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The Real Reason Turkey Will Never Voluntarily Leave NATO

M60 Tank
An M60A1 tank from the Royal Jordanian Armed Forces fires a round at a range in Wadi Shadiyah during a massive military demonstration in front of dignitaries and media, May 18. HRH Prince Feisal, the Supreme Commander of the JAF, Chairman of the Joint Chief-of-Staff Gen. Mashal Al Zaben and Gen. Lloyd Austin III, head of the U.S. Central Command, were among those who attended the culminating event of the two-week, multinational Exercise Eager Lion 2015. In addition to the U.S. and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, participating nations included Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Egypt, France, Iraq, Italy, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Poland, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the U.K. and representatives from NATO.

By all accounts, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ visit to Washington was wildly successful. He received a standing ovation in a joint meeting of Congress. The Pentagon remains grateful at expanding U.S.-Greek defense ties. While Greece has stood firmly in defense of Ukraine, fellow-NATO member Turkey has played a double game, promoting a myth of indispensability toward Ukraine while simultaneously seeking to profit off tragedy and helping Russian President Vladimir Putin to evade sanctions.

During his White House meetings, Mitsotakis came prepared, reportedly providing maps of Turkey’s repeated aerial incursions of Greek waters and territory. Among the ambassadorial corps, Greek ambassador Alexandra Papadopoulou enjoys a reputation for acuity, eloquence, and mastery of material; Turkish ambassador Murat Mercan has a reputation, on the other hand, of being affable but superficial, his statements disconnected from reality or any connection to policy reality in Ankara. Mitsotakis’ success and the reception he received were the reasons Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan subsequently threw a temper tantrum.

Erdogan’s behavior is not consistent with the character expected of NATO countries. While Turkey has struggled with dictatorship and military coups over the course of its nearly 100-year, post-Ottoman history, the situation has seldom been this bad for so long. In quick succession, Erdogan has targeted Kurds, liberals, Kemalists, those with a history of service in the West or NATO, his former Gülenist allies, and even former members of his own political party. Since July 2016, Erdogan has ordered the arrest of 100,000 political opponents and fired more than 150,000 others.

Turkey’s domestic repression is bad enough, but its support for terrorism makes matters worse. There would have been no Islamic State in Iraq and Syria had Turkey not provided the group and its precedents safe haven if not logistical if not material support. Detentions of ISIS leaders are fleeting and demonstrate a revolving door. Despite announcements to the contrary, Turkey continues not only to shelter Hamas, but also to allow it to plan terrorism from its territory. A Turkish Constitutional Court judge called for Israel’s destruction, and Turkey helped Iran deliver weaponry to Libyan Islamists.

Apologists for Turkey point to its contributions to the fight for freedom during the Korean War and the Cuban Missile Crisis as a reason why Washington and Brussels should defer to Ankara. Turkey’s sacrifice then was real, but the examples fall flat: They represent the type of Turkey to which Erdogan has turned his back. Turks who would today counsel the deployment of troops to fight communist aggression or assist the United States would find themselves guests in Turkey’s expansive prisons, not in Erdogan’s multibillion-dollar palaces.

Turkey does not belong in NATO, but there is no formal mechanism to expel wayward members. At a minimum, Erdogan gets power by forcing the United States and other NATO members on one hand, and Russia on the other to bid for its support. Erdogan’s animosity toward the United States is famous, however. If ideology rather than material gain motivates him, however, he gains more from being a Trojan horse in the consensus-governed alliance than from voluntarily exiting it.

Back to Mitsotakis: the power of the maps he provided in his meetings cannot be overstated. There have been hundreds of Turkish violations of Greek airspace. Such violations are not neutral: Turkey cannot provide any instance of Greek violations of its airspace or unsanctioned overflights of its territories. After the United States began utilizing the port of Alexandroupolis, Turkey began violating airspace over that location as well. Turkey has also threatened military force against the Greek island of Kastellorizo.

