Erdogan’s slap to the face of Nato means the alliance must drop him
Apparently, if you translate Nato’s Article 5 into Turkish, it reads that an attack by one member is an attack by all members. That, at least, was the impression given by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan yesterday, when he denounced his allies for failing to live up to their obligations under the North Atlantic treaty.
President Erdoğan made it plain he doesn’t just expect the US and others to be neutral, or simply not to condemn Turkey’s invasion of Syria, he wants them actively to join in.
In an address to his party’s central committee, the president insisted there would be no retreat (“Turks know only success or death!”) to chants of support.
He peppered his speech with charges that Western countries had sponsored the Islamic and Kurdish terrorists. France was even accused of providing the cement for a network of terrorist tunnels under the Turkish border. In short, he said, Nato is at the heart of Turkey’s problems instead of being an ally against terrorism.
This slap in the face means it is time for Nato to come to terms with an uncomfortable reality. Not only is Erdoğan not the politician the West thought he was when they welcomed him as a reformer in 2002, but the nation he leads is not moving westwards either.
Even young urban Turks who voted for the president’s opponents in local elections a few months ago are rallying to his aggressive nationalism.
Meanwhile, the state’s religious directorate ensures that the mosques’ loudspeakers boom out the verses of victory.
The Syrian border war is a symptom of the deep fissure that has opened between the West’s once reliable bastion in the region and the rest of Nato. No doubt, Turks have often felt undervalued by their allies. But that resentment never before undercut the sense that their country’s security was served by integration into the alliance. All that has changed.
What the rest of the West needs to decide is whether our collective security is served by an alliance which includes a rogue state whose actions discredit Nato’s claims to defend basic human rights and now seem to be flying in the face of its commitment to operate as a defensive alliance.
Turkey has gone from bad boy at the back of the class to, in effect, a disruptive infiltrator. Buying Russian anti-aircraft missiles damages Nato’s military cohesion. Cosying up to Russia and Iran continues to undermine the alliance’s political coherence.
Mr Erdoğan’s dismissive approach to Turkey’s old allies is destabilising not only the West but his own country. His new partners are happy to use Turkey to weaken the West, but they have no affection for it.
While the president has led the way into self-isolation, many in both the political leadership and the country at large have joined him in turning their backs on Nato.
The West needs to acknowledge that fact and find a way of removing Turkey from the alliance.
Mark Almond is director of the Crisis Research Institute, Oxford