NATO Needs to Look in Mirror on Coup Attempt, Says Turkish Defense Minister

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik, June 14, 2016It is time for NATO to sit down and evaluate its mistakes in its response to the July coup attempt in Turkey that left a deep trauma in society that has not been properly appreciated outside the country, according to Defense Minister Fikri Işık….

Don’t you think all these purge within the military and these changes presents the risk of giving the image of a vulnerable army?

What we are doing is not making the army vulnerable. On the contrary, we are doing this so that a vulnerable army recovers in a speedy way. These amendments are being made in order to render the army stronger.

But won’t the transition period strike a blow to the army’s fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)?

Not at all. The number of generals in the Turkish army was way too high. The fact that half of them are gone won’t create any operational vulnerability. In addition, from now on, we will focus on increasing the combat forces. When the Defense Ministry assumes some of the unnecessary tasks undertaken by the chief of staff, then the chief of staff will have more of his officers to serve in the combat forces. We will, therefore, have enough officers for combat. There were 20 generals in the Defense Ministry prior to July 15. Why would a general do logistics work instead of combat, or intelligence?…

Does the third corps in Istanbul, which is a NATO joint task force, have the capacity to perform its duties?

Of course. There is no operational vulnerability. Turkey will continue its commitments to NATO.

Where are we in terms of air defense systems?

Our NATO allies are very [selfish] in terms of sharing technology. Turkey needs to develop these systems. We can’t accept the approach of “I will only sell it to you.”

If our NATO allies will remain [selfish] on sharing technology, Turkey will find another way. Our priority is NATO allies, but if not, we could just say, well then, let’s do it without air defense.

Are the alternatives Russia or China?

Defense industry cooperation is vital for Turkey. No one has the right to criticize Turkey. Proposing a price twice as much as that of Russia and then telling us “we would be offended if you cooperate with Russia” is not the right approach.

It is not so much about being offended but rather an interoperability problem; isn’t that why Turkey canceled the deal with China?

Our priority is our allies, but that cannot prevent us from cooperating with Russia or China when necessary. If our allies’ approach remains to keep Turkey at arm’s length, that will force us to develop our own capacity with other types of cooperation. We can’t shut the door to on NATO countries like Russia or China.

But will Turkey remain part of the F-35 project?

Of course. We have not given up on any of our commitments. Turkey is a very reliable ally. But the stance of our allies on the night of the July 15 [coup attempt] has created a huge disappointment among the Turkish nation, and this is turning into an anger. That’s the difficulty we have as the government.

Would Turkey drag its feet on the fight against ISIL if the U.S. avoids extraditing Fetthullah Gülen?

Asking this question is a great injustice to Turkey. ISIL is a bigger threat to Turkey than it is to the U.S. Turkey will not give up on fighting ISIL under any circumstances.

The İncirlik Air Base was also involved in the failed coup. Do you have any input from what happened that night at the base that would suggest U.S. interference?

We are strategic partners, and these are not issues we would discuss unless we have clear-cut information and have set a policy. What we are saying is that NATO has to engage in some self-criticism about its stance on the night of July 15. There is huge anger among Turks and that needs to be taken into account by our allies. The people’s will is a priority for us politicians. If our allies continue to keep Turkey at an arm’s length, that will increase the anger of the people and that will not be good for either Turkey or NATO.

Excerpts from interview of Turkish defense minister Fikri Işık by Barçın Yinanç , Hurriyet Daily News.

Image: Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik, June 14, 2016 (photo: Turkish Ministry of Defense)