Brussels (GPA) – The head of NATO has apologized to Turkey after “mistakenly” referring to Turks as enemies during a joint drill.
NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg has apologized today, following the withdrawal of 40 Turkish soldiers from military drills in Norway. Ankara ordered the troops to leave the exercises following the discovery by Turkey that their President, Recep Erdogan and founder, Kemal Ataturk’s names were used in the list of “enemies” during the simulated conflict.
The incident was first brought to public attention straight from the top of the Turkish government by none other than Erdogan himself.
Speaking to members of his Justice and Development Party (AKP), Erdogan informed them that “There was an incident in Norway,” in which “They used an enemy chart in Norway. In that chart, there was my name and [Mustafa Kemal] Ataturk’s picture.”
Erdogan said he was informed of the incident by his Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar and Turkey’s EU Affairs Ministry Omer Celik, who told him “they are withdrawing our 40 soldiers from there [Norway].” He continued: “I told them to do that immediately. There can be no alliance like that.”
Within hours of the announcement of the Turkish withdrawal, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg issued a public apology from the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels. “I have been informed about offense caused in a recently concluded exercise at NATO’s Joint Warfare Centre in Stavanger, Norway,” he said, then went on to “apologize for the offense that has been caused.”
However, Stoltenberg did say this was not a decision made by NATO staff and that “The incidents were the result of an individual’s actions.”
According to the statement by NATO, the individual who arranged the exercise is likely a civilian contractor hired directly by the Norweigan government, who does “reflect the views of NATO.” Stoltenberg also reassured his allies in Ankara that “The individual in question was immediately removed from the exercise by the Joint Warfare Centre and an investigation is underway.”
As for whats next; according to Stoltenberg, “It will be for the Norwegian authorities to decide on any disciplinary action.” Following his apology, he also went on to reassure Ankara that Turkey is a “valued NATO Ally, which makes important contributions to Allied security.”
Turkey has the second largest military in NATO, only outdone by the United States. Turkey has always played a key role within NATO as their Middle East gatekeeper. However, over the course of Erdogan’s reign, relations between the west and Ankara have been on a steady decline.
This isn’t even the first apology NATO members have had to make to Turkey out of fear of possible retaliation by Erdogan. Such was the case when Germany almost jailed a comedian for mocking Erdogan in a poem. At the time, Germany was in the same political climate as today and didn’t want Turkey to back out of a crucial immigration agreement.
Wile Turkey is still a NATO member there has also been recent tension between Ankara and Washington. The latest incidents in this saga include the purchase of Russian made air-defense systems and the arrests of several Turkish employees of US diplomatic missions.
Despite all of this though, the US and Europe cannot afford to lose Turkey as an ally, especially with conflicts still raging in the neighboring countries of Syria and Iraq. Now it may not be wrong for NATO to apologize for the legitimate mistake in Norway, however, they’re also likely to continue apologizing to Erdogan even when they’re in the right.
James Carey is an organizer based in Detroit, Michigan, founder of Geopolitics Alert, and an experienced analyst on Middle Eastern affairs with a particular focus on Turkey. He also covers topics ranging from Latin America and Asia to Europe. You can also hear James in his weekly podcast; The Left is Dead which he co-hosts with investigative journalist Jake Anderson.