In the two years following the Russian annexation of the Crimea, the Black Sea region has turned into a seismic spot for geopolitical destabilization.
The failed coup against Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the latest in a series of events that have undermined stability in the area. There is now concern that relations between Ankara and the rest of NATO could change, which would have an averse effect on regional security.
On the other hand, NATO has had some successes in the region, with Montenegro joining soon and the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine strengthening their relations with the Western alliance.
The Independent newspaper reports that the American secretary of state, John Kerry, has suggested the coup attempt in Turkey could threaten that nation’s NATO membership.
This has not been corroborated by NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, who maintained in the wake of the failed putsch that “Turkey is a valued NATO ally.”
But former NATO military commander James G. Stavridis argues in Foreign Policy magazine that the relationship between Turkey and the United States is now at a “critical and delicate” juncture.
The status of İncirlik Air Base in the southeast of the country is of particular significance, as it reportedly hosts American tactical nuclear weapons and is being used for strikes against the self-declared Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The Turkish base commander has been detained for suspected complicity in the coup attempt.
The question of a possible NATO-led Black Sea fleet aimed at deterring Russian aggression in the region is now on hold. After Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borissov ruled out his country’s participation in such an operation, there was an official apology from Ankara for the shooting down of a Russian jet in December.
These developments have left open the question of NATO activity in the Black Sea. It seems highly unlikely that Turkey could be excluded from a potential Black Sea fleet, since it has the largest navy in the region.
As NATO debates its future strategy, Russia is fortressing the Crimea with plans to send new anti-aircraft missiles to the peninsula.
There is still no actual ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, where casualties are reported daily on both sides.
And Europe is coping with the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War.
Political instability in Turkey — which earlier this year agreed to help curtail the flow of migrants into Europe — can only make dealing with the war in Ukraine and the refugee crisis more difficult.
The rest of NATO may need to look beyond Turkey and cooperate with third states that share an interest in regional stability, such as Georgia, Macedonia, Serbia and Ukraine.
This will be particularly important in the coming years as international terrorism, security, energy and humanitarian concerns are likely to mount in the Black Sea region.
The unstable internal politics of countries like Macedonia and Ukraine could prove an obstacle to cooperation. Common policies, such as the emerging joint European Union border agency, could help alleviate the pressure on regional states. Such schemes should be enacted faster and within the context of an EU foreign and security policy that runs parallel to NATO’s.