Liberty Expose: Erdogan vs. NATO

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Alliances are predicated on a foundation of mutual interests; a common enemy, a common cause or a similar form of government is enough of a justification for nations to align with one another. For NATO, all three unite the alliance. It was formed as a series of democratic governments united to halt the expansion and influence of the Soviet Union. Now with a resurgent Russia led by Vladimir Putin, and a continuous terrorist threat, NATO must adapt to new challenges – but one NATO ally isn’t on board.

As of late, one nation has been antagonistic toward the rest of the NATO allies. Turkey, or more specifically, Turkey with Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the helm of power has cozied up to Putin, attacked NATO-allied partisan forces in the war against ISIS and has undercut Turkish democracy. Now the U.S. and NATO must rethink Turkey’s future in the alliance.

No ally is perfect, but Erdogan surpasses the tolerance the U.S. and NATO should have for their counterparts. One may argue that America turns a blind eye to the actions of other allies in the region; this is undeniably true. However, there are two factors that differentiate Turkey from other allies in the Islamic world.

First, Turkey has long been, up until recently, a secular democracy – albeit a problematic one. The same can’t be said of allies such as Egypt; the current ruler, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, came to power in a coup d'etat against the Muslim Brotherhood backed regime. Nor can the same standard be applied to Saudi Arabia – an absolutist monarchy. While Turkey has seen a fair number of coups and coup attempts over the years – five in total – it has tried to maintain a wall of seperation between church and state.

The second and most important distinguishing factor is that while countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia are both security allies, and the interests between the United States and the two Middle Eastern nations often align, America is not contractually obligated to defend them, which isn’t true for Turkey. Since 1952, Turkey has been a member of NATO, which of course means that Turkey is protected by the charter’s Article V requirement that NATO members must come to the defense of other NATO members when attacked. For a democratic nation trying to fend off Soviet pressure, a position Turkey was placed in the early Cold War, this is logical. For an increasingly despotic former-democracy led by a reckless leader, which describes Turkey now, being allies with the Anatolian nation is problematic.

As Turkey has been a problematic democracy, it has also been controversial in the international arena – particularly in regard to Turkey’s involvement in Cyprus. Under Erdogan, Turkish foreign policy has become increasingly more precarious to the U.S. and NATO as a whole. As the US has allied with the Kurds to fight ISIS in Syria, Turkey has unapologetically bombed Kurds in the region. As ISIS besieged Kurdish defenders in the border town of Kobani, Turkish military forces stood by on the border, refusing to help. Turkey has maintained strong ties to Iran, despite that nation being counter to NATO interests in the region, Erdogan has positioned Turkey clear to Vladimir Putin, which is contradictory to NATO’s stance against the Russian neo-tsar, and when the US recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Erdogan threatened to severe relations with the Jewish state and suggested building a coalition against Israel.

What democracy Turkey did have was stolen by Erdogan in an April referendum that transformed the apolitical, symbolic Turkish presidency into a powerful partisan branch with power over the judiciary. Erdogan has shown to go any distance required to expand his power; after Erdogan’s AKP party lost an election in June 2015, Erdogan manufactured a war by bombing Kurdish regions in Tukey in order to stir nationalist sentiment for his party. His ploy worked; Erdogan bombing his people gave his party a victory in the snap election that came in November.

The following was a few of shades that make up the portrait of Erdogan’s Turkey as an ally. It must ask what place does Turkey have in an alliance to democratic republics, when the Erdogan continues to consolidate power and jail journalists. It must be asked that in an alliance in which the members unite to isolate Vladimir Putin, what role does Turkey have when it seeks to pull itself closer to Russia, even to the point of betraying the Turkish fighter pilots responsible for the shooting down of a Russian jet. It must be asked that, while Kurdish forces do NATO’s biding by fighting ISIS, for which they have suffered enormously, why Erdogan seems interested in not assisting the Kurdish forces, but rather by bombing them.

It is clear that Erdogan is not an ally in any sense of the word; and it is clear that NATO and Erdogan must rethink their relationship. It is difficult for NATO to defend Turkey from Russian influence when the Turkish president seems so willing to open his arms for Putin. And with a conference consisting of Turkey, Russia, and Iran determining the future of Syria, it would seem that Erdogan is if anything helping those NATO stands against. Erdogan is in the wrong power-bloc

While there is no hope for Erdogan, Turkey is still valuable to NATO. Erdogan does not represent all of Turkey; there is evidence that suggest that only through corruption was he able to secure victory in the referendum that essentially kneecapped Turkish democracy. Many urban centers are pro-Western and deplore the direction Turkey is being dragged towards. Turkey has also sent troops to fight in the War on Terror, and strategically placed between Russia and the Russian-allied government in Syria. If NATO is to estrange itself from Turkey, it must be from Erdogan, and not the republic as a whole.