Opinion: Erdogan's Turkey a threat or a trusted ally of NATO?

File photo of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photograph:( Others )

Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India Dec 22, 2017, 01.52 PM (IST) Major Amit Bansal

One of the major Islamic countries of Europe, Turkey is the only Islamic country which is part of America-led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. When Mustafa Kamal Ataturk fought the Turkish War of Independence, he himself did not think that the country would be in such a state after few decades. The country has been inhibited by Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Persians and other communities before, finally, surrendering to Islamic invaders in the late eleventh century.

 

Traditionally, Turkey had been considered as a moderate Islamic country but in the recent times, the inclination of this country, which acts as a bridge between Europe and Asia, had been overtly hard-line Islamic, making it a matter of concern. 

 

In 1952, when the Cold War started and America wanted to isolate the then mighty USSR, it had no option but to include Turkey in the NATO.  Particularly, because the country was virtually controlling every movement from the Black Sea and, indirectly,  was restricting the entire USSR Navy to operate in global waters.

 

During the initial phase of Cold War, Turkey got immensely benefited from the economic, political and diplomatic support of United States and emerged as one of the major allies of the European Union. Even after the Cold War ended, the Mediterranean country’s importance did not reduce but because of its strategic location and active support to America in all perspectives, it flourished.

 

Even till now, Turkey has the second biggest standing force in NATO with over 5 lakh soldiers. Not only this, it is governed by the nuclear weapon sharing programme with the US. Accordingly, the US has housed a total of 90 B61 Nuclear warheads at its Incirlik Air Base, out of which 40 are at the disposal of Turkish Air Force.

 

In 1991, Turkey played an important role in establishing NATO footholds in the Central Asian countries, which were liberated out of erstwhile USSR since they share the same culture and linguistic heritage. Things were going fine but after the win of AKP in the elections in 2002, the situation started deteriorating. Earlier Turkey used to support every move of the United States but for the first time in 2003, a major part of the AKP legislatures joined the Opposition party to prevent the government from supporting US decision to invade Iraq from the Turkish Territory. 

 

That was a game-changing moment. 

 

Tayyip Recep Erdogan had been one of the founders of AKP and is considered a hardliner Islamic politician. Everyone feared that his becoming the President will negatively affect the secular nature of Turkey. And the fear came true when he took over the country as Prime Minister in 2003 and then as President in 2014. 

 

Erdogan started affecting the country’s politics soon after his party came to power. He negotiated the membership of Turkey with the European Union, made changes in the Constitution in 2007 and 2010 and curbed the powers of his military, anticipating any future coup.

 

He actively supported some hardliner Islamic movements within the country and nurtured their leaders and this is what disturbs the West. The over-inclination of Erdogan with the hardliner Islamic elements, the ISIS factor, the recent statements of the Turkish government against the US are challenging the existence of the country as a major NATO ally. 

 

There are several other issues too.  The US support to Kurdish fighters is a point of friction as is Turkey supporting some of the ISIS elements. Turkish government officials gave statements, indicating the US as their enemy in open forum. Turkey believes that the US supported FETO movement to the July 2016 Coup. Turkey’s increasing inclination to Russia and its joining of Moscow-Beijing led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is another matter of concern. 

 

Turkey is not only doing joint military exercises with Russia but also procuring S-400 Anti-Missile system, which will be integrated with the NATO defence systems. This is a clear breach of trust. US has also included Turkey as a joint partner in F-35 Program, which is a sensitive military programme but with the current inclination of this country, a leakage of technology into wrong hands can’t be ruled out. The support of Turkey to Pakistan and some of its terror elements is also a serious matter of concern. 

 

But what is compelling the US to keep Turkey as its major NATO ally? Because even keeping Turkey out of NATO is not easy for the US as this organisation is run by consensus and, if needed, Turkey could paralyse all decisions, impacting the efficiency of NATO. 

 

What Erdogan thinks is that by playing this game, he can be in a win-win situation with respect to both the US and Russia. But if he would ever compare himself to these two countries, one led by a sharp businessman and other by an ex KGB operative, Erdogan is a novice and he must accept that.

 

Ironically, Turkey is caught between his own moves and this would not lead the country anywhere. There are serious undercurrents in the government which was evident from the July 2016 Coup. Different governments have different ideologies and priorities which affect the nation to a great sense. The future has a lot in store for Turkey. 

 

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL).

Major Amit Bansal

Major Amit Bansal is is a Defence Strategist with keen interests in International Relations and Internal Security. He is also an author, blogger and poet.