Although there have always been ups and downs in Turkey-NATO relations over the past 65 years, the latest developments muddied the water for the two allies once more since the latter insists on staying silent over the terrorist attacks against the former and not acting in accordance with the rules of alliance, causing a questioning of the existence of joint benefits for both sides.
Turkey, as one of the earliest members of NATO, criticizes the organization for its lack of support to the country in its fight for providing its own security against terrorist elements both within and outside the country. Especially following Turkey's launch of Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20 against the People's Protection Units (YPG) and Daesh terrorists in northwestern Syria, NATO has embraced an attitude that does not support Turkey but instead prefers to stay silent against the attacks of the terrorists despite verbally pretending that it sides with Turkey.
Such crises in Turkish-NATO relations have caused the emergence of anti-NATO public opinion, which has also been observed in the mainstream political parties' stance on ties between the two. NATO head Jens Stoltenberg said after Turkey launched the operation in Afrin that Turkey had legitimate security concerns. "No NATO member country has been exposed to as many terror attacks as Turkey. Turkey has the right to deal with its own security concerns. Yet, it should do it in a moderate way," Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels, approving Turkey's operation verbally while not providing any concrete support for the country.
As a response to NATO's abstaining stance, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently called on the organization to fulfill its responsibilities.
"NATO! You are obliged to take a stand against those who harass the borders of one of your partners," he said.
As a matter of fact, according to Article 5 of the NATO agreement, members of the alliance agree that "an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all," which shows that the NATO acts against its own articles by not providing the support that Turkey deserves.
NATO's silent attitude against Turkey caused an outrage in the Turkish public as well, raising questions on whether or not NATO is a true ally of Turkey and appreciates the membership of the country. According to a recent survey, the majority of the Turkish public believes that Turkey can provide its security needs even if it stays outside of NATO.
According to the results of a survey by Kadir Has University's Turkey Studies Center conducted in 2017 with the participation of 1,000 people from 28 different cities of Turkey, 64.3 percent of the respondents think the U.S. poses a threat to Turkey. This percentage, the survey found, was 39.2 percent in 2015 and 39.2 percent in 2016. The survey also reveals that Turkish people does not consider NATO countries their allies.
Another survey conducted by the Istanbul Economics research revealed that 67 percent of Turkish citizens are of the opinion that Ankara is not too dependent on NATO. The interviewees said Turkey can provide its own security, even if it stays outside the alliance.
Carried out in 12 provinces across Turkey with over 1,500 participants, the survey discovered that Turkish people do not favor NATO, especially after the recent incident. The research found that approval for NATO membership has gradually dropped. Another survey carried out in January also found that support for Turkey's membership in NATO dropped seriously in the last two years, from 76.2 percent in 2014 to 69.5 percent in 2015 and 58 percent in 2016.
The incidents like the portrayal of Erdoğan and the founding father of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, as enemy forces during a NATO dill in Norway in November as well as a Norwegian officer of Turkish origin's opening a fake Erdoğan account on NATO's internal social media network and posting anti-alliance comments in the name of the president also became effective in the Tukish public's opinion of NATO, shaking trust in the organization.
Actually, the incidents led to the withdrawal of 40 troops from a planned NATO drill despite the fact that NATO was quick to react to the incidents. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg apologized for the incidents to Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar and President Erdoğan. However, the survey was conducted before the enemy chart crisis erupted.
The Turkish-NATO alliance was also questioned after it was announced that Ankara purchased the S-400 missile defense system from Moscow. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu pointed to the resistance of so
me NATO allies in not providing security needs to Turkey. "Recently, some NATO allies are putting up serious resistance to giving Turkey defense systems, including simple weapons that we need. I need to build an air defense system, but I cannot buy it from my allies. In that case, I have to get it from somewhere else. I have an urgent need," Çavuşoğlu said. Even though Stoltenberg previously said the alliance respects Turkey's decision to buy the missile defense systems, the U.S. remains bothered. Turkey's access to NATO technology will be restricted if it acquires the Russian S-400 air defense system as the current system is not "inter-operable" with Russian missiles, Heidi Grant, the deputy undersecretary of the U.S. Air Force for international affairs, said.
