NATO without Turkey? Cool story, bro

Published 11.08.2016 22:53
Updated 12.08.2016 03:05

From those on the right to those on the left, many think tankers and journalists in the U.S. are advising President Barack Obama's administration to reconsider Turkey's membership in NATO due to harsh Turkish rhetoric against the U.S. leadership. Some say, the U.S. must relocate its İncirlik Air Base to a neighboring country, Northern Iraq for instance, and focus on its strategic needs without Turkey's threats.

These kinds of proposals lack merit and, for some, it is hard to understand why some seasoned Turkey experts have been pushing this policy line for a long time. First of all, Turkey's exit from NATO would allow Turkish officials to reorient their positioning in the region with serious consequences. Western officials are concerned with Turkey's burgeoning ties with Russia, but trying to sideline Ankara would work in Russian President Vladimir Putin's favor rather than the other way around. Secondly, it also means the EU and U.S. would lose their sphere of influence in the Turkish military and diplomatic cadres because there would be no joint trainings, drills, top meetings, intelligence sharing or anything else.

Not to mention the fact that no country has been kicked out of NATO so far and there is no precedence of extraordinary measures against a NATO member because its domestic politics and sovereign bilateral relations simply bother fellow member states. The same ramifications are true for a possible recalibration of Turkey and the U.S.'s bilateral partnership. The Obama administration or the next one can choose to seriously downgrade the level of cooperation, but this could simply contradict America's NATO commitments to Turkey.

I believe these obviously flawed policy proposals are merely used to pressure Ankara to change course. Let's be honest: It does not work. Not only do Turkish officials have no desire to leave NATO or break ties with the U.S., but it is also very well understood what top U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper means when he says Turkey must not leave NATO. You cannot kick Turkey out of NATO when your top military and intelligence leadership are worried about it. They do not buy these threats and consider it a media bubble.

NATO's lack of reassurances for the threats against Turkey provoked Ankara to invest in more home-grown defense projects and purchases of more advanced weapons to secure its territory against asymmetrical offensives. But this does not mean that Turkey is looking for ways to get rid of NATO or its alliance with the U.S.

What Turkey is trying to accomplish is to reach out more to non-NATO countries to develop stronger economic ties that can boost the Turkish economy and provide more immediate security benefits. As Alan Makovsky said at a briefing in U.S. Congress last month, Turkey is no longer an impoverished third-world country, it is now an upper-middle income country that seeks greater independence than the past.

I think the EU's wrongheaded policies on Turkey, namely blocking accession negotiations and accepting Cyprus as a member country while it chose to unify the island, strengthened the belief in Turkey that the EU does not want to admit Turkey as an equal. Recent reactions from EU countries on the coup attempt also confirmed these beliefs that Europeans are only interested in double standards. Of course, this is sad for Europeans because they need Turkey for at least their immediate security.

Since NATO and the U.S. are bothered with Turkey's increasingly independent foreign policy, a solution might be renegotiation. Dr. Şener Aktürk of Koç University said in his latest article that Turkey's new status might be similar to that of France, "a country that has been a U.S. ally but with a set of preferences and priorities that differ significantly from the United States in certain important respects."

I agree with him that NATO and the U.S. should learn how to respect and tolerate disagreements with Ankara. Otherwise, the result is likely to be mutually severe damage to trust and cooperation.

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