Turkey will marginalize itself in NATO with the S-400s purchase

Turkey will marginalize itself in NATO with the S-400s purchase

The NATO summit in Brussels last summer has strengthened the alliance militarily but has weakened it politically, according to a former top NATO official. 

Speaking at the Warsaw Security Forum on Oct. 24, Anders Fogh Rasmussen said United States President Donald Trump raised doubts on the credibility of NATO’s commitment to collective defense, and thus politically weakened their transatlantic unity.

Trump had criticized Germany during the summit for its extensive cooperation with Russia while leaving defense expenditure on America.

By comparison, Turkey is another NATO member enjoying good relations and intensive cooperation on both bilateral and regional issues with Moscow. But in contrast to Germany, Turkey, which has the largest standing military force in NATO after the United States, is delivering on its military commitments.

It is among the 15 NATO members to meet the alliance’s guideline of spending at least 2 percent of its total GDP on defense by 2024.

It has recently increased its defense expenditure to 1.52 of its overall GDP. The country’s equipment expenditure as a share of defense spending was 30.40 percent in 2017, exceeding the NATO guideline of 20 percent. In addition, it has offered to assume more responsibilities in NATO’s missions.

Yet, despite being in the same alliance, Turkey has experienced severe strains with some NATO countries, especially with the United States. Russia has not missed the opportunity to exploit these rifts to widen the gap among alliance members.

Looking from that perspective, Turkey stands as a member that strengthens NATO militarily but weakens it politically.

Following the panel, I approached Rasmussen to ask him about his views on Turkey. But I first had to wait for his interview with the local press. While answering a question, he said Russia remained the main challenge for NATO.

Russia is posing a threat to NATO, not just militarily, but also in terms of hybrid warfare and disinformation campaigns,” he said.

Then he went on to say, “Obviously, we have some internal challenges like Turkey, for instance, and the U.S. lack of leadership.”

Right after we met, I asked him to elaborate what he meant by naming Turkey as an internal challenge.

“It is well known that many NATO allies are concerned by the domestic political developments in Turkey, including the way the opposition, civil society and social media etc. are treated,” he said.

“On top of that, we are of course concerned about Turkey’s purchase of Russian military equipment that is not compatible with NATO equipment. The risk is of course that gradually Turkey will marginalize itself security wise within NATO. It will marginalize itself not by NATO’s decision but by its own decision,” said Rasmussen.

He said he agreed that Turkey was fulfilling its military commitments to NATO, however, the government decision to purchase S-400s is not just posing a political challenge but a strategic challenge, according to the former secretary general.

“No doubt Russia will exploit signs of split in our alliance and will make offers you cannot refuse,” he said.

“My conclusion is we should keep Turkey as a full-fledged member and we should step up our dialogue with the government in Ankara,” said Rasmussen.

Turkey, Russia, missile defense system, S-400