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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

It Might Be Time to Kick Turkey Out of NATO

F-16 Fighter Jet
Image: Creative Commons.

Europe’s security environment has changed since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Neutrality no longer guarantees security from Russian aggression. The invasion marks a historic turning point for Finland and Sweden, and both Nordic countries have applied to join NATO. Even though their joint accession would strengthen NATO’s security architecture and deter Russian aggression, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatens to veto their applications. Unfortunately, Turkey continues to destabilize the Alliance at a time when NATO needs unity most. If Erdogan blocks Finland and Sweden from joining NATO, the Free World should expel Turkey from the Alliance.  

Turkey’s Bottomless List of Violations

NATO is more than just a military alliance. It is a community of states with common interests and shared democratic values. Article 2 of the North Atlantic Treaty states that members must strengthen their democratic institutions, promote conditions of stability and wellbeing, and eliminate conflict in their international economic policies. During his latest term in office, Erdogan has done the exact opposite. Indeed, he has weakened Turkey’s democratic institutions, implemented conflicting international economic policies, and destabilized the Alliance. There is no shortage of examples to show that Turkey has breached Article 2 the North Atlantic Treaty. 

Turkey has blackmailed Sweden and Finland, jailed more journalists than Russia, harbored members of terrorist organizations like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, attacked U.S. soldiers in Syria, assisted ISIS militants crossing Turkey’s border into Syria, threatened to invade NATO partner Greece, violated the UN Security Council arms embargo against Libya, purchased Russian military equipment and thus compromised the F-35 stealth fighter program, sponsored Azerbaijan’s ethnic cleansing of Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh, and helped Russia and Iran evade sanctions. 

For most countries, NATO membership has served as a tool for democratization and a stepping stone for accession to the European Union. That is not the case for Turkey. Despite being a member of NATO since 1952 and an EU candidate since 1999, Turkey has failed to fulfill the criteria for accession. Given Turkey’s financial crisis, its democratic erosion, its continued occupation of Cyprus, and its consistent threats against Greece, Turkey is unlikely to ever join the EU. Ankara is aware of this reality and has accounted for it in its strategic calculations. For Turkey, NATO membership is simply an instrument to increase its leverage. This enables Ankara to pursue Turkey’s hegemonic ambitions by being a bad partner to its allies instead of a direct opponent to the Alliance.  

Cut Turkey Out of Regional Solutions

Evidently, expelling Turkey from NATO for breaching Article 2 of the North Atlantic Treaty would have grave consequences for the Alliance. For example, it would reduce NATO’s ability to project power in the Black Sea, the Caucasus, and the Middle East. The Alliance would lose its second biggest army on paper. Access to the Turkish Straits and the Black Sea would be restricted. Invaluable intelligence sharing between the Central Intelligence Agency and Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization would probably cease. Finally, Washington’s reduced leverage over Ankara would also increase the likelihood that Turkey invades Greece. 

Nevertheless, there are short-, medium-, and long-term solutions to most of these problems. The Alliance maintains access to the Black Sea through Romania and Bulgaria. Cargo could circumvent the Turkish straits by transiting to the Romanian port of Constanta or the Bulgarian port of Burgas, and then transferring by rail to the Greek port of Alexandroupoli for export to international markets. Basing agreements with Cyprus could replace the airbase in Incirlik and enable the Alliance to project power across the Middle East. Further down the road, potential Ukrainian, Georgian or Armenian membership – all of these countries are signatories to NATO’s Partnership for Peace –  could re-establish the Alliance’s presence deeper in the Black Sea and the Caucasus.  

Despite the consequences Turkish expulsion would have for NATO, it would do far more to weaken Turkey’s international standing. After all, Turkey’s ambition for the 21st century is to be a global power at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, and NATO membership gives Ankara the leverage required to achieve this objective at the expense of its allies. In contrast to Turkey’s hegemonic designs, Finland and Sweden are full-fledged liberal democracies that share NATO’s common interests and democratic values. Now, Helsinki and Stockholm have made the difficult albeit necessary decision to abandon neutrality in favor of NATO membership. This represents a critical juncture in both Finnish and Swedish history. 

