NATO should consider parting ways with Turkey – analyst

Turkey and NATO have grown apart and their differences are becoming irreconcilable, wrote Elizabeth Shackelford in an article for the Chicago Tribune on Thursday.

“Is Turkey today really the Turkey (NATO was) drawn to as a partner 70 years ago?” the Chicago Council on Global Affairs senior fellow and former U.S. diplomat asked.

Looking past Turkey’s shortcomings in the aftermath of World War II, when the alliance was founded to stop the expansion of the Soviet Union, was easy to do, Shackelford said. “(Turkey) seemed to be moving firmly toward a Western identity and embracing liberal, democratic values that NATO saw within itself.”

However, the following decades were full of unrest and military coups for Turkey. With the election of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002, the West thought this was changing, she said. “But the commitment to democracy still wasn’t real, and Turkey took a hard turn toward illiberal, authoritarian rule.”

According to the former diplomat, Turkey’s “antidemocratic nature” is a bad look for NATO and it undermines the alliance’s security. The right to veto any expansion of NATO, which all member states hold, is used as a “cudgel, slamming (Turkey’s) allies on unrelated issues to punish it for not validating Erdogan's obsession with punishing the Kurds”, she said.

The Turkish president plays both sides regarding Russia and NATO, and Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile defence systems could “risk the compromise of classified NATO weapons system information”, she added.

Finland and Sweden, whose bids to join NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine are currently blocked by Turkey, “have capable, professional militaries and strategic geography, but they also share (NATO’s) values such as democracy”, she said, suggesting the alliance does not need Turkey.

Expelling Turkey was raised after the harsh crackdown on the Turkish government’s opponents after a failed coup attempt of 2016, and again after Turkey’s 2019 incursion into northern Syria against U.S.-backed Kurdish groups. “But since NATO has no mechanism for suspending or expelling an ally, a path out isn't clear,” Shackelford said.

The remaining 29 members of NATO could withdraw Article 5 protections of collective defence from Turkey, “effectively suspending its participation and any assistance it receives from NATO”, but it would require a clear-eyed assessment of what Turkey brings to the table and what risks it poses, she said.

Shackelford called for mutual compromise and said NATO should decide whether Turkey is “worth the formal defence commitment”, and periodically reconsider the value and legitimacy of its commitments.

If NATO cannot trust Turkey to share its collective priorities and have its back, it should “consider (its) options”, she said. “(NATO) might be better off in the long run. And Finland and Sweden might be able to help.”

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