Can they take Turkey out of NATO?

By: Merve Şebnem Oruç*

– First, as the Gülenist Terror Organization (FETÖ) members were being suspended from their positions and coup plotters arrested, The Washington Post reported that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, “If Turkey fails to maintain democratic principles and the superiority of law in its practices after the coup attempt, it could risk its NATO membership.” When reaction grew like an avalanche, a denial came from the U.S. Department of State. Then, upon Turkey’s increased pressure to extradite FETÖ leader Fethullah Gülen, in its editorial titled “Turkey’s new anti-Americanism,” The New York Times found in itself the right to warn not only Ankara but the entire Turkish public and said this “poses a serious risk to NATO.” It is NATO’s job to explain that this does not reflect the truth.

It is not a new form of blackmail to wave the NATO stick at Turkey through the media. When we did not change our Syria policy when the U.S. changed theirs in 2013, we were subjected to similar ones aplenty. The same happened while anti-Daesh coalition negotiations continued. The situation was the same when the March 1 memorandum was rejected by Parliament. In other words, threatening Turkey with NATO membership is an American habit. So, if we fall foul with the U.S. on any subject, is Turkey’s NATO membership – which is put on the table as an item for blackmail – something that is so easy to end?

Turkey, which joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, founded in 1949 by 12 countries and led by the U.S., U.K. and France, in 1952, even before European countries such as Greece, Germany and Spain, was one of the two participating countries in its first step to expand. The membership of Turkey, which continues to be a key company at the most eastern end of NATO today, is directly connected with the completion of İncirlik Air Base’s construction and signing an agreement for its joint use. Until recently, İncirlik meant NATO and NATO meant İncirlik – it meant if one could not exist without the other.

As a matter of fact, for this reason, as we are all now aware, the U.S.’s operations to establish a Democratic Union Party (PYD) state and a military base in Syria, have been viewed as a move to find an alternative to Turkey and İncirlik. This reading was right but incomplete, because a U.S. all or military base in Syria is only possible with the influence of Iraq or northern Iraq.

The old Warsaw Pack member East European countries’ joining NATO in the 2000s and the new road map determined at the 2010 NATO summit in Lisbon, may help us see that this equation is more complex. The Lisbon summit that was characterized as the emergence of a new strategic concept since NATO could not respond to new global threats like terrorism, was important in two aspects. First, Turkey was going to be one of the legs of the NATO missile shield to be installed in this direction. Second, in the beginning it was clearly stated that the shield was set up against other countries like Iran and Syria. In this state, tensions between Turkey and Syria and Iran was possible and it seemed that this is what was wanted. As a result of Turkey’s resistance, the “Against missile attacks to come from Iran, Syria or the Middle East” statement was not included in the Missile Shield Project, but everybody knew what was what. Meanwhile, as relations closer than in the past were being built with Russia in terms of strategic cooperation and “cooperative confidence,” it was obvious the missile shield was primarily set up against Russia.

The early warning and monitoring leg of the missile shield, which is planned to be completed in 2018 and whose Romania leg was completed and Poland leg started being built in May, is located in Kürecik in the east Anatolian Malatya province. Now let us think that Turkey’s NATO membership is terminated. What will happen to this missile shield, which is at the focus of NATO’s new strategic concept? Is it that easy to move the early warning and monitoring systems to another location? Let’s say that the system is revised despite all the costs. Who will be chosen instead of Turkey which was preferred due to its strategic position? Iran, the threat that they showed as the reason for the installation of the shield, Syria, or who? In the case Turkey’s NATO membership ends, it is not very difficult at all to guess that Russia, which classifies every step taken as the end of the missile shield approaches as a “declaration of war,” will be celebrating day and night. Russia will be so pleased with this result that Russian President Vladimir Putin may even consider gifting Damascus to Turkey. NATO leaving out of the organization in such a way one of its most critical members will be exceedingly pleasing for China as well, which it constantly classified as a threat. With the likelihood of Turkey joining the Shanghai Five, whose mission is “a single-pole world cannot be accepted” and which has not been able to reach its potential power until now, will this time become a real threat for NATO.

Furthermore, Turkey’s disconnection from NATO, will drive countries that have a border with the Black Sea and East Europe to serious panic. Business for NATO vessels trying to increase their presence in the Black Sea will become very difficult due to the Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits and similar reasons. So, taking Turkey out of NATO will lead to panic and conflict within NATO, the countries considered threats to further grow and strengthen and the years of investments go down the drain. Even though the U.S. continues to make these threats, they are probably aware of the situations against their interests, which I listed some here. This is exactly why the U.S. is unable to rid Turkey from NATO and is constantly trying to transform it.

In brief, taking Turkey out of NATO is not that simple. Today, we know this as much as they do. Because Turkish media and academics no longer consist solely of those who write only in accordance with the U.S.’s interests. Hence, U.S.-led Europe’s threats to take Turkey out of NATO will remains as a bluff only. But what’s certain is that they are going to try other way to get rid of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The struggle is not over yet, they are only now starting to play their cards open.

*Merve Şebnem Oruç is a Turkish journalist and columnist.

(Published in Yeni Şhafak on Sunday, August 7, 2016)