Jonathan Schanzer of the Washington, DC-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) has written compellingly in a Politico Magazine article suggesting that NATO should consider expelling Turkey, “Time to kick Turkey Out of NATO?” Schanzer notes:
Membership in NATO still holds significance. The alliance was designed to be an elite group of countries that stood for Western values. The NATO charter, set forth in 1949, holds that member states will protect one and all from attack at the hands of ideological foes. The Turkish Republic, founded and governed as an avowedly secular state, agreed to these terms in 1952, three years after NATO’s founding.
Of course, NATO was initially engineered to fight communism. But over the years, the threats to the international system have changed. The latest challenge is a jihadist ideology that fuels the Islamic State, but also al Qaeda and other terror groups and their state sponsors.
Yet, it has become clear that Turkey, once a bulwark of secularism in the Muslim world, is now ambivalent at best and complicit at worst, about fighting these forces. The fact that the AKP is a splinter of the Muslim Brotherhood provides a good indication of its leanings. More troublingly, it is a champion of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas and allows several of its senior figures to operate out of Turkey. It has failed consistently to uphold international standards on fighting terrorism finance, including the designation of al Qaeda figures on its own soil. It has been reluctant to even acknowledge that groups like the Nusra Front—which has pledged fealty to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri—are terrorist organizations. Its dangerously lax border policies have contributed to the rise of the Islamic State. And it has helped Iran, the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world; evade sanctions at the height of the international community’s efforts to hinder its illicit nuclear program.
Schanzer’s question was spurred on by Turkey’s inaction in the face of the ISIS siege and likely conquest of the Kurdish enclave of Kobani just across the border in Syria. allied with the Muslim Brotherhood, doesn’t want to move against the ISIS jihadists rampaging in Syria and Iraq. Until recently he tacitly supported their cause fighting to eject the Assad government in Syria and replacing it with a self-proclaimed Caliphate. This would fill his oil pipelines with smuggled product from captured Syrian and Iraqi oil fields to sell at a good profit. He facilitated the so-called “jihadist highway” filtering foreign Salafist jihadist recruits for ISIS and the Al Qaeda al Nusrah Front opposition to Assad. But Erdogan has to play it cool, as he has a lively trade exchanging gold for much needed gas from neighboring Iran, a Shiite ally of the Assad regime to foster Turkey’s economic growth. The gold received by Iran allowed the Islamic Republic to evade US and international sanctions to finance its nuclear development program. We learned this week that he exchanged 180 jihadists, sequestered in Turkey, on September 20th for release of 49 Turkish diplomats and their families held captive for 101 days following the fall of Mosul in June 2014.
Those of us old enough to have lived through the so-called Korean Conflict of 1950-53, can recall the tough Turkish military contingents part of the multilateral UN force that endeavored to stave off the North Korean and Chinese PLA hordes in what was euphemistically called, “a police action”. That was then. Now, Turkey’s U.S. supplied F-16 aircraft are not flying from NATO airbases in his country. He has yet to permit USAF operations out of those airbases despite authorizing legislation passed by the Turkish parliament. US supplied Turkish Army tanks are positioned silently on the Turkish Syrian border. All while the world’s media coveys images of the courageous YPG fighters, women among them, lightly armed, desperately fighting against all odds with ISIS troops equipped with stolen US mortars, tanks and artillery. Most of Kobani’s population, over 180,000, has fled to refugee sanctuary in Turkey.
The Erdogan regime’s decision not to lift the Kobani siege has roiled Turkey’s Kurdish population. President Erdogan was allegedly concerned about Kurdish irredentism in Syria and Turkey. He got confirmation of that with the rising of Kurds throughout the Southeastern region of his country resulting in more than two dozen dead and counting. Kurds in Europe have also erupted in protest and fought pitched battles with ISIS supporters in the streets of Hamburg.
These developments have given rise to questions from fellow NATO and US-led Sunni coalition members over Erdogan’s ‘conditions’ to enter the fray to provide ‘boots on the ground ‘and permit air assaults from NATO bases in Turkey.
Let’s examine some plausible reasons why Erdogan may not wish to unleash his army in the US-led coalition conflict with ISIS. He has publicly stated that his objective is to bring down the Assad government. Less well known is the current round of Turkish negotiations with Cyprus over ‘unification’ of the Republic of Cyprus and the rump Turkish Northern Cypriot ‘Republic’. That was carved out by a Turkish invasion in 1974. An opportunistic invasion contrived by the secular Turkish government at the time to counter the Greek military coup of the Archbishop Makarios government of Cyprus. Turkey is pressing for a lucrative share of the gas development offshore Cyprus and transmission to EU markets via his network of pipelines.
Until recently the US was willing to sacrifice the Kurds in Kobani and only resorted to conducting limited bombing to slow down the inevitable advance of ISIS fighters bent on exterminating remaining YPG fighters and the remnant of the town’s population. Erdogan may be the equivalent of Stalin who during the August 1944 Polish Resistance Uprising ordered the Red Army to sit on the east bank of the Vistula River watching the German Army decimate the valiant Poles and turn Warsaw to rubble. Stalin barred USAAF air drops from a base at Poltava in the Western Ukraine, forcing allied air drops to originate in England, many of which fell in the hands of waiting German forces. Stalin also wanted to ensure that a Communist regime spawned in liberated Lublin would rule post war Poland. Erdogan clearly wants the Syrian Kurds decimated so that they will not have virtual autonomy in the country’s Northeast.
We note Schanzer’s conclusion in his Politico article:
The crisis in Kobani once again brings the challenge of Turkey into sharp relief. Despite the best efforts of Washington and other coalition members to bring Turkey along, it now appears clear: Turkey under the AKP is a lost cause. It is simply not a partner for NATO. Nor is it a partner in the fight against the Islamic State.
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.