Turkey and NATO: A vital alliance, with limits

Interesting oped By MK Bhadrakumar July 04 2022

Less superficial then the usual analysis.

The Cradle

Turkey has had an uneasy history as a NATO member country. The push and pull of strategic autonomy constantly grated against a security guarantee the alliance offered, and also a way of reinforcing its western identity. The west, in turn, wanted Turkey because of the Cold War.

The enigma still continues: Was Turkey’s shift from neutrality to alignment a real necessity in 1951? Did Stalin indeed cast an evil eye on Turkish lands? Would any other Kemalist leader than Ismet Inounu, an unvarnished Euro-Atlanticist whose conception of modernisation implied cooperation with the west, have succumbed to the Anglo-American entreaties?

The relations between Turkey and the Soviet Union remained relatively calm during the period of Turkey’s admission to NATO.

In November 1951, Moscow actually directed a note to Turkish Government protesting the latter’s decision to participate in NATO, which asserted that “it is quite obvious that the initiation to Turkey, a country which has no connections whatever with the Atlantic, to join the Atlantic Bloc, can signify nothing but an aspiration on the part of imperialist states to utilise Turkish territory for the establishment of military bases for aggressive purposes on the frontiers of the USSR.”

The ideological aspirations in becoming an integral  part — at least within the framework of a military alliance — of the western world played a decisive role in Turkey’s decision in 1951, whereas, in reality, there was no imminent or explicit Soviet threat to Turkey.

On the other hand, Turkey’s geographical importance to both the west and to the Soviet Union gave her a particular value in an east-west context, which, to her credit, Ankara would successfully leverage to its advantage through subsequent decades.

Very often comments are made regarding Turkey’s alleged ‘duplicity’. How as a nation they play both ends against the middle as if this is some treachery. I see it as realpolitik. Thw reality of their geography really forces Turkey to leverage to it’s advantage, to her credit, that which is in Turkey’s interest. You can or cannot agree? It can make you happy or sad? Whichever. It simply is reality.

Curiously, this complex inter-locking in some ways bears an uncanny resemblance to the current accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO. Russian President Vladimir Putin must have alluded to it obliquely when he told the media Thursday on the sidelines of the Caspian Summit in Ashgabat:

While returning from NATO’s Madrid Summit, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan underscored that by lifting Ankara’s reservations about Sweden’s and Finland’s membership, he advanced Turkish interests. And he added the caveat that their accession is far from a done deal yet, and future developments would depend on their fulfillment of commitments under the memorandum of understanding they signed in Madrid with Turkey.

Indeed, both Sweden and Finland have bent over backward to give Turkey extensive anti-terrorism assurances that require changes in domestic legislation in return for Ankara withdrawing veto against accession talks. Erdogan insists that what matters are not their pledges but the delivery of those pledges.

It is a tough sell domestically for both Sweden and Finland, since one of the pledges is the extradition of 76 Kurds, deemed as terrorists by Turkey. This is easier said than done, as the courts in Stockholm and Helsinki may have their own definition of a “terrorist.”

The Turkish National Assembly’s ratification is a must for the Nordic countries’ admission to be formalised at NATO level. There is some speculation that US President Joe Biden incentivized Erdogan to compromise, but make no mistake, the latter’s warning about compliance by Sweden and Finland — as also the audible rumblings already on the left in Sweden — are reminders that the issue is still wide open.

I don’t think Biden incentivized Erdogan’s compromise. My thought is this entire memorandum is dead in the water. At best this provided some useful PR. Of course things could change, but, there isn’t any real indication that it will.

5 replies on “Turkey and NATO: A vital alliance, with limits”

Hi Penny: Talk about coincidence! I just now posted an item by Pepe Escobar on Afghanistan, then went to see what you were up to, and found we’d been to the same source – The Cradle.

I’m no expert on the Middle East, not by a long-shot, so I mostly rely on your investigations, but I do know why the US (NATO) demolished Afghanistan after 9/11 and continues to make life hell for its people today, and it had nothing to do with Bin Laden and far too much to do with Russian oil pipelines and Afghan poppy fields.

People here live their lives as if none of this ongoing atrocity were happening in the world. But NATO is just one big death machine styling itself as the road to peace — while we in the West imagine our enemy is a virus.

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