This brings up a tricky problem. Whenever Turkey ratchets up tensions with Greece, diplomats seek to defuse tension, and analysts and journalists talk about the possibility of war between two NATO members. The dynamics, however, change considerably when Turkey leaves NATO. Any attack on Kastellorizo, Mytilene, Chios, Samos, Ikaria, or any other Greek territory would trigger NATO Article 5 which stated that if any NATO ally is a victim of an armed attack, it is akin to an attack on every member of the alliance and all members will respond accordingly. Simply put, inside NATO, Turkey can be a bully and get away with its behavior. Outside NATO, however, Erdogan would face real consequences for his actions.

Erdogan likes to project an image of power but as even the Turkish people have come to realize, he is in reality a thin-skinned coward.  After multiple purges, the Turkish army is today like Russia’s a shell of its former self. Erdogan will remain in NATO against all pressure otherwise because to agree to go his own way would be to expose Turkey for its true weakness.

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Jacksonian Libertarian

    May 26, 2022 at 3:06 pm

    A treaty booting Turkey while adding Finland and Sweden should be voted on by everyone but Turkey. An Islamic Dictatorship is contrary to the democratic hoops that NATO demanded the recent additions (Baltic states etc.)were required to demonstrate.

    • Liberal

      May 26, 2022 at 7:03 pm

      Wonder if turkey can be reagarded an ally of the west anymore. 3 months into the war, did they impose any sanctions against russian aggression? Are there other major NATO members that did not?

    • Bob

      May 27, 2022 at 4:51 pm

      They’re countering Russia and Iran everywhere, Syria Libya, selling drones to Ukraine , closing straights and airspace For Russia, and they hate China, what more do u want? What’s Greece doing?

    • Mark

      May 27, 2022 at 7:36 pm

      NATO should do the right thing and eject Turkey.

  2. jack Anthony

    May 26, 2022 at 3:53 pm

    Actually read all that nonsense till the end and laughed.

  3. Mert Kivanc

    May 26, 2022 at 4:02 pm

    Not sure if Michael Rubin is always this anti-Turkish or just fixated on being anti-Erdogan. It is very obvious from all his articles that he has a personal issue with Erdogan to the point it has turned into an OCD. Rubin is in no way an expert on Turkey, nor does he have any type of military background to be qualified enough to be commenting on Turkey’s importance to NATO. He should stick with Iranian and Kurdish issues.

    • mcswell

      May 27, 2022 at 12:26 am

      Turkey *is* a Kurdish issue, and as the article points out, so is Iran.

  4. ned

    May 26, 2022 at 4:03 pm

    Short sighted, confessional guided gratis speech. Very, Very far from reality!

  5. Error404

    May 26, 2022 at 7:20 pm

    Turkey is to US what hunter is to biden.

    US has three major military bases or facilities in turkey, the ones at Incirlik, Izmir and the station at Kurecik.

    Through turkey amd its bases, US has been able to cast a long evil shadow in south-east europe and the middle east and through its CIA cells in istanbul and ankara, US has been able to hatch mayhem and chaos in places like syria and lebanon.

    US and turkey.
    Like father and son.

    • from Russia with love

      May 27, 2022 at 5:53 am

      you forgot about the straits. no Turkey – no access to the Black Sea. it is not difficult to guess who will get access to the infrastructure of the bases you mentioned in Turkey if Turkey leaves NATO or Turkey is expelled from NATO.
      Turkey has its own interests and will continue to blackmail NATO. there is a saying “why do you need enemies when there are such friends” 😉

  6. mcswell

    May 27, 2022 at 12:31 am

    The Turkish president’s last name is spelled three different ways in this article: Erdoǧan, Erdogan, and Erdoan. For those wondering: the Turkish letter ǧ is basically silent in most Turkish dialects, or at best marks a syllable break. So when a name containing that letter is written in English texts, it’s common to replace the letter with an ordinary g, even though that doesn’t represent the Turkish pronunciation; leaving it out is more representative of how it’s pronounced in Turkish. At any rate, there is no “right” spelling of Erdoǧan’s name in English text.