The status of İncirlik Air Base has also become a matter of discussion for both Turkey and NATO following the tense relations with the U.S. due to the visa crisis, during which the two allies mutually suspended visa services at their diplomatic mission in October after U.S. Consulate employee Metin Topuz was arrested when Turkish authorities charged him with links to the FETÖ. Although initially the rumors claiming the U.S. was thinking about shutting down the base were spread, the U.S. clearly expressed that the base was of critical importance for them.
However, before long, closing the base had also come to Turkey's agenda in January 2017, when Presidential Spokesman İbrahim Kalın said Ankara had the right to close down the air base.
"Turkey has the right to shut down İncirlik. We always have the right. However, as I said, first the conditions should be evaluated. We have the right of ownership as part of Turkey's sovereignty," Kalın said. In reply, Pentagon spokesman John Dorrian once more acknowledged that İncirlik was priceless to the U.S.
İncirlik Air Base, located in the southern province of Adana, opened in 1954 and contributed to significant NATO operations including the 1990-1991 Gulf War. The base has been used by the U.S.-led coalition forces in anti-Daesh operations since 2015.
Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Deputy Chairman Bülent Turan said that one of the most significant features of NATO is protecting member countries against possible threats that might come from non-member states. "Unfortunately, however, this has not been functioning well in the process that we have been going through as one of the strongest NATO members has been forming an army of terrorists and providing arms to them along Turkey's Syrian border. Therefore, NATO's attitude is not in line with its founding principles and is against the law of alliance," he said, and added that the organization needs to take a stance that is in line with its founding principles, otherwise the alliance would be meaningless.
Emine Nur Günay, an AK Party Eskişehir deputy, also said that it is not explainable that member states have difficulty in understanding Ankara's legitimate concerns even though all NATO allies have recognized the PKK as a terrorist group and that the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People's Protection Units (YPG) forces are PKK affiliates, documented in intelligence reports and in videos and photographs.
Günay also criticized the reactions of some NATO members to Turkey's operation in Afrin. "Turkey's Syrian border is also NATO's southern border. Within these borders there have been so many assaults from the other side by the YPG and PKK. While not showing any reaction to those attacks, NATO members' stance against Turkey, which is protecting its borders and fights against terrorist groups, is not in line with the law of alliance."
According to Ahmet Berat Çonkar, the head of the Turkish delegation to NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Turkey is one of the most active members of NATO. "However, there has been a crack in relations as NATO allies, particularly the U.S., do not recognize the YPG as a terrorist group, causing a process that undermines relations. In this process within the framework of NATO's principles and values, Turkey's allies need to return from their missteps regarding the issues that Turkey is in a rightful position. This is our stance."
The AK Party, which has ruled single-party governments for 16 years, has voiced determination to clear all terrorist elements from Turkey and along its borders, including the PKK and YPG, Daesh and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), the perpetrator of the failed July 15 coup attempt in 2016.
NATO Parliamentary Assembly member from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), Deputy Utku Çakırözer, on Feb. 12 said: "Our NATO allies, particularly our ally for 65 years, the U.S., need to take Turkey's and the public's security concerns into consideration. Turkey's allies should definitely contribute to the efforts to ensure its security against the threats stemming from the civil war in Syria.
"The indifference of the U.S., the NATO alliance and our other allies to Turkey's security concerns has been causing a reaction from the Turkish public to both the U.S. and to the NATO alliance. A confrontation between two significant NATO allies should definitely be prevented. Ensuring this would benefit both countries and NATO as well."
CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said recently that the government needs to engage in dialogue with Iran, Iraq and Syria in order resolve regional issues, instead of the U.S. and Russia, which back regional conflicts to wage proxy wars.
"Can't the heads of state of these four countries come together and solve their own problems? Can't they decide whether their own country lives in peace in itself and with other countries? Do imperialist powers have to step in, and do we have to do this in company with them? You can't do this with them, you can't bring peace and you can't bring calm. They will put weapons in your hands and send you to Syria," Kılıçdaroğlu said during a CHP parliamentary group meeting in Ankara.
"Whose blood is being shed? Is it the blood of Americans? No. The blood of Russians? No. It is Muslims' blood. Who provides the weapons? It's either the U.S. or Russia. Don't you see?
"Get rid of the yoke of Russia and the U.S.," he added.
