No more military exports to Turkey

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Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide finally responded to repeated demands that the Norwegian government take a stand against Turkey’s invasion of Kurdish areas in Syria earlier this week. She said late Thursday that her ministry was indefinitely suspending review of all new applications for export licenses of defense material to Turkey, but stopped short of condemning the invasion.

Things were not looking up this week for Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide (center), who’s under pressure (along with Prime Minister Erna Solberg, at right, and the rest of the Norwegian government) to condemn Turkey’s invasion of Northern Syria. Søreide halted licensing for defense-related exports to Turkey on Thursday, but hasn’t gone further. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

“We are following the situation with deep concern,” Søreide told newspaper Dagbladet after repeated calls for reaction to the invasion from opposition politicians and representatives of Kurds in Norway.

Søreide claimed the Norwegian government had made a “clear appeal” to Turkish officials that they “must end their military operation” and respect the rule of law. “We in the foreign ministry have also expressed this in a meeting with Turkey’s ambassador to Norway,” Søreide stated.

Since the situation was “unclear” and changing quickly, her ministry will no longer handle new applications regarding exports of military equipment or  “multi-purpose” items that could be used for military purposes. “We’re also going through all valid licenses for export of defense material and products for military use in Turkey,” Søreide said.

Anniken Huitfeldt, a Member of Parliament for the Norwegian Labour Party who leads the Parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee, wasn’t entirely satisfied. “It’s important that Norway sends a clear message to Turkey within the framework of NATO obligations,” Huitfeldt said. She wants Norway to be as critical as Denmark, which has flatly condemned the invasion by Turkey, which otherwise is a partner and ally of both Norway and Denmark in NATO. Huitfeldt further wants Norway “to take this up in NATO.”

NATO’s dilemma
The invasion ordered by Turkey’s authoritarian president Recep Erdogan poses a major dilemma for NATO. It follows US President Donald Trump’s sudden decision earlier this week to immediately pull US troops out of the area on the Syrian side of the border to Turkey, where they’d been cooperating with and supporting the Kurds who played a major role in defeating the brutal terrorist organization IS. Both Turkey and the US are members of NATO, which also collectively backed Kurdish forces in Northern Syria.

Trump’s decision has been roundly criticized not only by other NATO allies including Germany and France, but also by otherwise supportive members of his own Republican Party in Congress. Trump reportedly acted against the recommendations of his own advisers at the White House and political allies, allowing Erdogan to launch on assault on Kurds whom he views as “terrorists” that he claims threaten Turkey. It’s unclear why Trump caved in to Erdogan, but speculation was centering on Trump’s own personal business investments in Turkey, and, perhaps, Trump’s affinity for authoritarian leaders like Erdogan.

The problem is that Kurdish forces in Northern Syria were allied with the US and hailed for helping to stabilize the area after defeating the IS terrorists. Trump is now accused of betraying an ally and allowing the area to risk destabilization once again. Oslo newspaper Aftenposten editorialized on Friday that “Trump seems to listen more to Turkey’s president than to his own (US) advisers,” and has again shown that he has little if any respect for international alliances or regard for the consequences of his often impulsive decisions. That severely damages confidence among allies.

While Erdogan claims he wants to set up a new buffer zone along Turkey’s border to Syria, and populate it with Syrian refugees who’ve been living in Turkey during the Syrian civil war, others claim he’s launching an entirely new war that threatens the entire Middle East. Kurdish control of IS prisoners may vanish as Kurds flee Turkish forces themselves, “and no one wants IS prisoners on the loose,” editorialized Aftenposten, which lamented the ingratitude Trump has shown to the Kurdish forces in Syria.

Calls for condemnation
Angry Kurds in Norway also called on Søreide to condemn Turkey’s invasion of what’s viewed as the most stable region in Syria, thanks largely to the Kurds themselves. Andam Aziz, political spokesman for a pro-democracy Kurdish organization in Norway (Kurdisk demokratisk samfunnssenter) wrote in several Norwegian newspapers this week that its “democratic project” in Northern Syria that promotes “grassroots democracy, women’s liberation and a multi-cultural society “is the opposite of Turkey’s system, where President Erdogan crushes all opposition and centralizes more power to himself.”

“Will you again stand on the sidelines and watch your NATO ally attack the Kurds who defeated IS?” Aziz asked Søreide in a commentary written before the invasion. “How can we call you our foreign minister if you accept how a NATO ally violates the rule of law and changes the demographics of Northern Syria?”

Søreide claims Norway is not “accepting” that, and acknowledged that Turkey’s actions can lead to increased instability in the region and undermine the battle against IS. She called on Turkey to “show restraint.”

That’s unlikely to satisfy either Aziz of other Members of Parliament including the leader of the Socialist Left party (SV), Audun Lysbakken. “Norway must put maximum pressure on Turkey,” Lysbakken told newspaper Klassekampen. He rejected Erdogan’s label for his operation, “Operation Peace Spring” and its goal to “neutralize” a Kurdish terror threat against Turkey.

“The Kurds in SDF (Syria’s democratic forces) have made an invaluable contribution in the fight against IS,” Lysbakken said. “Now they’ve been betrayed by Trump.” He and many others don’t want Norway to add to the betrayal: “Norway faces a test of how firm we stand by our principles, also when it’s uncomfortable. The question now is whether Norway is willing to think for itself and not follow after Trump.” Berglund