Why would Turkey want to leave NATO?


Since the failed coup attempt, Western media has been discussing Turkey’s NATO membership. We do not know why or because of whom this debate started; because nobody in Turkey has hinted that the country is thinking about pulling out of NATO.

Foreign media would be right to ask how on earth the military of a NATO-member country could imagine that a coup would be acceptable. It is indeed shocking that a Turkish general on duty at Virginia’s Norfolk base was part of a treacherous plot against his own country and later on asked for political asylum in the U.S. NATO countries are maybe asking themselves what kind of military they are working with.

The debate, however, had nothing to do with all that. The international press keeps writing that the current government, which has defeated the cabal, would want to leave the military alliance. To claim that the government wants to leave NATO right after it avoided a coup is quite interesting.

Ankara is perfectly aware how valuable its NATO membership is for the country and, in return, how Turkey’s membership is important for NATO. If Turkey decides one day to leave NATO, the military alliance will cope, but the decision would have a seismic impact on Turkey and the surrounding region. That is why to claim that Turkey would like to leave NATO has no basis in reality. On the other hand, a military coup goes against NATO’s values, and had the coup succeeded, NATO could indeed have legitimately discussed expelling Turkey. The coup, however, did not succeed, and now some people question the Turkish government’s relations with NATO. This is quite odd.

Are there people somewhere in the world who would be happy if Turkey cut all its institutional ties with the West? Turkey insists that it has no plans whatsoever to leave NATO, and it also says it is determined to maintain accession talks with the European Union. Yet there are some people who pretend that Ankara wants to put an end to its relations with the West.

There may be many reasons to explain this interesting situation. Maybe some NATO members believe that NATO would be better off without Turkey – some may dream of playing the role Turkey plays in NATO, or think that persuading Turkey about a number of issues has grown too tiresome. Or maybe they are trying to provoke Turkey by insinuating that nobody wants it in NATO or in the EU. Or perhaps all this has nothing to do with Turkey per se.

Some players have possibly decided to frighten NATO’s other members by telling them that Turkey is preparing to leave. Everybody knows that if Turkey leaves NATO, it will join another organization to guarantee its security, and this other organization would probably be an anti-NATO one. Such a move would increase threats against NATO or encourage NATO to “save” Turkey. Pushing Turkey toward Russia and then to save it is perhaps the plan, with the aim being to reinforce the West’s inner solidarity.

The problem is that Turkey has no intention to leave Western institutions, so it will not need saving. Instead of discussing the eventual consequences of Turkey leaving NATO, maybe one should discuss promoting Turkey’s role in the West. But some people probably dislike that they will have to have this conversation with Turkey’s current government. Luckily, the U.S. has taken the first step to break the ice and decided to send Vice President Joe Biden to meet with Turkish officials. Let’s hope other Western powers follow his lead.

*Beril Dedeoğlu, born in 1961, is a Turkish academic who served as the Minister of European Union Affairs in the interim election government led by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu between 22 September and 17 November 2015.

(Published in Daily Sabah on Tuesday, August 16, 2016)