By Mehmet Bildik
Since Turkey agreed in July to let the United States use the Incirlik Air Base in order to carry out airstrikes against DAESH in northern Syria, A-10 attack planes, F-15E fighters, KC-135 refueling tankers and Predator drones at the NATO’s Incirlik base showcased the centrality of the American role in the air campaign against the DAESH entity in Syria. Incirlik has grown more important in the US-led campaign of Operation Inherent Resolve,through which 59 American, Turkish, Qatari and German aricarfts have been refueling, gathering intelligence and conducting air strikes from NATO’s strategic airbase. The fact that Turkish F-16’s shooting down a Russian military jet along the Syrian border on November 24, which sparked fury in Moscow and resulted in the Russian decision to deploy advanced S-400 missiles in Syria, marked the first time since 1952 that a North Atlantic Treaty Organization member has shot down a Russian warplane. Therefore, France and Germany strategically responded by deploying tornado war planes, focusing on a surveillance mission with a total of 1,200 troops. The U.S. and NATO have given full support to NATO member Turkey by reinforcing military presence in Turkey’s strategic Incirlik Air Base near the Syrian border.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter called on Turkey to increase its contribution in the fight against DAESH militants while traveling to the Incirlik Air Base on December 15. Defense Secretary Carter said:
[,“ We don’t do that alone. We do that because there are others that are willing to stand up for civilization and stand up against ISIL. We have here, for example just to take our hosts, first of all, Turkey a long-standing NATO ally and our hosts at this particular base. The Turks, in addition to hosting us here, are taking some action along their border and in internal security and we welcome the additional steps that the Turks have taken recently. And we are asking them to take more, to do more, even we are asking ourselves to do more.”]
Right after Carter visited NATO’s Incirlik Air Base, NATO allies agreed on December 18 to send aircrafts and ships to Turkey to strengthen Ankara’s air defense along its border with Syria. Envoys of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization approved the plan determining what sort of military assets to send to Turkey. Given the fact that Turkey already has a formidable air force and strong army, NATO, taking all measures to minimize the risk of any repeat of the shooting down of the Russian war plane, is sending NATO’s AWACS Surveillance planes in concept of “enhanced air policing and increased naval presence, including maritime patrol aircraft.”
U.S. Secretary of Defenses Ash Carter paid a visit to Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base, which came only a day after the Pentagon gave a conceptual briefing about the front to U.S. President Barack Obama. The visit also came just a few days after Carter, on December 9, expressed his “ wish” that Sunni Arab nations would do more in the fight against DAESH. In conjunction with Carter’s statement, Turkey also announced that it has decided to join this alliance of 34 Sunni Arab states. In the Arab world, Shia groups supported by Iran have recently won important political victories. The regime of Bashar al-Assad, which has ruled since 1970, relies on a heterodox Shia sect. Since the 2003 intervention in Iraq unseated Saddam Hussein and instituted competitive elections, the Shia majority has dominated the parliament and produced its prime minister. Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia militia and political movement still stand as a extremist political actor in Lebanon. Shia militants in Yemen implicitly working with Iran and, have become the country’s dominant power through which Iran’s regional influence has swelled as its allies in these countries have accumulated power.
Sunni governments, especially Saudi Arabia, have become increasingly concerned about the protest movement that began in Tunisia in late 2010. The Arab uprisings spread to Bahrain and Syria and those countries were drowned in sectarian violence. The civil war in Syria has exposed sectarian conflict and has become a vicious proxy war between the region’s major Sunni and Shia powers. In the case of Yemen, Houthi rebels have expanded their territory south of Saudi Arabia providing Iran with a strategic upper hand for shipping routes in the Red Sea. In this regard, the idea of establishing a “Sunni front” did not suddenly come to the top of the agenda with Ash Carter’s visit to NATO’s Incirlik Air Base. This idea had been formulated by King Salman of Saudi Arabia to international leaders during his ascension to the throne in March 2015. A Sunni front consisting of 10 countries was formed by the end of March to take joint action in Yemen. The Sunni front was proposed by Salman as a stand against the “ Shiite crescent,” which is backed by Iran in the Middle East.
The United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization both emerged within the context of the post-World War II international security system. The UN was set up to focus on collective security mechanisms, whereas NATO arose as a collective defense alliance, in response to the emerging threat. NATO and the UN sit in harmonious coexistence, and according to the UN Charter, the Security Council is the sole authority with the ability to legitimize the use of force in international relations. Referring to Article- 51 UN Charter, “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.” NATO Treaty Article- 5 constitutes the legal basis for military action of the collective defense alliance, “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations.” In this concern, the United Nation Security Council adopted Resolution Number. 688 on April 5, 1991, which created the legal authority for other nations to intervene in Iraq for humanitarian purposes. The United States, United Kingdom and France dispatched armed forces of coalition attacks originated as part of “Operation Desert Storm”. Following the War, NATO’s Incirlik Air Base hosted combined task force for the “Opration Provide Comfort” in order to create a “no-fly zone” in Northern Iraq.
As an initial response, the UN Security Council formed resolution number. 1441, which was adopted unanimously by the council and it offered Iraq a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations. In March 2003, the United States government announced that diplomacy had failed and it would proceed with a “coalition of the willing” to get rid of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Therefore, KC-135 Stratotankers and airmen arrived in Incirlik to support operations and more than 300 U.S. army soldiers transited through Incirlik Air Base as their first stop on their way home from Iraq. For Libya’s conflict, adopting resolution number. 1973 by the Security Council authorized members states, acting through regional organizations, to take all necessary measures. The League of Arab States’ council bearing in mind the UN Chapter VIII asked the league’s member states to cooperate with other member states in implementing a “no-fly zone”. Since then, NATO’s Incirlik Air Base has been utilized to provide operational and tactical command and control of U.S. military force supporting the international response to the unrest in Libya.
Currently, NATO is deploying AWACS to Incirlik Air Base that will support the U.S. in “Operation Inherent Resolve.” AWACS is able to montir airspace within a radius of more than 400 km and exchange information with digital data links. In addition to that, the idea to establish a “Sunni front” for the fight against terrorism strongly needs the legitimacy of a UN Security Council Resolution. United States succesfully fighting against ISIS terrorism in concept of “Opration Inherent Resolve”. Powerful Turkish Army also succesfully fighting against PKK terrorism. On the other hand, Israel-Turkish rapprochement is opening the golden age to create security and stability in Middle East. Without UN’s legacy, Turkey and NATO should not risk involvement in the “Sunni front,” which may engulf western oriented-secular security alliances into religion-based sectarian violence.
Mehmet Bildik is a Research Fellow on Military and Strategic Affairs at Ministry of Foreign Affairs Turkey. He received his MA degree from the Bucharest National School of Political Science and Public Administrative Studies, Security and Diplomacy as a scholarship holder of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey.