Du­bi­ous ally

Would NATO be bet­ter off with­out Turkey? Ankara is now hav­ing a fu­ri­ous row with Amer­ica and its other mil­i­tary al­lies

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Michael Binyon, Lon­don

Michael Binyon on the con­flict be­tween Turkey and West and NATO

It has de­nounced its Euro­pean part­ners. It has bought arms from Rus­sia. And Pres­i­dent Er­do­gan now ac­cuses Don­ald Trump of stab­bing him in the back. Is there still any value in NATO’s links with Ankara?

The clam­our to ex­pel Turkey from NATO is grow­ing. But there is no way that the al­liance can sus­pend or ex­clude a mem­ber from the al­liance. And if NATO were to do so, Er­do­gan would promptly turn to Rus­sia and China, form­ing a new al­liance that could be dev­as­tat­ing for Western se­cu­rity.

In the past year Er­do­gan seems al­most de­lib­er­ately to have an­tag­o­nised his mil­i­tary al­lies. He has sup­ported Is­lamist move­ments across the Mid­dle East. He is said to have al­lowed clan­des­tine arms sup­plies to cross the Turk­ish border to arm Is­lamist mil­i­tants. He has sent Turk­ish forces into Syria to fight against Amer­ica’s al­lies, the Kur­dish groups who have op­posed Islamic State ter­ror­ists.

In ad­di­tion, he has cul­ti­vated re­la­tions with Rus­sia, de­spite NATO’s sus­pi­cion of Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary in­ten­tions. Last year he signed a deal with Moscow to buy 400 S-400 an­ti­air­craft mis­siles, and then joined Rus­sia and Iran in propos­ing a set­tle­ment in Syria. He has an­nounced sol­i­dar­ity with Iran in re­sponse to the new US sanc­tions and says he will con­tinue to trade with Iran — a provoca­tive move in­tended to snub Pres­i­dent Trump.

Most re­cently Er­do­gan has got into a per­sonal quar­rel with Trump. For the past year the US has de­manded the re­lease of Turk­ish of­fi­cials work­ing for the US em­bassy who were arrested on charges of spy­ing. More re­cently, Trump has de­manded the re­lease of An­drew Brun­son, an Ameri- can pas­tor arrested on charges of ter­ror­ism and sup­port­ing the abortive mil­i­tary coup again Er­do­gan in 2016. The ar­rest seems to be in reprisal for Amer­ica’s re­fusal to ex­tra­dite Fethul­lah Gulen, the Mus­lim cleric and bit­ter foe of Er­do­gan, now liv­ing in ex­ile in Amer­ica, whom Er­do­gan ac­cuses of mas­ter­mind­ing the failed coup.

For Trump, the is­sue of the pas­tor is of key elec­toral im­por­tance, as Trump has strong sup­port in the “Bi­ble belt” of south­ern US states. He has re­fused to sell Turkey new F-35 air­craft and re­cently raised the tar­iffs on Turk­ish steel and alu­minium ex­ports to Amer­ica from 20 to 50 per cent, as a direct re­sult of Turkey’s re­fusal to re­lease the pas­tor. In re­sponse, Er­do­gan slapped new tar­iffs on a range of US im­ports.

The es­ca­lat­ing row has in­fu­ri­ated Turkey’s au­to­cratic leader. He ac­cused Amer­ica of try­ing to hu­mil­i­ate Turkey and bring the coun­try to its knees. “We are to­gether in NATO and then you stab your strate­gic part­ner in the back,” he told Trump at a re­cent rally. He also ac­cused Amer­ica and the West of help­ing to en­gi­neer the dra­matic fall in the value of the Turk­ish lira, which western econ­o­mists blame mainly on Er­do­gan’s re­fusal to raise in­ter­est rates de­spite the ad­vice of Turk­ish econ­o­mists.

The col­lapse of the Turk­ish econ­omy could trig­ger a global eco­nomic down­turn. But the lira has since ral­lied a lit­tle, largely thanks to a mas­sive $15 bil­lion loan from Qatar.

Turkey has also quar­relled just as bit­terly with his Euro­pean NATO al­lies. He ac­cused Ger­many and the Nether­lands of be­hav­ing like the Nazis last year, when they re­fused to al­low Turk­ish min­is­ters to cam­paign there among the Turk­ish mi­nori­ties in the run-up to the con­sti­tu­tional ref­er­en­dum. Ankara and The Hague with­drew am­bas­sadors from each other’s coun­tries — an al­most un­prece­dented sign of anger be­tween NATO al­lies.

Er­do­gan has also threat­ened to tear up the re­cent agree­ment with the Euro­pean Union to pre­vent asy­lum seek­ers cross­ing from Turkey into Greece. He has threat­ened to al­low mi­grants now held in Turkey to storm the land and sea bor­ders into Greece — a move that would in­fu­ri­ate the EU, espe­cially Ger­many.

