Turkish Realignment Leading to NATO Collapse

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NATO headquarters in Brussels

Concerned about the security implications of last month’s coup attempt in Turkey for his country, Czech defense consultant Frantisek Sulc worries that Ankara’s move toward a realist approach to foreign policy could result in the most serious crisis NATO has faced in a quarter century, possibly leading to the alliance’s collapse.

Commenting on¬†the Czech media’s discussion of¬†the July 15 coup attempt in¬†Turkey in¬†a piece for natoaktual.cz, which touts itself as¬†the “Official Portal of¬†the NATO Information Center” in¬†the Czech Republic, Sulc warned that although a great deal of¬†time has been spent analyzing the “threat of¬†Islamism directed from¬†Turkey to¬†Europe‚Ķmuch less has been said about¬†the large and long-term consequences of¬†the coup,” particularly for¬†the NATO alliance.

In fact, he suggested, the fallout from¬†the failed coup, “together with¬†other events (for example, a US reevaluation of¬†policy toward¬†NATO, a serious crisis in¬†Asia alongside¬†the one in¬†Europe, further aggressive moves by¬†Vladimir Putin, etc.), could lead to¬†the most serious existential crisis the alliance has faced over¬†the past¬†25 years.”



¬†Choosing not to¬†get into¬†the details of¬†what exactly these so-called ‘aggressive moves’ by¬†Moscow might be, Sulc emphasized instead that these consequences of¬†this confluence of¬†threats “will not bode well for¬†Central Europe,” which “in the early 1990s chose two organizations: NATO and the EU as¬†the basis for¬†security and economic stability. Over the last 25 years, these organizations have been shining examples of¬†liberalism, or rather neo-liberalism.

“The analyst admitted that at¬†first glance, the suggestion that the putsch attempt could lead to¬†an existential crisis for¬†the NATO alliance may seem exaggerated. “One can argue that the alliance has repeatedly dealt with¬†both coups and autocrats in¬†the past,” Sulc noted, citing the examples of¬†Turkey, Greece and Italy. After all, it was “geography and geopolitics, not democracy and stability, that resulted in¬†Portugal becoming a founding member of¬†NATO, and Greece and Turkey being accepted into¬†the alliance.”

Moreover, Sulc recalled that the alliance has lived through¬†other crisis situations in¬†the past, including when France decided to¬†leave NATO’s military structures, and when it found itself searching for¬†a raison d’etre after¬†the collapse of¬†the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.

“These examples,” the analyst noted, “are certainly valid, and there is no reason at¬†the moment to¬†talk about¬†NATO’s disintegration; however, there is a danger that this time, the accumulated problems will weaken it to¬†such an extent that participation in¬†the alliance will lose its meaning for¬†some members.”

These problems, according to¬†Sulc, include NATO’s growing politicization ‚Äď its increasingly ideologized definition not just as¬†a guarantor of¬†security and stability, but¬†as an alliance spreading “democratic principles, freedom and liberalism” as¬†well. Of course, “the military dimension of¬†the alliance is still important, but¬†the emphasis on¬†politics, the peace dividend [following the Cold War] and the lack of¬†an adequate enemy have all weakened it.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) speaks with US President Barack Obama (L) during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Turkey Leaders Summit in Antalya. (File)

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Furthermore, the analyst noted, the world’s transformation from¬†a bipolar to¬†a multipolar system of¬†power in¬†the past¬†quarter century “have weakened the ties between¬†the member states, offering them a host of¬†alternatives” to¬†NATO as¬†a source of¬†security. At the same time, a series of¬†events, including the US-led invasion of¬†Iraq, and the protracted conflict in¬†Afghanistan, which has undermined NATO’s prestige, has only further damaged the alliance’s unity.

The 2003 invasion of¬†Iraq in¬†particular, which France and Germany refused to¬†participate in¬†or even endorse, led to¬†further divisions, according to¬†Sulc, with¬†Turkey siding with¬†the Europeans and refusing to¬†provide Washington with¬†the use of¬†its bases for¬†the initial invasion. In return, Ankara may have expected from¬†the Europeans the possibility of¬†membership in¬†the EU, something it soon became clear wasn’t going to¬†happen.

“To a certain extent, this humiliated Turkey’s secular elites. Erdogan’s position, on¬†the other hand, was strengthened; Turkey changed, with¬†a neo-Ottoman politics forming.”

