Is Turkey a Reliable NATO Ally?

Entrusted with NATO secrets and called upon to help, if the situation should warrant, Turkey’s current trajectory might, in fact, transform its ally status into something completely different, something which might necessitate a rethinking of NATO’s strategy altogether, something which, in the end, might not even be called an ally.

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By Georgiana Constantin | December 16, 2015

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Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Barack Hussein Obama of the United States

The Turkish downing of the Russian SU 24 jet bomber on November 24 has added to the already complicated and often controversial recent trends in international relations.

Although it is still quite unclear as to which side of the border the jet was on when it got shot down, and, Turkey claims to have issued ten warnings to the plane in five minutes. The standard procedure, as recognized internationally, is to issue warnings to the intruding jet and then escort it out of the restricted airspace. It is definitely not an option to shoot down an aircraft which was not taking any offensive measures.

Former vice Chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, General Tom McInerney, stated in a recent Fox News interview,“This airplane was not making any maneuvers to attack the territory[…i]t was probably pressing the limits, that’s fair. But you don’t shoot ‘em down just because of that.” He also emphasized that, even though Turkey is a NATO ally, he believes that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is dangerous and, as this move was probably premeditated, he might have “a hidden agenda.”

Retired U.S. Navy admiral, James A. Lyons described Erdoğan as “a committed Islamist and [one who] has essentially transformed what was once a secular nation into an Islamic state.”

If we are to take into account the evidence which has been surfacing as of late with regard to Turkey’s benefiting from the smuggling of ISIS occupied territory oil, and that Russia has been attacking these shipments, then we might see a clear motive for the downing of the Russian plane. Would President Erdoğan be so reckless as to risk the eyes of the world turning towards him after the incident, while he gets nothing in return other than “revenge” delivered by his military? His history does, in fact, include many reckless actions, so perhaps this one was another such impulsive move. Or, perhaps it was not. Erdoğan adamantly stands his ground on the subject of procuring oil from ISIS. He denies Turkey gets its fuel from any illegitimate source.

Whichever the motive for the shoot down though, either mistake or malice, facts remain in the wake of the incident, which have the potential to cause instability and turbulence, not only in the region, but throughout the world.

Because Turkey is a NATO ally, the invocation of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which states that an attack against one NATO ally is an attack against all allies, has been brought into discussion. However, one must be very careful in analyzing the reality of the matter, that is, the Russian aircraft was not maneuvering for attack, and it posed no threat to Turkey’s security. Although he never apologized officially to Russia, Erdoğan stated that he was “saddened” by the downing and that he hoped it would not happen again. Article 5 of the Treaty could, therefore, not be an option.

Since the beginning of the Syrian refugee crisis, the EU has been reanalyzing the possibility of making Turkey a member, as, among other perceived advantages, this might help stem the flow of mostly Muslim migrants from the Middle East. Some have even argued that Turkey was on a “fast track to the EU.” Since the downing of the Russian plane, however, issues have come to surface, apart from the known factors such as the country having 97% of its territory in Asia, as opposed to Europe, and, being a majority Muslim nation. These factors taken independently might not be bad or worrying.

Nevertheless, once we consider the fact that Erdoğan, has been steering his nation away from the secular foundations put in place by its first president and democratic reformer, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and driving it more towards Islamic extremism, a dangerous picture starts to emerge. Indeed, Erdoğan is known for his disregard for human rights and democratic principles and it is becoming increasingly clear that, as Real Clear Politics reports, “Erdoğan has insidiously eroded Turkish democracy, free speech and human rights. He is turning the once-secular state into an Islamic nation. Thousands of Turkish soccer fans recently shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ when asked for a moment of silence to honor the victims of the Paris terrorist attacks.”

To have a country represented by such leadership as part of the EU cannot be an option. And, yet, we are still talking about a NATO ally. How trustworthy can such an unpredictable ally be considered? It leans away from democracy, ignores human rights, incites its own people to hate the West and its core values, while also engaging in alleged collaboration, indeed perhaps even support, of terrorist groups such as ISIS. Is this a NATO member that can be trusted? Is this a NATO member that will put the interest of peace before its own ambitions?

Entrusted with NATO secrets and called upon to help, if the situation should warrant, Turkey’s current trajectory might, in fact, transform its ally status into something completely different, something which might necessitate a rethinking of NATO’s strategy altogether, something which, in the end, might not even be called an ally.


Georgiana Constantin is a law school graduate who has studied International, European and Romanian law at the Romanian-American University in Bucharest and received her Masters from the Nicolae Titulescu University in Bucharest. Ms. Constantin, who is based in Romania, is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.

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