 29th, 2015

    Relax. Even if Turkey invokes Article 5, Canada is only obliged to provide the amount of support they see fit. Here is the wording in the document “they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force…”

    If we don’t think Turkey was in their right to shoot a plane down for a sketchy air violation, we don’t have to do squat. Like we would anyway.

  5. Filostrato

    November 29th, 2015

    So, this whole thing was about Erdogan’s son’s oil tankers being blown up? Are they completely out of their (expletive deleted) minds? I’m afraid I can’t work up any enthusiasm for going into another First World War style conflict over somebody’s dented wallet.

    NATO should have been disbanded years ago but these things have a tendency to keep on trying to justify their own existence, even if, in this case, they have to start a war to do it. Wasn’t Peter MacKay seriously drooling over the prospect of becoming the next head of it a few years ago and perhaps making noises toward the next time at the war conference (ahem, excuse me, International Security Forum) in Halifax just over a week ago? He just blew right by Harjit’s Sajjan’s comments at the time and kept on trying to pound the war drums and get a rousing cheer for Article 5.

    That, by the way, is another group which should be dismantled as soon as possible. Harper locked Canada into contributing to its U.S. hawk parent group to the tune of millions every year. Harper can contribute as much of his own money as he likes to it but he has no right to use ours. We gave him the boot weeks ago.

  6. Tom in Ontario

    November 29th, 2015

    Incisive piece of writing. You, who regularly opines on the Great State of Alberta, is polishing your credentials as a keen observer of the national stage. Too bad your commentary is too hot for the likes of our mainstream media.

    All the fussing and blustering only underscores General Smedley Butler’s remark from a speech he made in 1933, “War is a racket.”

  7. Jim Storrie

    November 29th, 2015

    I don’t expect that we, or any of the other NATO nations, would be keen to war with Russia if Turkey invoked Article 5 against the Russians; surely we’d all either weasel (wisely) out of the commitment or expel Turkey from the alliance.

    But I do share your suspicion of Turkey’s commitment to the anti-ISIS coalition. Beyond the oil scheme, they’re also attacking our ostensible allies, the Kurds, which is particularly grating given how effectively and courageously the Kurds have been holding out against ISIS in northern Syria. Surely there is some diplomatic pressure the other NATO nations could apply to push Turkey back into line?

  8. November 30th, 2015

    “on its way to bomb undoubted militants who may or may not have been associated with Islamic State”

    The answer here is “not.” I don’t think even the state-owned Russian media, which doesn’t shy away from manufacturing fabrications, has suggested that aircraft at issue were bombing the Islamic State. You couldn’t be on a mission much further away from IS territory and still be within Syria. The Russians have, at best, claimed that they are conducting “anti-terrorist” missions across Syria based on the notion that if you are opposed to Assad, you are a terrorist, Islamic State or not.

    You couldn’t quote the NYT for the contention about Erdogan’s son and buying oil from the Islamic State? Isn’t this news the Gray Lady should be reporting if it’s credible? You instead use a source that continues to contend that Ukrainian jet shot down MH17. Again, it’s so discredited that even the official Russian media doesn’t claim that anymore (the Kremlin contention now being that while it might have been a BUK missile fired from the ground, it was fired from Ukrainian territory).

    I’ll tell you what the NYT does say: that Assad buys oil from the Islamic State. The same Assad that Russia is trying to keep in power by bombing his non-Islamic State opposition.

  9. Mia

    February 18th, 2016

    “Russian Aggression” is the new phrase we are going to hear now coming out of Washington. This is because Russia has been surrounded with NATO bases and Washington needs to manipulate public opinion in order to get away with their continuing violations of the UN charter . “USA Aggression” has left over 500,000 dead Iraqis in the last decade, created the blowback that is Daesh, left chaos in Libya, supported terrorists in Syria and has now put the planet on the brink of another major world conflict if not WWIII.

    If you flip over the rock of American foreign policy of the past century, this is what crawls out… invasions … bombings … overthrowing governments … occupations … suppressing movements for social change … assassinating political leaders … perverting elections … manipulating labor unions … manufacturing “news” … death squads … torture … biological warfare … depleted uranium … drug trafficking … mercenaries … It’s not a pretty picture. It’s enough to give imperialism a bad name.

    With friends like the USA and NATO, we don’t need enemies. We are the enemy!

    • David Climenhaga

      February 18th, 2016

      How dare Russia move its country so close to our bases?


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