What’s more, Ankara’s ambitions were only strengthened following¬†the string of¬†uprisings throughout¬†the Middle East known as¬†the ‘Arab Spring’, that is, in¬†a region which was once part of¬†the former Ottoman Empire. “These problems provided opportunities which Turkey has used, and will use, for¬†their purposes. And they often do not coincide with¬†the policy of¬†the alliance,” the analyst suggested.

Taking note of¬†a point once made by¬†Robert D. Kaplan in¬†his book ‘The Revenge of¬†Geography’, Sulc noted that as¬†the memory of¬†the bipolar world of¬†the Cold War fades into¬†history, Ankara, together with¬†Tehran, have been becoming more and more involved in¬†the Arab World.

At the same time, the analyst suggested that Turkey’s importance to¬†the alliance is fading,

“Today, after¬†Romania and Bulgaria’s accession into¬†NATO, access to¬†the Black Sea can be ensured even without¬†Turkey, which is also no longer directly adjacent to¬†Russia [despite having bordered the Soviet Union].¬†”

Combined with¬†Ankara’s pursuit of¬†its own interests in¬†the region, and its increased activity in¬†the Arab world, this factor makes it possible “to question the significance of¬†Turkey to¬†the alliance, due to¬†its unpredictability.

Mevlut Cavusoglu gave an exclusive interview to Sputnik

© SPUTNIK/ FUAD SAFAROV

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Meanwhile, he added, try as¬†liberal and neoliberal ideologists might to¬†replace or at¬†least weaken geopolitics in¬†the 1990s post-Cold War period, “geopolitics has returned with¬†full force, with¬†Turkey one of¬†the players using it to¬†their advantage.” This, Sulc suggested, has been demonstrated most recently in¬†Ankara’s negotiations with¬†Brussels over¬†the refugee crisis, where Turkey “pragmatically used its important position, which, on¬†the other hand, will lead to¬†a search for¬†alternatives and a cooling of¬†relations” with¬†the Europeans.

Effectively, the analyst argued, “the return of¬†good old-fashioned geopolitics may become a problem for¬†the alliance which triggers the above-mentioned existential crisis, in¬†which Turkey can serve as¬†one of¬†several possible catalysts. The choice between¬†values and the pragmatism (realism), which was typical, in¬†relations between¬†the powers in¬†the 19th century and thereafter, can be a very painful one.”

What’s worse, according to¬†Sulc, is the fact that this choice between¬†ideology and realpolitik is being considered in¬†a situation where Europe is demilitarized, and dependent almost entirely on¬†the US for¬†its defense, and at¬†a time where political forces inside¬†the US (in the face of¬†Donald Trump) are seriously considering a retreat from¬†Europe.

Accordingly, the analyst suggested that the question of¬†whether Turkey, which has ostensibly rejected the secularist and democratic values promoted by¬†the West, and has come to¬†fraternize with¬†Russia, can be kicked out¬†of the alliance as¬†a form of ‘punishment’ for¬†these transgressions, is an appropriate one.

“In this regard, statements made by¬†the representatives of¬†the alliance, and by¬†Western politicians, are not very informative. And it’s no wonder, because this is a very delicate topic. How would the alliance look without¬†Turkey? How would it look with¬†a Turkey that does not cooperate? Could Ankara, along¬†with other NATO members, become a ‘devil’s advocate’? Could Ankara deliberately block alliance initiatives with¬†respect to¬†certain countries, such as¬†Israel, Georgia, Ukraine, Jordan and others?”

Ultimately, according to¬†the analyst, the upcoming presidential elections in¬†the US may make even that country join the members of¬†the alliance (including Turkey) which see cooperation with¬†Moscow preferable to¬†a full-on Cold War-style standoff. Under such circumstances, “in a situation where Europe’s south and south-east [borders] present both traditional and asymmetrical threats¬†‚ÄĒ when Afghanistan is disintegrating ‚Äď when the memories of¬†deterrence during¬†the Cold War and the operations in¬†the Balkans are fading, it is very difficult to¬†find positive examples on¬†which the alliance can build.”

Accordingly, in¬†a straight-up defense of¬†the alliance, Sulc suggested that unless several important steps are taken (including naming Russia, China and others as¬†competitors or explicit ‘enemies’ of¬†the alliance, forcing alliance members to¬†increase their military budgets, increasing the use of¬†hard power, etc.), NATO may be doomed to¬†disintegration.

“As ambitious, and perhaps unfeasible as¬†the ideas outlined above¬†may be, without¬†clear, concrete and visible steps, the alliance will lose its political weight, at¬†first abroad, and then from¬†the inside, closing in¬†on itself until¬†it loses its members’ confidence, without¬†which there can be no alliance‚Ķ” the analyst concluded.

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