War is merely the continuation of policy by other means, according to Clausewitz. As the last blow to the relations between Turkey and Europe, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has said EU states will cut pre-accession funds to Turkey.1)The US and Europe’s leadership is uncompromising in its dealings with Ankara. Germany quit Incirlik Air Base this summer2) and the Dutch authorities deployed a heavily armed unit to the streets with permission to ”shoot in case of need” during an unofficial visit of the Turkish Minister Kaya this spring, who wanted to hold a political rally for the Turkish diaspora.3) Officially, Turkey is a NATO member, but de facto the alliance does not exist anymore. However, nobody in Brussels will admit this because, without Turkey, the coalition is like a bucket without a bottom. If Clausewitz is right, war within the alliance seems inevitable.
Turkey, a large country with an area of 784 thousand square kilometers and the population of over 80 million, has a strategic location: it lies at the crossroads between the Christian and the Muslim worlds, between Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe, exercising control over the Bosporus, the only sea route from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.4) Unlike during the Cold War when Turkey, fearing the Soviet Union, made itself dependent on the US and, as a NATO member, let itself be used against the Eastern Bloc, it is now guarding its own interests so skillfully that some experts believe that Ankara is using the Atlantic Alliance for its own purposes in pursuit of reviving the Ottoman Empire.
Turkey has the fourth strongest army in terms of firepower (after USA, France and Great Britain) and second in terms of the number of soldiers (after USA) in the North Atlantic Alliance, and eighth in the world. Turkish troops make up more than 12% of all NATO forces (US share is almost 39%).5) The NATO military base in Incirlik, in Southern Turkey has strategic importance. From there military operations and intelligence activities in the Middle East can be conducted.6)
Total military personnel
Armoured fighting vehicle
Total naval strength
The relations between Turkey and the United States have been gradually deteriorating after Ankara had refused to fully support the US during the Second Gulf War. America’s backing of the Kurdish rebels in the fight against the Islamic State is another bone of contention between the two allies. Ankara is rightly afraid of Kurdish aspirations for independence, which threatens its territorial integrity. Kurds, who could create a state with 30 million inhabitants, live in a land called Kurdistan, which occupies parts of Turkey (with 14-20 million Kurds), Iraq (5,6-8,5 mln), Iran (8-12 mln), and Syria (2-3,6 mln). 8)After the failed July 2016 coup d’etat in Ankara, the United States refused the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, a clergyman living in the USA, accused by Erdoğan of inspiring the putsch. That event may have helped foster a rapprochement between Ankara and Moscow (even the downing of the Russian aircraft by a Turkish fighter did not thwart the process), as a result of which both countries together with Iran and without the Western powers guaranteed a peace process between Assad’s government and a part of the Syrian opposition.9)
In 2017 Turkey purchased the S-400 missile defense system from Russia and then in August 2017 an economic agreement with Moscow was signed, which is proof enough that President Erdoğan is pursuing a policy fully independent of the United States. Asked by Die Zeit whom he trusted more, Vladimir Putin or Donald Trump, President Erdoğan answered: “Don’t force us to make such a choice.” 10)This statement exposes discrepancies in NATO regarding the relations with Russia. Some commentators predict Turkey’s exit from NATO, its close alliance with Russia, and even with Iran. The Atlantic Alliance without Ankara would mean a change in the balance of power in the Black Sea region and the NATO’s south-eastern flank would be significantly weakened, with the strategic straits being moved out of the American zone of influence. Russia would be able to carry out military activities in the Black Sea (in which it maintains its fleet) unrestricted. Turkey’s parting with NATO would entail the necessity to strengthen the alliance with another member state (some experts point to Egypt, which has a strategic location on the Suez Canal).11)Furthermore, the Turks would be free to take action against the Kurds in Syria and in the territorial dispute with Greece over Cyprus, thus meddling even further in the Balkans.
The Russian-Turkish-Iranian alliance is not a natural one
Tehran, the capital of a Shi’ite country, vies with Ankara, the capital of a Sunni country, for regional dominance, while the long history of conflict between Russia and Turkey may thwart a closer cooperation between the two states. Moscow’s leadership is Orthodox-Christian-oriented and as such has crushed an Islamic insurgency in Dagestan and Chechnya. A considerable detail: before 1800, Dagestan belonged to the Persian Empire. That Russia suspended the delivery of the S-300 system to Iran many times and Iran did not receive the upgraded S-400 shows that the relations between the two states are not cosy. Turkey benefits from the contact with the West in that it can purchase its technology. And the same time it is extending its influence through its five-million Turkish minority in some of the European countries.12) The Directorate of Religious Affairs, which supports, instructs and finances mosques and imams in Germany and the Netherlands, is one of the most important ministries in Turkey.
Under the current circumstances, Turkey will remain in NATO officially and continue to maneuver between West and East. Turkey’s leadership understands perfectly well that NATO does not exist as an alliance anymore. There is a zero chance that the Dutch, French or British youth, 20% of which are of African or Asian origin, will be willing to sacrifice themselves for the Baltic States or against Anatolia if article 5 of NATO is triggered. Sending 1 million migrants into Europe, which had already accepted unprecedented levels of migrants, President Erdoğan showed his contempt for the European leadership and the Europeans’ apparent willingness to annihilate themselves without a single shot. To put things in perspective: Turkey, with a population of 80 million, accepted 3 million refugees from a neighboring country. Sweden with a population of 8 million accepted 2.1 million refugees from all over the world.
In Syria, NATO partners are close to a military encounter as US troops exchange fire with Turkish-backed rebels. Turkey will keep flexing its muscles over its Western NATO partners as it senses the weakness of its European ones. Diplomatic hostility will increase until war terminates the alliance between NATO and Turkey. It could happen in Syria, Kurdistan, Greece, the Balkans or in the streets of a major European city.
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|1.||↑||EU leaders want to ‘responsibly’ cut Turkey pre-accession aid: Merkel, Reuters 2017-20-10|
|2.||↑||Germany set to quit Turkey’s Incirlik airbase amid row, BBC 2017-06-05|
|3.||↑||Rotterdam mayor gives permission to shoot during Turkish Minister Kaya’s visit, Daily Sabah 2017-03-17|
|5, 7.||↑||2017 Military Strength Ranking, Global Fire Power.|
|6.||↑||Incirlik Air Base, Wikipedia.|
|9.||↑||S-400s to be delivered to Turkey in ‘minimum 2 years’, Daily News 2017-10-10.|
|10.||↑||Turcja-rosyjski koń trojański w NATO? Czy kraj ten powinien nadal pozostawać członkiem Sojuszu Północnoatlantyckiego? – Robert Stefanicki, wyborcza.pl 2017-07-17.|
|11.||↑||Is Turkey Preparing to betray NATO?, M.Collins 2017-01-24.|
|12.||↑||Sojusz reżymów autorytarnych? Turcja wobec Iranu i Rosji- wnioski dla Unii Europejskiej-Adam Balcer, Krytyka Polityczna. Grudzień 2016.|