advancing liberal democracy and countering violent extremism
Aug 1, 2020
4 min read
NATO Could and Should Hold Turkey Accountable
Turkey's Defense Minister, Hulusi Akar in NATO
Over the month of July, Erdogan set the Mediterranean basin on fire, with the goal to bully East Mediterranean countries into sharing their seabed drilling rights with Turkey. It started with the standoff with Egypt and France, respectively, on the background of deploying mercenaries, led by Turkish military officers, to Libya. Then, with cold blood, Erdogan challenged hundreds of millions of Christians, worldwide, by transforming the historical cathedral “Hagia Sophia” into a mosque and holding Friday prayers there.
As if this was not enough, Erdogan did not hesitate to violate good neighboring principle, and put the region on the brink of war, by spending a week at Greece’s borders threatening its national security and economic rights in the Mediterranean. The political, diplomatic, and military violations committed by Erdogan’s Turkey against north African and south European countries have reached unprecedented boundaries.
Fingers are pointing at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), of which Turkey is a member state, for being responsible for ending Turkey’s transgressions, especially after Turkey has already harassed and threatened to attack another NATO member: Greece. On the far left of the spectrum, some angry analysts, in both Arab and western media, accuse NATO of backing Erdogan and applauding his recent assaults in the East Mediterranean. On the far right of the spectrum, some lenient analysts claim that NATO is handcuffed by law and, thus, has no power over its defiant members, because there is no provision in NATO’s founding treaty stipulating the suspension or expulsion of member states.
However, neither of the two arguments is accurate. Here is why:
Legal-wise: It is true that in the NATO’s founding treaty, there is not a provision detailing the procedures for the suspension or expulsion of member states. But, also, there is not a provision preventing NATO from suspending or expelling a non-compliant member-state, like Turkey, which has been acting, for years, as a serious threat to NATO members and allies. As the English say: “everything which is not forbidden is allowed.” NATO members can legitimately make a unanimous decision, whenever they desire, to suspend Turkey’s membership. There are many valid justifications for such a decision to consider, including but are not limited to: (1) Erdogan’s support to terrorist organizations in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region; (2) Erdogan’s public threat to a NATO member (Greece); (3) Turkey's continued occupation of a European sovereign state: Cyprus; (4) Erdogan’s violation to NATO principles and values, including respect to human rights, freedom, and democracy; (5) Turkey’s bloody alliance with NATO’s enemies (Russia and Iran); and the list goes on.
Diplomatic-wise:It is true that expelling Turkey out of NATO poses the threat of Turkey strengthening its alliance with NATO’s enemies, like Russia and Iran. But, think again: Isn’t Turkey, already, a strong ally with Russia and Iran more than it is with NATO members? In November 2019, Turkey tested the Russian S-400 air defense system on the United States’ F-16 fighter jets, and then reported the results of the exercise to Russia. In other words, Turkey has been hurting the interests of its own fellow members of NATO to serve the interests of NATO’s historical enemy.
Geopolitical-wise: It is true that Turkey enjoys a unique strategic geographic location between Europe and the Middle East that no other European country has. However, Europe rarely benefited from Turkey’s geo-political advantageous position. On the contrary, Turkey is using this strategic location to blackmail Europe. The repetitive threats by Erdogan of flooding Europe with Syrian refugees and Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists have been keeping Europe silent towards Erdogan’s atrocities in the Middle East, for so long. One shameful example, is the utter silence practiced by the international community towards the ethnic cleansing of Kurds and other war crimes committed by Erdogan in northeastern Syria. Yet, this did not keep Europe completely safe from the threat of terrorism. Last December, Erdogan flew Turkish-trained Syrian and ISIS militia to Libya, who are now acting as a major threat to NATO members in south Europe and to NATO allies in the Mediterranean.
Military-wise: NATO has all the right to be concerned about losing Turkey’s huge military force, through expulsion or suspension. The Turkish Armed Forces is the second largest standing military force in NATO, after the United States. It measures up to nearly (20%) of the total NATO force of (3.5 million) personnel. Numbers do not lie; but numbers should not be the only variable to weigh in the importance of Turkey’s military power for NATO. The current Turkish military is not the secular Kemalist pro-democracy Turkish military that we know. It is Erdogan’s military, which is fully dedicated to serving his Muslim Brotherhood agenda in both Europe and the Middle East. Erdogan’s military does not hesitate to test Russian missiles on American fighter jets, or publicly harass neighbor Greece. Erdogan’s army supports terrorist organizations and trains terrorist militia to threaten the security and stability of national states, not only in the Middle East, but also in Europe. Because of the illegitimate operations conducted by Erdogan’s military in Libya and the Mediterranean, NATO allies are going through an endless chain of disagreements, rather than solidarity.
In short, NATO could and should hold Erdogan’s Turkey accountable, before it is too late. We are not, particularly, asking for expelling Turkey out of NATO. We are asking for a decisive stance by NATO -- the organization or its leading members --to force bring Erdogan to his senses. The policy of waiting out Erdogan’s current show of insanity shall create a cluster of disasters that is getting harder to control, day after day. Turkey is like a foreign object inside the body of the NATO. Regardless of its size, it should be removed or at least cured, for the body to recover and regain its coherence and strength.