Turkey became a member of Nato in 1951 and was a useful and reliable partner until recent years when in many instances it has gone rogue pursuing hostile military policies out of sync with Nato’s and hurling abuse at its fellow Nato members including the United States and Germany.
In 2017, the government was mulling barring US pilots from operating out of the Incirlik Airbase due to America’s alliance with Kurdish militant groups battling Daesh [the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] in Syria on the front lines.
The Trump administration was initially opposed to the Turkish military’s offensive in the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in Syria that threatens to spill over into the town of Manbij warning that it could result in direct confrontation with US forces.
But it seems the US has now shamefully abandoned its Kurdish friends in favour of good relations with Ankara under the pretext that those Kurds, who fought shoulder to shoulder with the US, had been “vetted”.
Germany has taken a different tack. It has threatened to halt weapons supplies to Turkey and a report recently published in the Rheinische Post indicates that the proposed new Chancellor Merkel-led coalition would freeze negotiations on Turkey’s accession to the EU due to human rights abuses.
Western countries have frowned upon the Turkish president’s on-off flirtations with Russia. The “axis of friendship” between Ankara and Moscow was cemented in 2016 when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan heaped praise on President Vladimir Putin calling him “a dear friend” even as Nato was ramping up its military capabilities in Eastern Europe and plans to extend its missile defence shield in to Poland.
Conversely, he has taunted Donald Trump saying, “You cannot buy Turkey’s democratic will with your dollars”. Just days ago Erdogan accused the United States of having “calculations against Turkey and Iran, and maybe Russia” demanding that US troops withdraw from Manbij. Ankara’s relationship with Tehran is anything but transparent.
Erdogan hasn’t pulled punches when it comes to others considered Nato’s core nations either. He described the governments of Germany and the Netherlands as “Nazi remnants and fascists” last year for their refusal to approve pre-election pro-Erdogan rallies on their soil.
Yet despite Turkey’s incompatible behaviours and policies as well as its fraught relationship with key European states, under Nato’s treaty were Turkey to be attacked all member countries would be obliged to come to its aid.
Last year, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark were strongly in opposition to Ankara hosting Nato’s annual summit because as a Nato diplomat revealed to Die Welt, “We do not want to enhance Turkey’s international credentials and we want to avoid the impression that Nato supports the Turkish government’s internal policy”.
One can safely assume that he was referencing the government’s cruel purges following the failed coup when hundreds of thousands were arrested or thrown out of their jobs, including police officers, judges, academics and media personnel. Protests have been brutally dealt with and opposing voices silenced. Today, anyone who dares to criticise Erdogan risks seeing the inside of a jail.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) was formed by North American and European Nations in 1949 as a military alliance between like-minded countries to counter threats from Soviet aggression and other mutual foes. It was founded the basis of democratic principles, the safeguarding of freedoms and the rule of law enshrined in the United Nations charter.
Turkey no longer adheres to Nato’s values and core principles. Nevertheless Nato member states have little appetite to kiss Ankara goodbye for several reasons.
Erdogan would likely seek shelter in Putin’s embrace and could potentially team up with Russia’s ally Iran.
Secondly, Nato would lose its second largest standing military force after the US and its ability to fly military sorties from Incirlik.
Most crucially, Ankara could retaliate by opening the door for 3.7 million refugees, currently residing in its camps, to head to Europe.
It is an unfortunate reality that the Turkish president has Nato and the EU over a barrel and he knows it. The danger is that this loose cannon’s belligerence particularly in the Middle East could embroil Nato states in a conflict with regional friends.
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.