Turkey and the United States are on a collision course over Ankara’s decision to buy Russian-made S-400 anti-missile defense systems. The question is how this will affect Turkey’s relationship with NATO, of which it has been a member for the past 67 years.
For over a year now, American neocons, in particular, have been pushing the notion of expelling Turkey from NATO over its efforts to develop military ties with Russia.
They argue that Ankara’s cozying up to Moscow puts its adherence to NATO’s core principles into doubt and makes it more of a foe than an ally. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s blatantly anti-American rhetoric has merely added grist to the mill of those who think along these lines.
This hard-line position has its counterpart in Turkey too, especially among ultra-nationalist circles. These maintain that NATO membership has lost its meaning for Turkey because it no longer provides support to Ankara against its mortal enemies.
The relationship that key NATO members like the United States and France have cultivated with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria is the main driving force behind this argument.
Ankara considers the YPG to be a terrorist organization linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party that poses an existential threat to Turkey’s unity.
Erdogan’s unofficial coalition partner, Devlet Bahceli, who heads the far-right Nationalist Movement Party, is among those heading this chorus. He declared last week that the time had come to question Turkey’s NATO membership.
Bahceli was responding to a letter by acting US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan to his Turkish counterpart, Hulusi Akar, which nationalist Turks, in particular, have castigated for what they consider to be its “threatening” tone.
Shanahan warned that Washington would not only withhold the delivery of advanced F-35 fighter jets to Turkey if it went ahead with the S-400 deal, but it would include other punitive measures that would have dire consequences for Ankara.
During a public address in Istanbul last week, Bahceli said this letter should be returned to sender posthaste, adding that “NATO is not the US’ backyard, iron fist or toy.”
“However, if that is the case, then Turkey has to immediately start questioning all its international connections, starting with NATO, that operate in a one-sided manner and result in dependence and entrapment, and end its dialogue with these formations,” Bahceli said.
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