True Allies

Finland has been neutral since the end of World War II. Despite legitimate grievances about territories ceded to the Soviet Union in the post-war period, Helsinki maintained this neutrality throughout the Cold War. Today, Finland shares a 1, 340-kilometer-long border with Russia. This increases Helsinki’s risk of being invaded by Moscow. 

Finnish accession would put Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, within 200 km of NATO’s borders from a second vantage point (the first being Narva, Estonia). This would help deter Russian aggression. What’s more, Finland has a sophisticated defense industry, boasts the largest artillery arsenal in Europe, maintains a conscription system, and can have up to 1 million reservists ready for combat within a few weeks.   

Sweden’s neutrality goes far deeper, dating to the Napoleonic Wars. For centuries, Stockholm relied on Finland to serve as a buffer state between Russia and Sweden. This enabled Sweden to pursue a more neutral foreign policy, and the country even avoided entering World War II as a result. Stockholm maintains a conscription system, has a sophisticated defense industry, and boasts the world’s fifth-strongest navy. Sweden’s accession would also provide NATO with a permanent presence on the island of Gotland. This island’s strategic location in the middle of the Baltic Sea is crucial for regional underwater communication cables, monitoring of maritime transportation, installation of air defense systems, and projecting power into the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Over time, this would turn the Baltic Sea into another NATO lake in Europe. 

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Unfortunately, Erdogan has repeatedly demonstrated that Turkey does not share NATO’s common interests or democratic values. He is, in Ambassador John Bolton’s words, “a thug, a Mussolini in waiting.” In contrast to Turkey destabilizing the Alliance by pursuing its hegemonic ambitions at the expense of its allies, Finland and Sweden are full-fledged liberal democracies that share NATO’s common interests and democratic values. So if Erdogan blocks Finland and Sweden from joining NATO, the Free World should move on and expel Turkey from the Alliance. Enough is enough. 

George Monastiriakos is a lawyer licensing candidate and political science and history graduate who writes about politics and global affairs. He can be reached on LinkedIn or on Twitter @monastiriakos. 



  1. GhostTomahawk

    January 30, 2023 at 3:06 pm

    Why does NATO exist again? The sole purpose of NATO was to stop expansion of the Warsaw Pact nations. That’s done in 92. That was THIRTY YEARS AGO.

    Time to let Europe stand out fall on their own. Playing nurse maid to them is pathetic.

  2. mcswell

    January 30, 2023 at 6:22 pm

    @GT, perhaps you’ve been on Mars for the last Earth-year. But while the Soviet Union is gone, Russia is still about invading its European neighbors. NATO still serves a role.

  3. EMIP

    January 30, 2023 at 11:49 pm

    Greek-Canadian George Monastiriakos appears to be unaware of 1- There is no mechanism in the NATO Charter for the expulsion of a member nation; 2- Votes in NATO require unanimity. So unless Monastiriakos expects Türkiye to vote to expel itself, he’s venting his ethnic anger for naught. Here are a few other facts pertaining to Türkiye’s contributions to NATO under President Erdoğan’s leadership within the past 20 years which Mr. Monastiriakos also seems to be unaware of or chooses to ignore:

    2002 until disbanded in 2014 – Türkiye was a participant in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan backing up our troops. At one point Türkiye provided the second largest contingent and was twice in command of all ISAF forces.

    2009 until terminated in 2016 – Türkiye was a participant in NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield to combat piracy in the Indian Ocean, Guardafui Channel, Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea.

    23 March – 31 October 2011 (222 days) – Türkiye participated in NATO’s Operation Unified Protector naval blockade of Libya under Col. Gaddafi, providing three frigates, a submarine and a fleet support ship.

    2011 to Present – Türkiye agreed to the construction of an early warning radar system operated by U.S. technicians and soldiers as part of NATO’s missile defense system in the town of Kürecik, 435 miles west of the Iranian border to guard against an Iranian missile attack on Europe.

