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Türkiye is Not an Important NATO Member. Stop Pretending it is.

F-16 Fighter
F-16 fighter. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Türkiye’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu will visit Washington, D.C. today. High on his agenda will be Türkiye’s request for American F-16s. The White House is pushing the sale as a consolation prize after Congress removed the country from the more advanced F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program over Türkiye’s alliance with Russia

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The White House’s logic is two-fold. First, it wants to entice Ankara to drop objections to Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership. Second, Biden’s security aides argue that Türkiye is an important NATO member because it has the second-greatest number of men under arms in the alliance after the United States. 

U.S. Concessions to Türkiye, or Coercion 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan are wrong on both counts.

To accede to Turkish blackmail is to justify it.

Because NATO is a consensus-driven alliance, Türkiye might collect F-16s as payment to drop its veto on accession, only to raise its demands the day after their accession, under threat of paralyzing day-to-day NATO functions. Sweden’s civil liberties, meanwhile would be a casualty of the process.

The Biden administration, like each of its predecessors dating back to the Eisenhower era, coveted Türkiye’s NATO membership because of what it might bring to the table: Türkiye has 355,000 active duty men under arms. Compare that to France, with only slightly more than 200,000 active duty personnel in its armed forces, or the United Kingdom, which has just less than 200,000. To include the total military—active duty, reserve forces, and paramilitaries—is to inflate Türkiye’s numbers even more. Türkiye then brings almost 900,000 men into the equation, more than the 19 smallest NATO members combined.

NATO Participation

In Brussels this past weekend, I had an opportunity to speak to a former military planner who had worked on a NATO operation. He made a good point: Statistics about the size of the armed forces of NATO members are often irrelevant. When planning a NATO operation, NATO leaders go to each country and ask what they are willing to contribute. A country might have 100,000-strong forces, but if the political leadership is unwilling to contribute even five percent to a NATO mission, then the total size is irrelevant.

Put another way: If Türkiye promises 5,000 troops but Poland offers 10,000, then it is right to suggest that Türkiye is more than four times more important to the alliance?

This was the case with NATO’s Operation Resolution Support in Afghanistan. In February 2021, the United States contributed 2,500 troops, Türkiye just 600, less than Italy, Romania, Germany, the United Kingdom, and even non-NATO member Georgia, a country with just one-twenty-third Türkiye’s population. And, even when Türkiye’s contribution was larger, often it used its forces for missions beyond NATO parameters. 

When I would walk the streets of Kabul, for example, I would see billboards far from NATO headquarters promoting bilateral Turkey-Afghanistan diplomatic relations and business ties based not on NATO principles but rather on Islamic solidarity.

Simply put, Türkiye’s on-paper statistics do not translate to on-the-ground importance to NATO. The country is simply not as vital as it was during the Cold War when it was a frontline state with the Soviet Union, contributed to the Korean War, and was Western-oriented.

The time has come to call Türkiye’s bluff.

Dr. Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official, is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School. He is a 19FortyFive Contributing Editor. 

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).



  1. Steve

    January 18, 2023 at 3:09 pm

    I hope you were paid well to write all this bullshit – the other option is really sad.

  2. Jacksonian Libertarian

    January 18, 2023 at 3:33 pm

    America should not be allied to the Islamic Dictatorship of Turkey. Erdogan has been America’s enemy through both Gulf Wars, and the war against ISIS in Syria. That the NATO alliance might force American’s to die to protect Erdogan’s power, is a vile injustice.

    That the POS Erdogan was objecting to democratic Sweden and Finland becoming members of NATO is insane. Turkey should be booted out of NATO. And America should leave NATO, and all it’s parasitic/deadbeat members.

  3. Uncle Pato

    January 19, 2023 at 1:46 am

    Kick Turkey out of NATO. They constantly threaten their NATO neighbor Greece. They buy Russian arms. They tried to block Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership. They cannot be trusted to support NATO in a war. Why does NATO need them again? Oh, don’t sell Turkey any more US arms and fighter planes, and get them out of Cyprus, too.