Mehmet Günal, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputy chairman in charge of international affairs, said that they have stood against everything that did not take Ankara's sensitivities seriously. "Our chairman said in August 2012 that the PKK should be swept from the Qandil Mountains and Afrin. He suggested forming a safe zone there. Unfortunately, the U.S. has not been sincere since its intervention in Iraq. The MHP has warned the U.S. since the very beginning while they were doing the same in Syria. It does not suit the alliance mentality," he said, indicating that they would like relations with NATO to return to normal but it is not consistent to not take Turkey's actions seriously by disregarding Ankara's sensitivities. "We see that the U.S. is confused, but we expect a clear stance from the U.S," he said.
"Turkey is a regional power and a country that keeps the balance. Therefore we should maintain ties with all countries based on mutual respect. While doing this, we must ensure it favors our country. We do not say that we should suddenly withdraw from NATO, but if it does not work out, it should be among our options to use all kinds of soft and hard power." As for İncirlik Air Base, he said that Turkey should call on the U.S. to do what is necessary rather than drive it away. "We should defend it in the international arena as well," Günal said.
The deputy chairman of the Patriotic Party, Beyazıt Karataş, said that the nuclear warheads that were deployed in İncirlik in 2009 turned Turkey into a nuclear target. "Thus, this base that made Turkey a nuclear target andis used by the U.S. to support terrorist organizations by violating the rights that were provided to it by the agreements should be shut down," he said.
"The only way to highlight your equal membership and veto right in NATO agreements is to do it academically, in accordance with the treaty's nature. If it is done that way, the benefits of NATO are beyond measure. However, it is inevitable to judge NATO with the policies and actions of its leader, the U.S., and other member states," Karataş said. He added that after the Cold War, NATO and the U.S. started to find different occupations with the courage they got as the only big powers left in the world.
"Benefiting from this chance, the U.S. started to use NATO for its own aims, meaning that NATO has become the U.S.'s toy. NATO, which does more harm than benefit for Turkey, has completed its mission and turned into a dirty organization." he said. He added that from now on, leaving NATO and establishing new alliances with neighboring and regional countries, particularly Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and China, must be Turkey's priority. "However, it would be proper to make the decision to leave via a referendum that would reflectthe Turkish people's demands," he added.
The neo-nationalist Patriotic Party describes iself "as the vanguard party that struggles for the establishment of a patriotic government. The Patriotic Party (Turkey) gathers nationalist, populist and social richness of the Turkish Revolution under its roof."
The Good Party
The general secretary of the nationalist İYİ Party (Good Party), Aytun Çıray, said that Turkey is a state of law and that the party is in favor of continuing the relations with NATO healthily by pursuing bilateral benefits. "However, İncirlik should be taken into consideration outside of NATO agreements. We understand and support the president's criticism of the U.S. regarding the country's support to the YPG in northern Syria." He said that if this criticism is meant to be serious, then the necessary measures should be taken. "If these weapons that are sent to the YPG by U.S. are going from İncirlik, for instance, the base should be shut down," Çınar added.
The Good Party, which mostly consists of former MHP dissidents, was founded in October 2017. Chairwoman Meral Akşener was a prominent figure among MHP dissidents who heavily criticized the policies of Devlet Bahçeli, the MHP's chairman of 20 years, after the general elections on June 7 and Nov. 1, 2015. The intra-party debate ended when the dissidents were dismissed from the party.
Mustafa Yılmaz, the press secretary of the Felicity Party (SP), which is a small, religiously conservative party, said that NATO does not give Turkey the value it deserves. "Thus, both its relations with the U.S. and its position in NATO are problematic. NATO only works for the U.S. and Israel's aims in Middle East. The power that will solve the problems in the Middle East is Muslim countries themselves, not NATO." He also said that Turkey does not need NATO. Regarding İncirlik, he said that it exists to support the activities of the U.S., not Turkey, since it is under the control of NATO, not Turkey. "We believe that all the military bases in Turkey should be under Turkey's control."
Great Unity Party
The head of the Great Unity Party (BBP), Mustafa Destici, said that today, when Turkey is fighting for its security against terrorists in northern Syria, NATO does not support the country and also urges it to end the operation as soon as possible.
"These are not acceptable for us. However, we do not need the support of NATO. If it does not overshadow, that's more than enough," he said.
"İncirlik strengthens Turkey's hand since it is an important military base for NATO. However, it is also beneficial for us to have the right to take over control of the base completely, especially if the U.S. continues support for terrorist organizations against us," Destici said.
* Contributed by Özgenur Sevinç