  7. pb

    May 27, 2022 at 7:27 am

    turkey has always been of dubious quality as an ally. they mostly care for themselves, i would not count on them providing sufficient support if russia or china attacked a nato country. but being in nato, turkey feels enabled to play god in the middle east.

    • Bob

      May 27, 2022 at 4:42 pm

      They’re countering Russia and Iran everywhere, Syria Libya, selling drones to Ukraine , closing straights and airspace For Russia, and they hate China, what more do u want? What’s Greece doing?

      • Liberal

        May 28, 2022 at 2:24 pm

        Is bob a turkish bot? Same irrelevant reply to 2 diffent comments…

      • TurkbotDetector3000

        May 31, 2022 at 5:28 am

        Why can’t Turkiye give Russia and Iran a break, I mean you’re making them feel so “countered” all the time it’s been a real nightmare, why you got to be so hostile? https://cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/180404090721-02-russia-iran-turkey-syria-summit-restricted-super-tease.jpg I don’t know how China’s been able to cope with all that constant hatred coming from Turkiye either.
        As for what is Greece doing, I guess you mean aside from actually santioning Russia and all that(which Turkey won’t do) most recently gave the US permission to set up shop in Alexandroupolis (as the author briefly mentioned) a decision that for some reason made Turkiye apoplectic (as if it’s any of its business) to the point of Turkiye TV pundits threatening to invade Greece for enabling this “American encirclement” of Turkiye …our russophobic, anti-iranian, China-hating bastion of the West.

        • Bip

          June 2, 2022 at 11:05 am

          Another butt hurt Greek loser stuck in the past. Like a Little yapping doggy that hides behind Europe’s skirt. What a joke that u people think u are still relevant.

          • TurkbotDetector3000

            June 4, 2022 at 4:49 pm

            Bip-Bob my little yapping turkiye friend you’re the one who felt the need to spam the same nonsense three times which is proof enough of who’s the “butt hurt” party here. I hope changing your country’s name to something less dinner related can help some of that constant hurt go away.

  8. Tonyukuk

    May 27, 2022 at 4:33 pm

    Turkey is countering Russia/aIran on multiple fronts in addition to the drones to Ukraine sold in advance AND during the war, putting it’s neck on the line , what on earth are the Greeks doing besides making ridiculous EEZ and airspace claims antagonizing the Turks needlessly. The Greeks are the real problem with Nato, the Turks need the @f16 upgrades to fight the real enemies not some entitled bankrupt joke of a country like Greece.

  9. Mike Joneson

    May 27, 2022 at 4:44 pm

    Scared to attack Greece like in 1974 ? Lol

  10. BumfckedEgypt

    May 27, 2022 at 7:48 pm

    Perhaps if the EU had allowed Turkey to join, things would have been way different. But while the EU enjoyed Turkeys largest Army within the alliance, they didn’t reciprocate. So Turkey controls the Bosphurous. And they looked North and liked Russia again. Basic survival.

  11. Rafale F3R

    May 30, 2022 at 4:24 am

    Turkey likes to balance between 2 boats for its own benefit. Asking permission to invade Kurds and set up wars and exhanging diplomacy with both of them. Selling drones to Ukraine but standing against Finland and Sweden for Russia’s benefit. US and Russia know that, everyone does. The point is how long will they allow it. How long till US understands that Turkey does not belong to the West? NATO’s spoiled child. The article points out such things. And many more that would need books to point out.
    Look at history. Turkey is an invader to these lands. This is its DNA. Nomad tribes from the East that came towards the West killing, burning and destroying civilisations. Thats their contribution but no occupation lasts for ever. Remember that.

  12. Ron Jovey

    June 6, 2022 at 4:34 pm

    So, getting invaded or nuked by Russia or China was the fake reason?

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