US-Turkey Relations Take Public Blow with Child Soldiers Accusation
Analysts say move is a warning of possible further action from Washington against Ankara
The US has put Turkey on a list of countries implicated in the use of child soldiers, another step in its worsening relations with Ankara, analysts told The Media Line.
The move was the latest rebuke by Washington against its NATO ally amid years of deteriorating ties, highlighted by Ankara’s purchase of Russian weapons, and accelerated by US President Joe Biden taking office, and then waiting three months to hold a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkey is the first member of NATO that the US has put on the list of countries that have recruited or used child soldiers, as part of the US State Department’s 2021 Trafficking in Persons report that was released on Thursday.
It will definitely have ramifications on US-Turkish relations
Ryan Bohl, a Middle East and North Africa analyst with Stratfor, told The Media Line that the US is sending a signal that it is monitoring Turkey’s human rights record and foreign policy, with the possibility of taking more serious action in the future.
Bohl said it is unlikely the U.S. would immediately apply penalties connected to the law, but that Washington now has a legal mechanism with which to punish Turkey later.
He added that it also shows how much Washington’s relationship with Turkey is facing increased scrutiny and bolstering the belief that the US should decrease its reliance on its NATO ally.
“It’s going to add credence to those arguments … that’s just going to keep building, that tension that the country is drifting a little bit too authoritarian,” he said.
He added that the emphasis on Syria and Libya shows that Washington is especially concerned about who Turkey is allied with in those countries, with concerns that some of the proxy groups include jihadist elements.
US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said on Thursday the addition of Turkey to the list would not affect talks over Ankara heading security of Kabul airport in Afghanistan as the US nears completion of withdrawing its troops.
“This is just wishful thinking,” said Muzaffer Senel, from Ankara Medipol University’s Political Science and International Relations Department. “It will definitely have ramifications on US-Turkish relations,” he added.
Senel said he expects Turkey to respond in the medium-to-long term by shifting more toward Russia and China.
Ties with the US and NATO are top priorities for Turkey, which relies on the military alliance’s deterrence to ensure its territorial security in a region where it borders Syria, Iraq and Iran.
However, Washington has failed to use its leverage to change Ankara’s position on Syria, most notably when Turkey launched an offensive in the northeast in October 2019 against the US-allied Kurdish militia, the YPG.
Ankara asserts that the YPG cooperates with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, which Ankara, Washington and the European Union classify as a terrorist organization.
Before the 2019 offensive, talks failed between Turkey and the US over its alliance with the YPG and its presence in northeast Syria near the Turkish border, which Ankara views as a major security threat.
A letter from then-President Donald Trump warning Erdogan to not “be a fool” also failed to stop the Turkish president’s incursion into Syria.
A hard-line approach from the US could help Erdogan, who used anti-American sentiments in the past to boost his position when he faced pressure over Turkey experiencing financial strain.
When the US put sanctions on Turkey over its detention of an American pastor, for example, Erdogan called for a boycott of US electronics, leading people to smash their iPhones and cut up US dollars.
If you want to ban all kinds of child soldiers, then each country should respect [that] without any kind of discrimination, but now there’s discrimination
Turkey has responded to being put on the child soldiers list by calling the US hypocritical, charging that the YPG uses child soldiers.
A statement from the Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said that it is a “striking example of hypocrisy and double standards as the US openly aids, provides weapons to PKK/YPG that forcibly recruits children,” reported the Reuters news agency.
In 2018, Human Rights Watch accused the YPG of recruiting children for military training and not telling their families where they were.
“It’s not a fair list at least … I don’t believe they have a good will,” Senel said, of the US child soldiers list.
“If you want to ban all kinds of child soldiers, then each country should respect [that] without any kind of discrimination, but now there’s discrimination,” he added.
Bohl contends that while the US is not in a morally high position, Turkey still has the most to lose if it moves further out of step with the US.
Then, Bohl said: “The United States begins to threaten to change policies, defense policies towards Turkey, that impacts Turkey far more than Turkey trying to make those kind of counterthreats to the United States.”