Erdoğan values NATO membership that puts Turkey at the table internationally-analyst
NATO membership is a huge source of prestige for Turkey that helps the country sit at the table internationally, said Max Hoffman, associate director of National Security and International Policy at the Centre for American Progress (CAP).
“Erdoğan still values that membership, so hence he played nice in Brussels this week,” Hoffman told Nervana Mahmoud, the host of Ahval’s Turkish Trends podcast on Thursday.
“He wants an independent relationship with Russia, but the NATO membership also protects him from Russia,” Hoffman said.
Cooperation between Ankara and Moscow has grown in recent years, as highlighted by Ankara’s purchase of Russian-made S-400 missile systems against the strong objections of the United States and other NATO allies in particular.
For over a decade, Erdoğan was rhetorically trying to position Turkey as a strong independent power, not part of an eastern bloc certainly, but also not just a member of the Western team, Hoffman said.
“Erdoğan wants Turkey to be on its own team, and this was fine when it was rhetorical,” he said.
After the coup attempt in 2016 and the escalation in Syria, Erdoğan began to act much more aggressively, leading to angst in the West and the United States, Hoffman said.
But when it comes to NATO, the alliance is still valuable for Turkey, he said.
Turkey’s acquisition of the Russian missile system remains one of the major issues of disagreements between Washington and Ankara. As a result, all eyes were on Erdoğan’s meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden in Brussels on the sidelines of a NATO summit on Monday regarding the issue.
“The S-400 issue is completely unresolved in the meeting and I’m sure Biden is not happy with the status quo,” Hoffman said.
“This is a NATO ally who purchased a major weapons system from Russia, which is an enemy for the U.S. and the U.S. feels should be an enemy for NATO,” he said.
This purchase infuriated U.S. officials, but there has been a response to it, Hoffman said.
Following Turkey’s acquisition of the system in 2019, the U.S. expelled Turkey from its F-35 fighter jet programme. Also, last December, Washington targeted Turkey’s Presidency of Defence Industries (SSB) under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) with measures including an export licence ban, asset freeze and visa restrictions on top officials.
But the U.S. doesn’t want Turkey outside NATO or alienated completely or cooperating more closely with Russia. It wants to manage this problem and will try to resolve it eventually. They’re just trying to make clear to Erdoğan that this is not going away,” Hoffman said.
According to Hoffman, having that meeting on the sidelines of a NATO summit was a signal that this relationship right now is primarily limited to that alliance.
“The Biden administration had pretty clearly signalled since the election that their desire was to establish some distance between the presidents and return Turkish relations to the normal bureaucratic channels because, as we all know, the Trump-Erdoğan relationship got highly personalised and chaotic and resulted in all sorts of chaotic decisions and roll-outs,” he said.
Erdoğan was so desperate to be on the winning side of the meeting, but now he is on the conciliatory side, Hoffman said.
“He is trying to smooth things over, putting the temperature down abroad, largely to protect the economy, which seems in a very poor shape.”
According to Hoffman, parts of the meeting went fine. For example, there are one or two areas in which the two countries’ interests align, such as Afghanistan, the cross-border assistance in Syria and perhaps Libya.
“But there are a bunch of disagreements as well,” Hoffman said. “So right now, this is a compartmentalised relationship and that’s what we saw reflected in the meeting.”