    2011 to Present – Türkiye initiated, together with the U.S., the Global Counter Terrorism Forum and co-chaired it until April 2016. Türkiye also co-chaired the Horn of Africa Working Group within the GCTF together with the EU.

    And this covers only the past 20 years of Türkiye’s 70-year NATO membership. It doesn’t even include their cooperation in other areas such as membership in FATF, the global anti-money laundering/countering terrorist financing body; in anti-narcotics and other intelligence sharing operations with us. Or the fact that Türkiye has the second largest armed forces in NATO after the U.S.

    All things an aspiring lawyer should consider before letting personal bias prevail over facts.

  4. Walker

    January 31, 2023 at 5:02 am

    Over the last 20 years we have watched quite a few countries have their governments taken over by Authoritarians. NATO is supposed to be protected from this by requiring members to be Democratic. Unfortunately what many of these countries learned from Russia was how to keep up the appearance of Democracy while instead investing all power into the hands of a single individual who stamps out any opposition party from competing against them. Turkey is one of these and we need a way to weed them out. It’s bad enough that Erdogan has taken control of Turkey, but that he has this control of NATO is inexcusable. Maybe kicking Turkey out will wake the country up to how bad these Dictators are. Orban is another that needs to go. The scary part is all the Fascist Republicans that support that dictator. Just like they were in love with Putin. Trumpists really are brain dead stupid.

  5. Whodunnit

    January 31, 2023 at 6:05 am

    Erdogan dances to his own tune. In a nutshell, throw Turkey out of NATO and he would simply cross the street to Russia.

  6. EMIP

    January 31, 2023 at 8:29 am

    “… the appearance of Democracy while instead investing all power into the hands of a single individual who stamps out any opposition party from competing against them. Turkey is one of these” – Walker.

    I’m not a fan of Turkish President Erdoğan due to his autocratic tendencies, but Erdoğan has won 13 democratic elections in a row over the past 20 years. In the 24 June 2018 internationally supervised Turkish Presidential election, 59,354,840 million Turks cast their votes or 86.2% of all registered voters; out of which Erdogan received 26,330,823 votes or 52.9%. His closest opponent got only 15,340,321 or 30.6%. Compare this to the 2016 U.S. Presidential election where 138.8 million Americans cast a ballot; a turnout rate of only 55.4% of the Voting Age Population. In fact there’s another Presidential and general election coming up in Türkiye on May 14th. And as of January, 2023 there are 119 political parties registered in Türkiye of which five are major rivals to Erdoğan’s AKP political party. Compare that to how many major political parties we have in this country before talking about the “appearance of Democracy” in Türkiye.

  7. Dan

    January 31, 2023 at 12:30 pm

    “…Erdoğan has won 13 democratic elections in a row over the past 20 years.”
    Yeah, by jailing his opposition (Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu sentenced to two years) and shutting down independent press (16 television channels, 23 radio stations, 45 daily newspapers, 15 magazines and 29 publishing houses by “emergency” decree in 2016 alone). He’s the Senator Joe Manchin of Europe: ostensibly part of the union but clearly out for himself.

  8. Ben d'Mydogtags

    January 31, 2023 at 12:53 pm

    Most of the arguments against Türkiye could also be used to advocate kicking Germany out of NATO: strong in theory but weak in actual practice; negotiating in their own interests while undermining NATO; threatening fellow NATO members (remember the Euro debt crisis a few years ago? Remember Merkel opening the borders to waves of illegal migrants and pressuring the rest of Europe? Nordstream?); failure to pull their weight in NATO operations; etc. Germany has in the past denied US and NATO use of airspace, bases and transit to object to operations it opposed. Germany must be coerced to allow weapons exports to Ukraine.

    Germany has not elected a neo-Fascist Islamic dictator… yet.

  9. Ergun Kirlikovali

    January 31, 2023 at 4:12 pm

    Another anti-Turkish and Islamophobe writer of Greek descent spewing hatred in a poorly written propaganda piece. I will not dignify it with a proper response. It suffices to remind this xenophobic writer that it was Turkiye in 1981 that allowed Greece to get back into NATO. If Turkiye vetoed Greece’s entry then, Greece would be out of NATO today.

