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NATO-Turkey Crisis: How Far Can It Go?

Turkey has serious problems with the West, which have reached the level of a full-scale institutional crisis. Turkey’s NATO problem can be seen as a reflection of crises with Germany, Holland and the United States. The problematic points in Turkey-NATO relations have been discussed since the day Turkey became a NATO member-state.

Trust in NATO among the Turkish public has decreased recently because of such acts as depicting the country’s leaders as “enemies” in a joint military exercise. Targeting the founder of the Republic of Turkey Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is intolerable. The incident should be investigated in details and the reasons of this hostile attitude towards Turkey have to be enlightened.

But this incident is part of a larger picture. Turkey has serious problems with the West, which have reached the level of a full-scale institutional crisis. Turkey’s NATO problem can be seen as a reflection of crises with Germany, Holland and the United States. The problematic points in Turkey-NATO relations have been discussed since the day Turkey became a NATO member. The leading issues are the inadequate support of NATO in Turkey’s fight against terrorism and not receiving the sufficient aid from NATO in terms of security threats on the Turkish borders. The withdrawal of Patriot missiles, which had been deployed to Turkey, reinforced the perception of using them as a trump card. Besides, purchasing S-400 from Russia is a factor that increases discomfort in NATO. However, while Turkey has maintained its determination to purchase the S-400, it also signed an agreement with the French-Italian consortium Eurosam-T. Thus, it should be noted that the bonds with the West are not broken.

Looking from the Turkish government’s perspective, concerns about NATO’s involvement in the failed coup attempt have not been removed yet. Not extraditing FETÖ ringleader Fethullah Gülen to Turkey stressed Turkish-American relations. Meanwhile, Russia, which put bans on FETÖ schools and closed them years ago, gave more confidence to Turkey in the process of countering FETÖ.

When the period following July 15, 2016 is analyzed with the aforementioned factors, it is noticed that Turkey, which has problems with NATO and EU, is slowly tilting towards Russia. This is one of the reasons of frequent visits between both sides. Contrary to previous periods, Turkey’s stance in regional affairs has become more harmonized with Russia and Iran, especially on regional issues. This policy is being tested by the Astana process. While the United States has preferred to go on with YPG; the Turkey-Russia-Iran agreement can change the balance of forces in the region if the YPG-related problems are solved. Thus, Russia should clarify its position on YPG and recognize YPG a terrorist organization. Turkey’s moves towards Russia are a message of evaluating alternatives in the Turkish foreign policy.

Cyclical showdowns, disagreements, divergence of opinions on regional issues take place in an atmosphere of tensions, supported by the lack of exact determining of Turkey’s position in the context of new NATO concept and the US Middle East policy. Turkey’s Cold War position as the “edge station for combatting communism” and the Turkish “model role” ended with the Arab Spring. Turkey, which has the second biggest army in the alliance, did not gain the expected necessary attention in the period of NATO transformation.

Actually, NATO means “United States” in many respects. Therefore, it seems so difficult that Turkey can establish fruitful relations with NATO before solving the problems concerning the Zarrab Case in the US and arming of the terrorist organization YPG in Syria. NATO does not represent a dialogue mechanism for problems solution. Despite all that, leaving NATO is a tough process as hard as accession to such international organizations. Taking in account the operation of Turkey’s defense systems inside NATO and bases under the NATO umbrella, leaving NATO is not so possible especially while dealing with vital problems of the region. Instead, Turkey tries to protect its position by staying in NATO, where it has the right of veto.

Sinan Oğan is Turkish politician, member of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.