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NATO Crisis? Turkey Defies US Sanctions: ‘We’ll Continue Buying Oil and Gas from Iran’


Patrick Henningsen
21st Century Wire

As US foreign policy goals continue to drift away from the mutual interests of its allies, some of Washington’s fundamental alliances may come under stress as a result. Will its financial largess hasten the demise of its most important military alliances?

Turkey became an integral part of the US-led geopolitical sphere of influence after it joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1952. That joint mission fell squarely under a bipolar Cold War framework of the post-World War Two international order, where few questioned the leadership and economic influence of the United States. The same cannot be said in today’s fraying international order.

On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke to reporters on his return flight from the United Nations General Assembly in New York.  He issued a stern rebuke to the US-led economic embargo of Iran, saying it was virtually ‘impossible’ for his country to halt its purchasing of Iranian oil and natural gas.  Erdogan warned financial enforcers in Washington that his country would simply disregard US sanctions on Iran. This leaves Washington in a precarious position as it tries to advance its “maximum pressure campaign” against Tehran.

In a statement made to broadcaster NTV, Erdogan said it was impossible for Turkey to stop buying oil and natural gas from Iran – despite the threat of U.S. sanctions, and added that trade between the two countries would continue.

Such defiance will be the ultimate test for imperial hawks in Washington who have elected economic warfare as their geopolitical weapon of choice.

Back in November 2018, Erdogan had protested loudly, dismissing US sanctions as an “imperial” tactic, vowing to defy them at all costs. That gambit worked, as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo then granted a special exemption ‘waiver’ which allowed Turkey to continue buying its oil and gas oil from Iran. That 6 month reprieve ended in May 2019, when the US resumed its strangulation of the Iranian economy by promptly terminating special sanctions waivers previously issued to Turkey and six other countries.

Faced with the realization that his country’s international trade will be restricted by US Treasury Department, Erdogan himself is faced with a very serious dilemma. This is a President whose own domestic popularity has been garnered in part by extolling the virtues of Turkey’s uniqueness and independence internationally. Having Turkey’s terms of business dictated by an ‘imperial’ power some 5,000 miles away does not really square with his vision and rhetoric of a New Turkey.

This raises a fundamental question regarding the cohesiveness of America’s NATO alliance with Turkey: can the US retain its geo-strategic military union without political union?

Despite the endless stream of hawkish threats by US officials against Tehran, it’s not completely clear whether or not Washington actually wants to (or is even able to) launch a military strike against the Islamic Republic of Iran. War-gaming scenarios suggest that this would result in a net loss for the US and might even accelerate its physical exit from a myriad of military and intelligence installations across the Middle East. Besides the practical considerations, both Middle East and global public opinion would not support such an act of aggression on America’s part, much less any support from its domestic constituency. Faced with increasing constraints on its military options, the US has chosen instead to apply the equally blunt instrument of economic warfare against its perceived adversaries.

While this policy hasn’t been very successful in gaining any meaningful concessions from its supposed adversaries, it has proven very effective in terms of coercing its allies into doing what Washington wants. But this has come at a great cost in terms of goodwill and cooperation.  If pushed too far, it may accelerate the disintegration of long-standing strategic alliances like NATO, formed during the previous bipolar epoch – now devoid of any of its previous collective security modus operandi in countering a Soviet existential threat. Recently, that script has been flipped, as the mutual interests of Ankara and Moscow continue to align, much to the shagrin of the Beltway foreign policy blob. What’s holding that alliance together now in 2020 may only be a carousel of transient short-term interests and opportunities, and a rapidly petering ebb of goodwill. Unfortunately for Washington, these diminishing returns may not be enough to retain the geopolitical loyalty of NATO’s second largest standing military force.

Arguably, Syria is an important litmus test for this alliance.  The joint membership of US and Turkey within the NATO framework has preserved an air of deconfliction in a hotly contested Syrian conflict theatre, as well providing a lingering Article 5 deterrent which may be prohibiting any Damascus-led coalition parties with engaging directly with Turkey in its various ‘war on terror’ forays into Syrian areas of Idlib, Afrin, Jarbalus and Manbij which Turkey claims is essential in order to deal with Kurdish YPG/PKK threats to its national security.

More broadly though, be it by military or economic means, if the US (continually nudged by its regional ally in Israel) continues to try and exert its neocolonial dominance over the region, then it won’t be long before its previously loyal regional partners, like Turkey, may begin viewing Washington as a 21st century bona fide existential threat. This is already happening.

Struggling to manifest a new raison d’être to justify its presence in the region, this is the point in history where the United States may have worn out its welcome in the Middle East. Undoubtedly, such a new development would seriously hurt the maintenance of NATO’s eastern flank, and with that an important arm of US-led geopolitical control stretching into Eurasia.

Ironically, it’s not been the military largess which may bring about the demise of this important wing of NATO, but rather Washington’s own over-the-top financial aggression.

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Author Patrick Henningsen is an American writer and global affairs analyst and founder of independent news and analysis site 21st Century Wire, and is host of the SUNDAY WIRE weekly radio show broadcast globally over the Alternate Current Radio Network (ACR). He has written for a number of international publications and has done extensive on-the-ground reporting in the Middle East including work in Syria and Iraq.

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