  10. EMIP

    January 31, 2023 at 9:35 pm

    Dan, you need to present the whole story, not just selected parts to fit your narrative. In the 2019 local elections held in Türkiye, the initial winners of the mayoral elections in two major cities from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Ekrem İmamoğlu in İstanbul and Mansur Yavaş in the Turkish capital Ankara were challenged by Erdoğan’s party the AKP claiming alleged voting irregularities. However, a recount shortly thereafter confirmed their initial victory as legitimate and both individuals were sworn in as mayors, a position they both still hold. If that’s not a testament to the valid functioning of democracy in Türkiye despite Erdoğan’s political clout, I don’t know what is.

    Just recently, as you wrote, Mayor İmamoğlu was convicted by a local court on 14 December 2022 and sentenced to two years in prison for having slandered the Turkish Supreme Election Council by having publicly called them “fools” three years ago. A trial which has been going on for three years, not just initiated recently to damage İmamoğlu’s political ambitions to run for the Turkish presidency. More importantly, what you’ve neglected to state is that İmamoğlu is free on bail and still serving as the mayor of İstanbul while his case is on appeal to a higher court.

    It’s very easy to criticize democracy in other nations while ignoring our own “hanging chads”, refusals by various candidates in elections to accept defeat, the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol and attempted insurrection, etc.

    May I remind you of what a very wise individual once said:
    “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:5, KJV.

  11. Malik Zakari

    February 1, 2023 at 12:24 am

    Another Turkophobic article, probably taken a leaf from Mr Rubin. NATO needs Turkey more than Turkey needs NATO. You claim a democratic outlook but you want accession of Sweden & Finland vote unanimous. You want Turkey to ignore it’s security priorities and care for far away countries joining NATO albeit these countries harbouring Turkish Republic’s enemies.

  12. SDS

    February 1, 2023 at 5:52 am

    I will refer to what is mentioned in literally EVERY article related to Turkey and NATO. That Turkey is the second largest army of the alliance. While not factualy inaccurate, without the specified clarifications, many deduce that Turkey is also the second strongest military in NATO, something that could not be further from the truth…

    Turkey is a country of almost 85 million people that still has universal conscription for males. Similarly sized countries such as France, the UK and Germany do not have that.

    France or the UK for example (even if we exclude their nuclear arsenal) have much more effective and stronger militaries, given that they are professional ones, and owing to the fact that these countries possess and produce advanced weapons such as jets, vessels etc. And they are not the only ones. Norway for example has a much more advanced air force than Turkey that is already transitioning to the 5th generation jets era.

    Turkey’s air force is still 100% comprised of 4th and 3rd generation jets, with no concrete path to transitioning to even 4.5 after the acquisition of the S-400s from Russia and their expulsion from the f-35 program. Additionaly, after the attempted coup many of its most experienced pilots were expelled or even arrested, further weakening its air capabilities.

    Yes, Turkey has a very large number of tanks and artillery as well, but also a large percentage of it is of older technology.

    The Turkish conscript part of its army is large in numbers but with rudimentary training on their outdated G3 rifles and some basic battlefield tactics. Of course Turkey has a strong drones production program and there are also able, professional and militarily advanced Turkish army units as well, with battlefield experience in Syria, Libya etc. but these are smaller in numbers.

    So, unless NATO planners expect Turkey to adopt human wave assault tactics in a future war, (similar to Iranian ones in the 80’s against Iraq) the term “NATO’s second largest army” doesn’t account to much…

    Military planners of course know this. It’s the strategic location that is the biggest advantage of having Turkey into NATO.

  13. Marksman

    February 1, 2023 at 6:59 am

    @Ergun Kirlikovali
    First Turkey should acknowledge its organised genocides of Assyrians, Armenians, and Greeks, and THEN speak of… “xenophonia” (it’s a Greek word. So is Anatolia…)
    Good luck with that!

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