The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s irrational measures and unexpected shifts towards the East, and particularly Russia, gave the analysts a reason to talk about NATO members’ discontent with Ankara steps and even question its remaining in the military organization. Four factors stand up for raising the issue:
The first is the Turkish shooting down of the Russian? SU-24 bomber over Syria on November 24, 2015 that brought forth a big trouble for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. After the incident, which triggered a real rift between Ankara and Moscow, Erdogan called on NATO to show support. But this did not happen. To Turkey’s surprise, the 28-nation alliance not only declined to comment in favor of Ankara but also some of its member states lashed out at the Turkish leader for sparking the escalation with Russia.
Furthermore, Ankara declined to support the US-led military coalition against ISIS in an array of regional issues? among them the Syrian and Iraqi crises, leading to NATO frustration with Ankara officials as the war against terrorism unfolded. In Syria, Washington is allied with the Kurds and supplies them with military support in north of the country as part of a broad strategy to enable them make battleground gains while Erdogan labels them terrorists, making US-Turkey stances severely frayed. This was not the last time the two side’s relations went strained. When Turkey sent forces to Syria’s north as part of its Operation Euphrates Shield to stop advances of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), things moved towards further escalation between the Americans and the Turks.
A third factor that pushed the NATO-Turkey’s ties towards further deterioration was a growing proximity of Ankara to the East, apparently to the Moscow and Tehran camp. Following the last July’s failed military coup against the Turkish president, he asserted that he now can clearly recognize the friends from the enemies. The comments were understood to be a kind of warning to the US and NATO as he accused them of plotting against him in the army’s power grab attempt.
Then the president travelled to Moscow to meet with President Vladimir Putin of Russia. Further closeness of Turkey with Russia and Iran ensued. The three countries’ cooperation led to constructive coordination on Syria’s crisis. They agreed to bring the Syrian government and the opposition face to face for negotiation in Astana, Kazakhstan, to help them discuss solution for the devastating conflict ongoing since more than six years.
On September 31, last year Moscow and Ankara brokered an inclusive ceasefire between Damascus and the militants. It is holding now. All these developments contributed to further distancing of Turkey from the Western military organization.
Still another issue that helped widening the gaps between the two is the Turkish domestic conditions. Erdogan has started moving towards authoritarianism through concentration of power in the hands of the post of president. The power size enlargement efforts of the Turkish leader reached their climax recently when he held a referendum on April 16 to change the parliamentary system to presidential, a move helping him solidify power. Many NATO-member European countries strongly criticized Erdogan for his power increase. Some European leaders like Germany chancellor and the Netherlands and Italy prime ministers clashed verbally with President Erdogan over the issue when he sent his ministers for some European countries to campaign for yes vote of the Turkish nationals in Europe. A wide-ranging crackdown on the opposition and freedom of speech by the Justice and Development Party-led (AKP) government at home also added to NATO frustration with Ankara.
All these rifts raised the notion that other members no longer favored membership of Turkey in NATO, and even they could demand for Ankara to be expelled. Turkey joined NATO in 1952.
But despite all these tensions, the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberb in a recent interview told the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung that Turkey played a crucial role in the military alliance’s missions in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and the Mediterranean, and that without Ankara, which is key to Europe’s security, NATO will be “weak.”
Stoltenberb also pointed to the Turkish role in battling ISIS terrorist group and the significance of its military strength while the neighboring countries of Syria and Iraq are suffering from a terrorist-led domestic crises. He further called on the Western sides to stop condemning Ankara leaders and respect them and seek consistent stances with each other.
Regarding these fairly surprise comments on Turkey by the NATO chief, it must be noted that NATO is convinced that Turkey’s role is vital in the international equations. The NATO leaders in fact see Turkey as the most important party helping the Western efforts to check the Russian-led East progresses. Turkey has been in the Western camp since the Cold War period. Actually, NATO cannot afford losing its decades-long ally to its archrival Russia, especially that Erdogan can easily take the risk.
Beside Turkey’s significance for NATO, it must be taken into account that Erdogan’s anti-Western threats have proven effective in making NATO review postures.
It appears that the West has softened standings and disregarded its problems with Turkey in a bid to steer clear of Ankara moving toward Moscow particularly after Erdogan said he will work to finalize a deal with Moscow that will see delivery of the modern Russian S-400 air defense systems to Turkey. In general, NATO head’s Turkey-related remarks make it clear for the West that Ankara should stay part of West’s NATO no matter how is its political system and form of government.
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