In recent years alliances have been significantly tested all around the world. With every new conflict comes disagreements of policy which lead to otherwise friendly countries being at odds. Mark Dubowitz on his site, The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has outlined numerous drastic changes between powerful nations over recent months, including the U.S. withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.
One such battle is between Turkey and the rest of the NATO member countries. Turkey is a critically important ally to the U.S. and NATO as a whole. Its geographical location makes it vital when responding to a crisis in the Middle East and it remains to be one of the strongest presences in the region. However, recently Turkey’s leadership, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has exhibited anti-NATO behavior.
To fight the Islamic State in Syria, the U.S. enlisted the help of a Syrian-Kurdish militia group known as YPG. This past January, Turkey began attacking those same forces in Afrin, (a district in northern Syria). The Kurdish people have a long history of seeking separation from the existing powers to create a sovereign Kurdish state. Since the 70’s, there have been a series of armed conflicts between the Turkish government and various Kurdish insurgent groups.
Due to this history, President Erdoğan has made it explicitly clear that he will never allow a Kurdish state to form, especially on Turkey’s Southern border. He views the YPG forces as a potential first step in such a state. What’s worse is these attacks against the U.S. backed forces were made with Russian support. Moscow controls the skies in that region, so Turkey needed their approval to carry out its assaults.
Mark Dubowitz of FDD states that Western nations have tried to persuade Erdoğan to cease attacks, but they have failed to condemn Turkey publicly. In the past several years NATO and the EU haven’t responded appropriately to Erdoğan’s numerous human rights violations. When one NATO member acts against the interests and values of the organization it significantly undermines the entire NATO community. Turkey’s recent actions show a disturbing willingness to abandon Western norms.
Turkey’s relationship with Moscow is also a sign of trouble for NATO. At a time when NATO is trying to isolate Moscow for its track record of aggression and hostility towards its neighbors, FDD warns this decision sends the wrong message globally and weakens NATO’s image. Learn more about FDD.
Within Turkey’s borders, the government under Erdoğan’s control has acted in ways that widely sway from NATO founding values. Since the 2016 attempted coup, Erdoğan has arrested hundreds of journalists and clamped down on its judiciary. Any NATO member that weakens its own democracy tarnishes the entire alliance. All NATO countries are bound to the same founding document, the 1949 Washington Treaty, the preamble of which states, “all members are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.”
NATO is not just a military organization. It is a political alliance with the preservation of democracy as a core value. All indicators suggest that Turkey is leaving democracy behind. An independent organization, Freedom House, recently downgraded Turkey from the status of “Partly Free” to “Not Free.” As a vital NATO member, Turkey’s military actions in the Middle East and the way it operates its government within its borders could jeopardize the entire organization.