Turkey: Difficult to live with, nearly impossible to live without

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Ivo Daalder, former U.S. ambassador to NATO, is president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and host of the weekly podcast “World Review with Ivo Daalder.”

One day final month, there stood President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey, holding arms with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Ebrahimi Raisi — two of the West’s impeccable foes.

Then, only a few days later, there he was once more, this time seated subsequent to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres on the signing of a deal permitting Ukrainian grain exports to transit the Black Sea.

Erdoğan as each villain and hero — simply the way in which the mercurial Turkish President likes it. But it makes for a really sophisticated ally.

Turkey’s strategic significance to NATO is evident. Geographically, the nation is situated alongside the south of the Black Sea, representing a bridge between Europe and Asia — with the Middle East to the south, Central Asia to the east, and the Caucuses to the north. And for international locations bordering the Black Sea, the Turkish straits supply the one waterway to the Aegean, the Mediterranean and the oceans past.

Politically, Turkey is the most important Muslim nation in NATO and is usually a helpful interlocutor with the Arab and Persian world. And whereas its diplomacy may be disruptive, Ankara’s tight connections with so many key gamers present it with political heft — because the conclusion of the Ukraine grain deal not too long ago underscored.

Finally, militarily, Turkey deploys the second largest military in NATO, with fight expertise in opposition to inner foes and exterior threats, and it’s residence to United States forces and different navy capabilities of vital significance to the protection of each NATO and the U.S.

And, but, through the years, Ankara has hardly been a dependable ally. Its record of offenses is lengthy, some going again many years — comparable to its unlawful invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and repeated confrontations with Greece within the Aegean.

But Erdoğan’s presidency has taken Turkey’s offenses to a completely new stage. At residence, he has tried to smother the opposition, jailed his opponents, and his authorities has imprisoned extra journalists than some other on this planet. It’s additionally the one NATO nation ranked as “not free” by Freedom House.

Worrying as this current decline in freedom is, nonetheless, home turmoil and autocratic rule is nothing new for a rustic that has witnessed 4 navy coups for the reason that finish of World War II. Rather, it’s Turkey’s more and more erratic habits overseas that has known as its standing as a dependable ally into query. 

Erdoğan is hardly the one NATO chief to have established heat relations with Putin. Just consider Italy’s former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi a couple of years in the past, or Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in the present day. 

He is, nonetheless, the one NATO chief to have purchased superior air protection missiles from Russia, as a substitute of buying Western gear that may very well be built-in into NATO’s air protection community. 

Turkey’s REcep Erdogan with UN Secretary-General António Guterres on the signing of a deal permitting Ukraine’s grain exports to transit the Black Sea | Ozan Koze/AFP through Getty Images

He’s additionally the one NATO chief — although not the primary Turkish one — to threaten an ally with pressure, as he did a couple of weeks in the past in a series of tweets in Greek.

Within NATO Erdoğan has been disruptive too, usually utilizing the Alliance’s reliance on consensus to try to get his means — or block settlement. Unlike nearly all different allies, Turkey is blissful to wield its veto and stand alone to try to get what it desires. 

For instance, upset by Israeli navy actions in opposition to a Turkish provide ship making an attempt to break the blockade of Gaza, Ankara blocked NATO collaboration with Israel for years. Insisting that NATO contemplate the specter of Kurdish terrorism as a menace to NATO, Erdoğan additionally blocked approval of Alliance contingency plans to defend Poland and the Baltic states. 

And only a few weeks in the past, Turkey as soon as once more used its veto, this time to block an invite to Sweden and Finland to be part of NATO. Although the difficulty was resolved in time for a proper invitation to be issued on the Madrid Summit in June, provided that closing accession requires all NATO international locations to ratify the step, Ankara nonetheless holds the ultimate card on whether or not and when the 2 Nordic international locations will be part of the Alliance.  

But now, after Erdoğan’s refusal to impose sanctions on Russia for its outrageous invasion of Ukraine, his embrace of unsavory leaders and Islamic extremists, in addition to his techniques inside NATO some have begun to argue that the time has come to droop or push Turkey out of the Alliance.

There are a few issues with this proposal, although — one sensible, the opposite strategic.  

By its very nature, the very consensus precept that Turkey has efficiently exploited to its personal ends makes its suspension or ejection from NATO impossible without Ankara’s settlement. While Turkey can withdraw from NATO at any time — as France did from its the navy construction in 1966 — the Alliance would want a consensus to eject a member. Thus, NATO’s Catch-22: its consensus rule can solely be modified by consensus. 

There’s additionally a strategic purpose to hold Turkey in NATO and check out to use diplomacy, persuasion and stress to get Ankara to play ball: In or out, Turkey occupies a strategically very important place for the Alliance, with shut hyperlinks to the Middle East and Caucuses that no different ally possesses or can replicate. It does, at occasions, play a helpful position in bringing in any other case recalcitrant events collectively as properly — as its relations with each Kyiv and Moscow have already highlighted. And it may, and has, contributed considerably to the widespread protection of the Atlantic Alliance.

In different phrases, Turkey’s an ally that’s more and more tough to live with and nearly impossible to live without. Or, as former U.S. President Lyndon Johnson stated of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, “It’s in all probability higher to have him contained in the tent pissing out, than exterior the tent pissing in.”

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