Point Counterpoint: Turkey Should Be Expelled from NATO

Backgrounders – August 6, 2019

By Alessandro Gagaridis

cc Flickr Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet, modified, 170819-N-QR145-042 BLACK SEA (Aug. 19, 2017) Sailors aboard Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78)look out to Turkish replenishment oiler TCG YB. Kudret (A 595) while making an approach to conduct a replenishment-at-sea in the Black Sea Aug. 19, 2017. Porter, forward-deployed to Rota, Spain, is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Krystina Coffey/ Released)

Point counterpoint is a new
series where two analysts assess a pertinent geopolitical issue from
opposing points of view. Neither represents an official stance of
Geopoliticalmonitor.com or any other institution the authors are
associated with.

Turkey’s purchase of the Russian-made S-400 air defense system
has angered the country’s NATO allies, the latest in a series of
disagreements fueling a deterioration of Ankara’s relations with the
West. The widening rift has some openly questioning the utility of
Turkey’s ongoing presence in NATO, advocating for Ankara’s expulsion.

Given the past few years of geopolitical divergence between Turkey
and the West – this might actually be the best course of action for the
Alliance.

The fracture within: Turkey’s geopolitical drift from its NATO allies

Turkey has been a NATO member since 1952, and during the Cold War it
represented the main bulwark against possible Soviet offensives on the
Alliance’s southern flank. However, there have always been significant
discrepancies between Ankara and its Western partners. While a certain
divergence of interests and approaches is normal in a multilateral
military alliance, the drift has been particularly pronounced in
Turkey’s case.

First, Turkey has always had tense relations with Greece, another
NATO member. The two engaged in open military clashes during the 1974
Cyprus crisis. Ankara occupied of the northern part of the island and
established the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is not
recognized by the international community. This is an awkward situation
for NATO members, especially after they condemned Russia’s annexation of
Crimea. Greece and Turkey also have an unresolved dispute over the
delimitation of their respective maritime and aerial zones in the
Aegean. This has brought them to the brink of war in 1987 and 1996, and
the Turkish military frequently violates
Greek airspace. After the discovery of hydrocarbon deposits in the
Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey has assertively advanced its rights and
has not hesitated to confront Greece and Italy.

Contradictions also exist in the Middle East. Turkey hosts the
important Incirlik air base (where US tactical nuclear warheads are
stored) and is NATO’s gateway to the region. Yet it has been lukewarm in
supporting America’s interests and that of other Western partners.
Turkey stood still when the self-declared Islamic State (IS) emerged in Iraq and Syria, and has even been accused
of having favored its rise and, at least initially, allowing the group
to finance its terrorist activities by smuggling oil through Turkish
territory. Ankara also conducted military operations to prevent the
US-backed YPG Kurdish militia from taking control of a strip of Syrian
and Iraqi land bordering its territory. Turkey’s relations with US
allies like Saudi Arabia, Israel,
and Egypt have been deteriorating in the past few years, whereas it has
been fostering closer ties with adversaries like Russia and Iran.
Turkey has also openly supported Qatar, which is subject to a Saudi-led
blockade on the basis of its alleged support for Islamist movements and
its cooperation with Iran. This has further aggravated the rift with
other regional powers, with detrimental consequences for US policy in
the Middle East.

Ankara’s relations with Western capitals have also become more strained owing to democracy and human rights
issues. Turkey has experienced an authoritarian drift since Recep
Tayyip Erdogan first came to power in 2003, a trend that intensified
following the failed coup of 2016 and the subsequent purges. The Kurdish
population remains discriminated against, and the government denies or
at best downplays the genocide of the Armenians and other populations
during the aftermath of WWI. Erdogan’s Islamist policies are also a
matter of concern among its Western partners. For his part, Erdogan has
not hesitated to compare European leaders to Nazis and use similar harsh language.