  4. Erny72

    January 19, 2023 at 10:31 am

    You guys are funny, how many years did you waste ‘earning’ the toilet paper degrees that convinced you that you have a clue?
    So to Turkiye…
    Once you ‘kick them out’ of NATO, are you imagining they’ll sit in the corner to have a cry and wet their pants? They’ll simply accelerate their pivot toward BRICS. Turkiye will of course pursue their own national interest if allied or friendly to BRICS/SCO, just as they do today as part of NATO (one could argue that is because Turks haven’t been completely pussified by the USA as the rest of the vassals on the peninsula have allowed themselves to be, but that would be a subject for another day), the difference will be that they’ll then be equipping with Russian weapons (and given the choice between F-16s or even F-35s compared to Su-35s or Su-57s is a no brainer) and instead of being available to help Team America with it’s geopolitical games, they’ll be another on the growing list of adversaries, and the only remaining functional US industry (MIC) will lose a potentially large foreign buyer.
    Your European colonies will also find themselves having a more openly confrontational adversary on their ‘frontline’, meaning NATO will not only have to over-extend in order to place a speed-hump on the Finnish border (and Finnish leaders are already extolling one virtue of NATO membership being reduced domestic defence spending; since they’ll expect to hide behind an American skirt like everyone else on the peninsula) but NATO will also have to over-extend to defend it’s Mediterranean frontline.
    So having provoked a war with Russia in Ukraine (which, contrary to the parrot fashion repetition here and in other fake news, NATO is losing), you’re now suggesting provoking the possibility of another confrontation or proxy war (between Turkiye and Greece plus some coalition of the gullible) to what purpose? So NATO can lose even more credibility and disarm itself even faster?
    The grown ups would also be mindful that since the US sabotaged Nord-stream 1 and partially sabotaged Nord Stream 2, then once the green energy pipedream falls completely on its arse and Russia shuts down gas transit via the rump state that remains of Banderastan, Europe will be dependant upon a cooperative Turkiye for its reliable energy supply; comprising Russian and Azeri pipeline gas transitting Turkiye and being onsold to the Euros at a premium. So how do you imagine ‘kicking them out of NATO’ will impact Turkish negotiations on how high that premium might be?
    Like I said, you guys are funny.

  5. Charlie Hall

    January 19, 2023 at 4:35 pm

    Türkiye isn’t allied with Russia anymore. It’s drones have had a huge impact in the Russia Ukraine war — in the side of Ukraine. And Erdogan’s son-in-law owns the drone factory.

  6. Dee_Hos

    January 19, 2023 at 9:32 pm

    We should have kicked them out of NATO when they were insistent on compromising the F35 program by buying Russian vaporware S400. An air defense system so powerful it has completely failed to clear the skies of 40-50 year old Ukrainian Mig 29’s!

    There not our friend they never have been. They provided funding to ISIS buy their stolen fuel, the continually attack the only real friends we have in the region –the Kurds.–

    I agree with the poster above let them go buy Russian garbage planes like SU35 and SU57. Those “modern” Russian fighters one of which keeps getting shot down by those pesky half century old Mig 29’s, (SU35) and “stealth” SU57 they won’t bring anywhere the fighting.

  7. Epicurus

    January 20, 2023 at 10:27 am

    @Erny72 You do understand that every word that you typed is for booting Turkey out of NATO, once and for all. You are blackmailing the West with BRICS and your Russian allies? With Russian gas, with Azerbaijani gas? Go ahead, leave. No one ever wanted an islamic state in the Western Civilization in the first place. You have relations with Europe because of the cancer in the heart of our continent, the Germans. Now that the Germans have been proven to be a bunch of eco-communists, you do not have allies anymore.
    Go back to Central Asia, your homeland, while you are at it.

  8. Paul

    January 20, 2023 at 10:17 pm

    ^ What @Epicurius said, 100%.

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