All this has led to calls in Amer­i­can pa­pers for the ex­pul­sion of Turkey from NATO. But this is more dif­fi­cult than it seems — there is no prece­dent for such an ac­tion, and it could drive Turkey di­rectly into the arms of Rus­sia, which has long been ea­ger to weaken Turkey’s links with Amer­ica and the West.

No NATO mem­ber has ever left the 29-na­tion al­liance, al­though France pulled out of the uni­fied mil­i­tary com­mand in 1966 and did not re­turn for 43 years. But al­though Paris ef­fec­tively ex­cluded it­self from the al­liance’s pri­mary pur­pose — to de­ter Soviet ex­pan­sion­ism — it re­mained in NATO’s po­lit­i­cal struc­ture, keep­ing cor­dial re­la­tions with other mem­bers.

There is no ap­petite at NATO head­quar­ters in Brussels to see Turkey leave. The coun­try was ad­mit­ted, to­gether with Greece, in 1952 to join the 12 na­tions that founded the al­liance in 1949. It has since oc­cu­pied a vi­tal strate­gic posi-

tion on NATO’s south-east flank. It also has the sec­ond largest army in NATO.

For years Turkey played a key role in con­tain­ing the Soviet Union. In 1955 it was one of the found­ing mem­bers of Cento — or the Bagh­dad Pact, as it was known – to­gether with Iran, Iran, Pak­istan and Bri­tain. With its head­quar­ters in Ankara, the Pact was mod­elled on NATO and in­tended to block Soviet ex­pan­sion­ism into Asia. With­out US mem­ber­ship, how­ever, it was not ef­fec­tive. The first blow came af­ter Iraq left in 1963. Af­ter the 1979 revo­lu­tion in Iran the Pact was dis­solved.

Turkey also al­lowed the US to sta­tion mis­siles on its soil in 1961, di­rected at the USSR, prompt­ing Rus­sia to place Soviet mis­siles in Cuba and lead­ing to the 1962 Cuba cri­sis.

Turkey is still vi­tal for NATO’s for­ward de­fences, espe­cially the huge air base at In­cir­lik in south­ern Turkey. This base was used by the US to help Kurds flee­ing Sad­dam Hus­sein af­ter the first Gulf War and in op­er­a­tions against Islamic State. Turkey has re­stricted its use by NATO but there are still 5,000 US air­men sta­tioned there as well as many tac­ti­cal nu­clear weapons.

NATO orig­i­nally did not lay down cri­te­ria on democ­racy and hu­man rights for mem­ber­ship. When Turkey joined, Por­tu­gal, a founder mem­ber, was still a fas­cist dic­ta­tor­ship. New cri­te­ria on hu­man rights were not laid down un­til 1999 with the ac­ces­sion of former com­mu­nist states. Turkey would not meet those cri­te­ria to­day, if it were to ap­ply to join now. Sev­eral mil­i­tary coups sus­pended democ­racy in Turkey, but NATO mem­ber­ship was never in ques­tion.

Nev­er­the­less, Turkey has come close to open war­fare with Greece, a fel­low NATO mem­ber, over sovereignty and rights in the Aegean. Turkey’s in­va­sion of Cyprus in 1974, fol­low­ing the Greek-spon­sored coup on the is­land, also pro­voked a cri­sis in re­la­tions with Greece and other NATO mem­bers.

These ten­sions were al­ways con­tained in the in­ter­est of sol­i­dar­ity against the Soviet Union. That ide­o­log­i­cal un­der­pin­ning has now gone. Turkey has de­vel­oped strong eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal re­la­tions with Moscow — de­spite the shoot­ing down of a Rus­sian fighter jet in 2015.

NATO in­sisted last Au­gust that “Turkey’s mem­ber­ship is not in ques­tion” — a state­ment is­sued at a time when Er­do­gan was hav­ing talks with Putin in Moscow. But there is a grow­ing sus­pi­cion that Er­do­gan has now piv­oted de­ci­sively away from the West and is seek­ing to re­place his NATO links with closer ties to Rus­sia and China.

His quar­rel with NATO is largely per­sonal. He was fu­ri­ous at what he saw as a lack of sup­port dur­ing the failed coup. He be­lieves NATO wants to block Turkey’s sup­port for Is­lamism in the Mid­dle East. He also is an­gry that a num­ber of Turk­ish of­fi­cers sta­tioned at NATO head­quar­ters have ap­plied for asy­lum, to­gether with sev­eral who fled to Greece af­ter the coup.

The Turk­ish mil­i­tary re­tains strong bonds with NATO. They, and western gov­ern­ments, are hop­ing that NATO mem­ber­ship will sur­vive Er­do­gan’s poli­cies. But as NATO of­fi­cials may be say­ing, “With al­lies like Turkey, who needs en­e­mies?”

The per­sonal di­men­sion. Er­do­gan can de­fi­antly take of­fense at the West and NATO, but, it is un­likely he could de­cide to with­draw from the Al­liance

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