Lastly, Turkey has been flirting with Russia – which remains NATO’s main security concern – to the point of buying its S-400 air-defense system.
This represents a major break from the Alliance and raises a myriad of
operational issues because the platform is not interoperable with
Western hardware. In response, the US has expelled Turkey from the F-35
program, also due to the risk that by operating both systems, Turkey
could leak important information on NATO aircraft to the Russians. It is
also possible that Washington will introduce economic sanctions against
Ankara under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions
Act.

Ousting Turkey: The Benefits

These multiple divergences between Turkey and its Western allies cast
doubt on the validity of Ankara’s ongoing membership in NATO. Despite
its official stance,
Ankara has proven resistant when called to intervene in defense of the
Organization’s common interest; however, it has not hesitated  to pursue
its own objectives, even when this meant contravening the NATO line.
Turkey often behaves like an unreliable and ambivalent partner, and its
participation in the Alliance creates more problems than benefits:

First, any attack on Turkish territory would be considered an attack
against all members, which would leave the Alliance facing the dilemma
of either being involved in a war or losing the credibility of its
collective security guarantee. While an attack from Russia is a
calculated risk since NATO mainly exists to deter this scenario, it is
also true that Turkey’s occasional recklessness – such as the downing of
a Russian military aircraft in 2015 – could lead to an escalation with
unforeseeable consequences. Yet Ankara can pursue its assertive policy
largely because it is part of the Alliance, meaning that it exposes the
collectivity to useless risks for its own benefit. In addition, Russia
is not the only potential antagonist: any standoff between Turkey and
Iran could produce the same effects. At present, Turkey’s improving
relations with both powers would seem to exclude the possibility, but it
cannot be ruled out in the future.

Second, Turkey has been playing the double game for too long. It
should not provoke Russia and Iran, but neither should it collaborate
with them against the interests of its Western partners. Yet this is
exactly what Ankara has been doing in the Middle East and when it
purchased the S-400 system. Similarly, it has kept an ambiguous stance
with regards to Islamic State,
a group that has perpetrated terrorist attacks on European soil,
preferring to prioritize its own battle with the Kurds instead.

In short, Turkey’s foreign policy is detrimental to NATO’s strategic interests in the Middle East.

Third, Turkey’s membership leaves the Alliance in a compromised
position on various fronts: namely Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies;
his attempt to exploit the Turkish diaspora to promote his interests in
Europe; the persistent occupation of Northern Cyprus; Turkey’s assertive
actions in the Eastern Mediterranean; and its frequent violations of
Greek airspace. For an organization based upon the principles of
democracy and rule of law, which seeks to promote international peace
and stability, Turkey’s behavior represents a major contradiction and
damages the Alliance’s image.

As such, many claim that ousting Ankara from NATO is an option to be
seriously considered. In principle, this raises costs in the form of
losing a powerful partner in a strategic position, but in practice the
problem may be less serious than it appears. The assets currently based
on Turkish territory can be moved to more trustworthy partners, even
though this would have some operational consequences. Most importantly,
Turkey’s own uncooperative, if not outright abrasive, attitude already
offsets the advantages its membership is supposed to bring. At the same
time, expelling Turkey would allow the Organization and its members to
simply counter Ankara whenever the latter’s actions go against its
common interests, and NATO would be freed from any obligation to protect
an untrustworthy ally that does little to promote the common interest
and often acts openly against it in a manner that undermines NATO’s
cohesion and policies.

As such, Ankara’s exit from NATO would put an end to the numerous
problems linked to its membership. And, arguably, it’s the Turkish
government itself that is choosing this path. Ankara’s recent tilts
toward rival powers like Russia and Iran seems to indicate that it is
already drifting away from its trans-Atlantic commitments; therefore,
expelling the country from NATO would simply make official the de facto break-up that Turkey has been actively seeking over the past decade.

Point counterpoint is a new series where two analysts assess a
pertinent geopolitical issue from opposing points of view. Neither
represents an official stance of Geopoliticalmonitor.com or any other
institution the authors are associated with.

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Author: Geopolitical Monitor

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