In consultation with the US intelligence agency and the US military, the NATO headquarters decided in May 1951 to offer full membership to Turkey. The thinking was that Turkey, owing to its geographical location, could play a potential role in a war against the Soviet Union.
In particular, the US showed keen interest in impressing its allies in NATO that the inclusion of Turkey and Greece in NATO would considerably strengthen NATO’s strategy in the Mediterranean region.
Allowing NATO military bases on its soil was the expected outcome of granting Turkey full membership. Incirlik Airbase gained importance. Built by American military contractors, it became operative in 1955.
According to a US Air Force source, at this military base are stationed an estimated 50 nuclear weapons. The Konya air base, established in 1983, has AWACS surveillance jets for NATO.
In 2012, the NATO Land Forces headquarters were shifted to Boca near Izmir. About 500 km away from Iran is the established Kurecik radar station, which serves as the NATO missile defense system.
However, after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, the US imposed a weapon embargo because Turkey used military equipment produced in the US.
Though Turkey and Greece both were admitted to NATO in 1952 because of Turkey’s dispute with Cyprus, Greece withdrew its troops from NATO in 1964, feeling its involvement in NATO had diminished or that NATO was minimizing the relevance of Greece after critical military bases were surrendered by Turkey to NATO and the US.
“Turkey has become increasingly more self-confident…coupled with a rising element of aggressive rhetoric, a confrontational attitude, and the revisionist political position,” Greek Minister of National Defense Nikos Panayiotopoulos said during a virtual talk sponsored by the German Marshall Fund and broadcast by the Voice of America in October.
Erdogan is re-elected for the third time as President. It is an unprecedented victory despite a tough fight by the opposition besides allegations of electoral abuses. His re-election is nothing less than a thorn in the side of the West for years to come.
They take note of Turkey’s G20-sized solid economy, diplomatic expertise, military strength, and geographical location, which the West thinks is unavoidable in times of crisis.
In its October 2022 National Security Strategy, the Biden administration stated, “We are in a strategic competition to shape the future of the international order.” Thus, “we will partner with any nation that shares our basic belief that the rules-based order must remain the basis for global peace and prosperity.”
Turkey meets those ‘any nation’ criteria, albeit with caveats, and, given its importance, dealing effectively with it in this strategic competition is critical.
But that will require an “engage, understand, and overcome” policy to deal with obstacles to positive relations: Erdogan himself, underlying issues, and abiding mindset frictions.
Ankara adopted an aggressive posture against Damascus as the US withdrew from the northeastern region of the West Asian nation, providing space for Turkey to invade Syria. Most of the NATO members were opposed to the military option.
French President Emanuel Macron sternly warned that the need of the hour was better cooperation among NATO allies. He went to the length of calling NATO “brain-dead.”
Macron’s fury emanated from the fact that the Turkish military operation was directed against the Peoples Defense Units (YPG) involved in the fight against the Islamic State (IS).
“Macron asserted that Turkey should not expect support from NATO member states if its military operation was not halted.”
A diplomatic spat followed this. Erdogan asked Macron if he was “brain dead” himself, wrote Financial Times on May 31, 2022. The US Vice President had to intervene, and Turkey had to ceasefire to keep US troops involved in the fight against the Islamic State.
In May 2022, when Turkey questioned additional incursion, the US had to warn him against any adventure like that again.
Turkey scuttled a plan for the defense of the Baltic States after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.
The plan was named Eagle Defender. Turkey opposed its implementation, arguing that NATO officials should classify the Peoples Defense Units (YPG) as a terrorist organization in exchange for its approval of the plan, wrote Reuters on July 2, 2020.
This shows that Erdogan, despite being a member of NATO and committed to go by its manifesto, empathized with certain militant outfits.
Erdogan has openly announced his hatred towards Israel in the ongoing war in the Middle East. In an arrogant and abrasive tone, he scornfully said in an address to the members of his Justice and Development Party, “This measure (Israel’s retaliation to Hamas attack) has shown without leaving the slightest room for doubt that Israel is the world’s most Zionist, fascist and racist state.
“There is no difference between Hitler’s obsession with the Aryan race and Israel’s understanding that these ancient lands are only meant for Jews. The spirit of Hitler, which led the world to a great catastrophe, has found its resurgence among some of Israel’s leaders,” cited Aljazeera on November 21, 2023.
This report on Erdogan’s hostility will be incomplete if we do not concisely reference two more events about Kashmir and Azerbaijan. In his bid to be considered the champion of the Sunnis of the world, Erdogan spits venom against India on the Kashmir issue.
Betraying his total ignorance of the nuances of the Kashmir problem, he absolved Pakistan and its Kashmir-centric terrorist organizations responsible for the enormous destruction of life and property in the Indian part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
He has been speaking on various platforms, including the UN. Secondly, Turkey’s armed intervention on the side of Azerbaijan in the war with Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave has proved his inaccessible aggressive posture.
He is responsible for disrupting peace in the trans-Caspian region for two main objectives. One is to cow down the weaker state of Armenia, and two, to establish an upper hand in the North-South trade route that will likely become more strategic than the failing CPEC.
The presence of Turkey as a member of NATO is becoming doubtful unless good sense prevails in Erdogan that he is a leader of a region that has enormous importance on land and sea for the world, particularly the Western nations.
He has to understand that his newfound Islamism will have fewer and smaller takers. Moreover, Islamic nations are also gradually re-visiting their past follies and prospects.
Turkey has already been kicked out of the F-35 stealth fighter program, and the supply of F-16 fighters also looks improbable. Erdogan is now betting big on Eurofighter Typhoons, but Germany appears to be a ‘bone in Turkish kebab.‘ Acquiring French Rafale would be embarrassing for Ankara after Erdogan’s ‘heated spats’ with Macron.
It’s time Ankara reconsiders its foreign policy before NATO starts ‘formally’ distancing itself from the country.