Date: 29 November 2021

Turkey: An unruly NATO partner?

Relations between NATO and Turkey have been strained since the country in 2017, purchased a Russian made S-400 missle defence system. Described as a “Russian intelligence collection platform”, US defence officials feared, the missle deal could lead to data leaks and security issues within the NATO alliance.


After the purchase agreement was signed between Ankara and Moscow, Turkey was subsequently “kicked out” of a half a billion dollar deal with the Americans to obtain the stealthy F-35 fighter jets, in an apparent retaliatory move by Washington.

There’s still ongoing talks about purchasing new F-16s fighter jets. But members of Congress oppose the sale.

Some U.S. lawmakers have spoken of imposing sanctions on Ankara for favoring the Russians. Recently in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State members of Congress invoked the Countering American Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

With NATO’s largest standing army,  the country remains a formidable military power. It has flexed its military muscles in Northern Cyprus in the past, and more recently in Syria and Libya. The Caucasus aren’t off limits either. Ankara has played a decisive role in the decades old Nargorno Karabakh territorial conflict. Not surprisingly due to historical enmity towards the Armenians, it sided with the Azeris.

Backroom rumblings and news reports, revealed Turkey was covertly sending troops to the contested Nagarno Karabakh region between the two adversaries during the short lived July, 2020 war. Why all the international interventionism? President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been obsessed with transforming his country into a regional superpower. This has unnerved some U.S. allies and “client states” such a Greece and Israel, drawing the two closer together in “an enemy of my enemy is my friend” geopolitical realignement.

Turkey has also unsettled its NATO partners by forming closer energy, military and strategic alliances with Russia in the Black Sea area. Ankara has even courted Iran. All this is most irksome in both Brussels and Washington.

The End of the Erdogan Era?

“I cannot say there is a healthy process in Turkish-American relations” said the Turkish president last September, as the F-16 fighter jet sale floundered. Relations between both allies were furthered strained when last month when U.S. and other western diplomats in Turkey called for the release of Osman Kavala, a businessman and philanthropist jailed since 2017.

On what basis? Most likely he was seen by Erdogan as a potential political rival. The diplomats’ demand was met with ire. The Turkish president designated them “persona non grata” and threatened them with expulsion. He later backed down.

Was some arm twisting by Washington a factor in his decision?

After all stirring up the diplomatic pot would only further damage Turkey’s relations within NATO. Or worse scuttle any chance of the still pending F-16s deal, held up in Congress. Aside from these tiffs, most worrisome of all, is who will lead Turkey in the near future?

Rumors abound about the Turkish leaders declining health. If “Sultan Erdogan” as some refer to his autocratic nature, leaves the scene before the 2023 Turkish elections, a dangerous power vacuum might emerge. Turkey’s restless military commanders, itching for revenge (many jailed after failed 2016 coup), may be tempted to step in and fill that gaping political void.

A possible military coup in one of its key, if somewhat duplicitous NATO allies, would further strain the shaky alliance. NATO already reeling from the debacle in Afghanistan, is in no mood for more trouble with Turkey. Only Russia would benefit from such a scenario.

Author: Michael Werbowski

Michael Werbowski is a Vienna-based reporter, heritage activist and political campaign organizer who specializes in international geopolitical issues. He graduated from the University of Leeds, U.K., and wrote his MA dissertation in post-communist studies on the topic of E.U. enlargement to the nations of “new” central Europe. He did his BA studies at the faculty of Political Science and Law (University of Nantes, France) and later spent a year as an “etudiant libre” attending classes at the Institut d’ Etudes Politiques de Paris. In 1992, he took summer courses in American foreign policy and advanced journalism at Harvard University. In 1993, he ran for parliament in the Canadian federal elections. He is a Salzburg Global Seminar fellow from 1996 and was awarded a Wolfson college Cambridge media fellowship in 2004. From 1994 until 2000 he resided in Prague as a reporter for the local press. From 2000 until 2003 he worked in Mexico city as a correspondent for the Czech daily Lidove Noviny while collaborating with the Mexican media.

In 2005, he lectured in Prague’s Anglo American college on corporate ethics and media coverage. As a reporter he covered and commented on issues related to E.U. and NATO enlargement for the prominent Czech daily Lidove Noviny and the Prague Post. He has written news and commentary for newspapers such the Mexican daily Excelsior and Tiempos del Mundo in Mexico City. For his environmental coverage of the Chalillo dam controversy in Belize he was awarded an honorable mention for best reporting in 2003 by the Mexican journalists’ club.

Mr. Werbowski’s articles have been translated from English into Spanish and French in magazines, newspapers and websites world wide. Most recently he was business editor at the English daily The News in Mexico City. He is currently working on and researching a book on former U.S. foreign policy adviser to President Jimmy Carter (1977-81) Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski. He has worked with several NGOs and international organizations over the years (most recently assistant to an E.U.-member state OSCE delegation in Vienna).

“The article was written in cooperation with the Warsaw Institute and the Kazimierz Wielki Society.”

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TAGS: migration crisis, NATO, Belarus, Russia


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