David Phillips
May 20 2019

It is time to review Turkey’s NATO membership

NATO is more than a security alliance. It is a coalition of countries with shared values. If Turkey applied for NATO membership today, its application would not even be considered, and not only because it is Islamist, anti-democratic, and anti-American. Turkey’s security cooperation with Russia would also disqualify it from joining the alliance.

Tensions between the United States and Turkey have reached a boiling point over President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s commitment to buy Russian S-400 surface-to-air missiles for $2.5 billion. The missiles are scheduled for delivery in July.

The Pentagon has tried a combination of carrots and sticks to dissuade Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400s. Ankara has resisted pressure from the United States to take Patriot missiles instead, even though the U.S.-made Patriots are a superior weapons system and, with heavy subsidies, the Patriots are more affordable than the S-400s.

Erdoğan is adamant: “There can never be a turning back. This would not be ethical, it would be immoral. Nobody should ask us to lick up what we spat.”

Not only is Turkey sticking to arrangements for delivery of the S-400s, Erdoğan has suggested that Turkey might deepen its security cooperation with Russia, seeking the more advanced S-500 missile system from Moscow.

Buying missiles from Russia raises questions about Turkey’s reliability as an ally. It also undermines the core NATO principle of inter-operability.

So why is Erdoğan thumbing his nose at the United States and eroding Turkey’s credibility as a NATO ally?

His motivation is political. He is making a statement about Turkey’s independence from the West.

Erdoğan has taken umbrage over U.S. criticism of Turkey’s human rights record and its support for jihadis in Syria. He deeply resents U.S. security cooperation with Syrian Kurds, Washington’s allies fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.

U.S. criticisms of Turkey are justified. Under Erdoğan’s dictatorship, Turkey has been turned into a giant gulag.

After the so-called coup on July 15, 2016, tens of thousands of Turks were jailed under bogus terrorism charges and more than 100,000 civil servants were dismissed from their jobs. Turkey has jailed more journalists than any other country.

Rankling U.S. officials and evangelicals, Turkey kept U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson in jail for more than two years. Erdoğan wanted to use him as a bargaining chip for the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, whose religious movement the Turkish government accuses of plotting the 2016 coup attempt. Though Brunson was released, several U.S. citizens and consular officials still remain imprisoned in Turkey. 

Former vice president Joe Biden accused Turkey of assisting jihadis in Syria, providing transport, logistics, money, and weapons. The jihadi highway from Şanlıurfa in Turkey to Raqqa, the self-declared caliphate of ISIS, was run by Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency.

Not only is Erdoğan’s reputation tarnished abroad, his standing in Turkey is diminished. The partial defeat of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in recent local elections is a measure of voters’ dissatisfaction with Erdoğan’s leadership and his stewardship of Turkey’s economy. The Turkish lira has plummeted and foreign direct investment has all but evaporated. Erdoğan blames the United States and Jewish bankers.

Erdoğan has lashed out against the United States. Deepening security cooperation with Russia is the wrong response to criticism from Washington.

The Trump administration is penalizing Turkey by suspending delivery of the stealthy F-35 joint strike fighter aircraft, unless Turkey cancels acquisition of the S-400s. Deploying the F-35s alongside S-400s is anathema to the Pentagon and Members of the U.S. Congress.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen applauded the administration’s decision “to delay the transfer of F-35 equipment to Turkey to help ensure U.S. military technology and capabilities cannot fall into the hands of the Kremlin.”

She added, “The Kremlin is an adversary of the United States and many of our NATO allies. The prospect of Russia having access to U.S. aircraft and technology in a NATO country, Turkey, is a serious national and global security risk.”

There are stringent conditions for countries to join NATO. However, there is no process for evicting a NATO member. The charter never envisioned a NATO member going rogue and conspiring with NATO’s adversaries.

The North Atlantic Council should adopt a “Performance Review Process”. The criteria for getting into NATO – adherence to human rights, free and fair elections, and security cooperation – should be used as a scorecard to evaluate NATO members.

If a NATO member gets a failing grade for two consecutive years, its membership should be suspended. If it does not make a course correction, the NATO member should be evicted in the third year. Not only Turkey, but countries like Hungary should be scrutinized.

Turkey has gone rogue. It is a bad actor in NATO. Many Turks are disgraced by Erdoğan’s conduct. It is time for the country to pay a steep price.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.

© Ahval English

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.