Turkey and allies need to decouple NATO and the US

Turkey and allies need to decouple NATO and the US

It is unfortunate that at a time when NATO is celebrating its 70st anniversary, Turkey’s membership to the Alliance is being put into question both inside and outside. Actually, this is a debate that is actually very limited to a small number of some marginal circles. Yet, the very fact that Turkey’s allegiance to NATO is being questioned even if in a limited way is very telling.

The debate in Turkey stems from the fact for Turks NATO is the same thing as the United States, according to, Haldun Yalçınkaya former soldier turned academic.

Indeed; until very recently the US has been the key decision maker and the locomotive force within NATO. Yet over the years, the role and weight of other members have altered and this is especially so for Turkey. Although Turkey did assume a key role in NATO’s defense as a front line state during the cold war, its economic, political and military posture did not allow it in the early years of its membership to have a significant weight and therefore say over NATO issues.

As Turkey’s economic, political and military capacities developed also thanks to its membership to the Alliance, Ankara started to take over more important missions which gained her a more respectable standing within NATO.

This fact well known by state officials and academics, but ignored by the politicians remains unknown to the public. Some in Turkey even present NATO as if it is Turkey’s adversary; yet Turkey is NATO since the Alliance can not take any decision against Turkish interests as Ankara has a veto power.

Turkey is on an equal footing with the Western countries in NATO and if as a regional country it has a say on many issues from Libya to Afghanistan to Somalia, it is also thanks to its NATO membership.

This might not exactly suit some politicians to present it like that; however the fact is that NATO is an asset not a liability for Turkey.

In fact even Russia, would rather prefer to see Turkey inside NATO rather than outside. Let me recall that Turkey was among NATO countries to veto US request to send AWACs to the Black Sea during the Russian – Georgian war.

But would the purchase of S400s anti ballistic missile system turn Turkey into a real Trojan horse inside NATO? This requires a technical answer. Turkey says no, the US says yes while NATO Secretary General says it is a national decision what kind of systems different allies procure. Turkey’s decision to purchase S400s is a crisis topic between Washington and Ankara. However this issue can not by itself be sufficient to question Turkey’s allegiance to the Alliance.

After all as recalled by Yalçınkaya, who is currently the chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at TOBB Economics and Technology University in Ankara has recalled Turkey is the only NATO country that has downed a Russian warplane. In addition, its Crimea policy, its stance on Ukraine and Georgia’s relations with NATO are clear irritants for Russia.

On the other hand while Trump has been highly critical of NATO’s European members for outsourcing their defense spending to the U.S.; not much can be reproached to Turkey. With nearly 1,8 percent of its GDP earmarked for defense spending Turkey is among the top 8 countries to come close to the target of 2 percent. From Afghanistan to Somalia, it is actively present in most NATO missions.

While no occasion is missed to highlight Turkey’s increasing roles within UN agencies, its high posture within NATO is promoted neither inside nor outside. NATO’s 70th anniversary could have served as a good opportunity. 

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