NATO and Turkey: An Expulsion or a Warning?

Alexandr Svaranc

All international political alliances (particularly military-political ones) are formed on the basis of shared interests and threats to two or more international relations subjects. In other words, there is something that unites and something against which the alliance is formed. NATO’s formation in 1949, led by the United States, signaled the beginning of a new era in international relations and foreshadowed the collective West’s Cold War against the Soviet Union and its satellites.

In Soviet historiography, the ideological component (particularly the opposition of the capitalist system to the socialist choice, the liberal-market model vs the planned state-led economy) was overly dominant in assessing the causes and content of the Cold War. In the second half of the twentieth century, such a justification for the opposition of the two world systems corresponded to reality. However, it should be noted between the lines that the world powers’ contradictions and opposition are determined not only by their ideological, political, and economic systems, but also by deeper issues related to geopolitical (from the root geo, geographical) and historically developed national interests. The goal is the struggle for leadership in world affairs and the preservation of the great power status.

This viewpoint has been reinforced throughout the post-Soviet period of global conflict at the turn of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. However, the demise of the USSR and the Warsaw Treaty Organization (WTO), as well as the rejection of the socialist system, have not resulted in greater and more reliable security for the world. Despite numerous warnings to its Western partners about the inadmissibility of NATO eastward expansion and even Moscow’s readiness to join the North Atlantic Alliance in the early 2000s, Russia, as the successor to the USSR, has remained the main adversary for the US and its allies.

It is precisely NATO’s attitude toward Russia, combined with ongoing contradictions and local conflicts in the post-Soviet space, the majority of which are related to the consequences of the former USSR’s demise, that has led to the current confrontation between the West and Russia in Ukraine. The latter takes the form of a hybrid (economic sanctions, information, technical, and political support for the Kyiv regime) and, more recently, outright (massive military and military-technical support for Kyiv) war.

Accordingly, the imperatives of NATO have not changed since its inception in 1949 until today in terms of confrontation with Russia. However, the situation within NATO has objectively changed after the collapse of the USSR and the WTO, which is associated with the expansion of membership through the accession of new members from the Baltic countries, Eastern and Southeastern Europe, and an increase in the number of partners in the post-Soviet space (Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and a group of sympathizers from Azerbaijan to Uzbekistan).

Thus, NATO’s eastward expansion, which is not militarily or politically supported by real military threats, serves the geopolitical interests of the Anglo-Saxon leaders (the US and the UK). Their goal is to establish their own global dominance in Eurasia through control of the CIS countries’ natural resources and geography, as well as to form a new corridor of separation between Russia and China in order to exclude the likely centers of resistance to Washington and London’s ambitions.

And, in this process of seeking new partners, the US, while not dismissing Turkey’s role on NATO’s southeastern flank, no longer sees it as the only ally in this theater. Furthermore, the wholesale destabilization of Middle Eastern countries undertaken by the US and Britain with the 2003 invasion of Iraq provides Americans with a new operational maneuver in that region and reduces their relative dependence on Turkey’s next “whims.”

Such shifts in Turkish-American relations could not go unnoticed in Turkish leaders’ political circles. As is well known, the main focus of their disagreements is on Turkish-Greek relations (particularly the issue of Cyprus and several Aegean islands) and the Kurdish issue. There is also the Turkish strategy of neo-Ottomanism and neo-Panturkism aimed at reviving Turkey’s imperial status in the southeast, and, most importantly, the Turkish-Russian multifaceted partnership, which has the potential to transform into a strategic relationship.

The United States cannot tolerate this: President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s policy on Turkey’s military and technical cooperation with Russia; Ankara’s refusal to fully support Western sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis; the Turkish-Russian situational partnership in the South Caucasus; the Turkish president’s intention to block Sweden’s and Finland’s accession to NATO.

Washington sees “the hand of Moscow” in everything and everywhere. Of course, from the beginning, Russia has made no secret of its critical attitude toward Sweden’s and Finland’s intentions to join NATO. Moreover, Moscow has not changed its views since the Cold War, seeing no threat to the security of these Scandinavian countries from Russia. In other words, Moscow has given the Finns and Swedes no reason to worry, regardless of the aggravation of Russian-Ukrainian relations.

As for Turkey’s position, expressed by President R. Erdoğan, regarding the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO, Russia has nothing to do with it (although it understands the concerns of Mr. Erdoğan, who represents a country of 85 million people). Turkey justifies its special position regarding Finland’s and Sweden’s inclusion in the alliance on the basis of its own national interests (in particular, it condemns Helsinki’s and Stockholm’s support for Kurdish separatism in Anatolia).

The recent provocative anti-Turkish action of January 21 this year, when the leader of the Danish anti-Islamic party and racist Rasmus Paludan burned the Quran in front of the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm, not only provoked a negative reaction in Turkish society, but was also another shock for the entire Islamic and civilized world. Of course, Ankara demands a just punishment from Stockholm for this manifestation of racism and xenophobia, otherwise Turkey will show its determination to rule out any Swedish attempt to join NATO.

Judging by the ambiguous reaction of the US diplomatic corps officials to the racism in Stockholm (they say that citizens’ freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed by law in a democratic society and cannot be restricted by the authorities), one has the impression that the action is not accidental. Those who stand behind Paludan can understand only too well the reaction of indignation that the burning of the most important book of Islam, the Quran, has provoked among all Muslims and especially among Turks.

Comparing the recent statements of the former US President’s Security Advisor John Bolton on the possible suspension (or revocation) of Turkey’s membership in NATO and the anti-Turkish action of Rasmus Paludan in Stockholm, as well as the statement of NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg on the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO without regard to the opinion of others, one cannot help but see the sequence of the West’s anti-Turkish moves.

In other words, Washington warns President R. Erdoğan and with him Turkey that the warnings of threats will become reality if the latter continue to pursue a course independent of the United States (including cooperation with Russia, opposition to the collective opinion of the West on the fate of the new NATO members and on any other issue). Thus, NATO could suspend Turkey’s membership in NATO in one decision and admit Sweden and Finland in another.

The deputy of the Turkish Motherland Party, Ethem Sancak, believes that Turkey can leave NATO in 5–6 months because of the provocations of the alliance against Ankara (the Greek-Turkish controversy, the Middle East issues, the action against the Quran in Sweden), the Azerbaijani website reports.

Someone has seen pro-Russian tendencies in this statement of Ethem Sancak (as well as in the activities of the Motherlan Party of Doğu Perinçek, which he represents). In reality, Russia has nothing to do with the Vyathan (Motherland) Party itself, its leaders and statements. Moreover, Russia knows very well that the United States is unlikely to reject Turkey’s membership in NATO for objective geographic reasons and because of Ankara’s political aspirations with respect to a number of important (including post-Soviet) regions and countries. Washington is simply blackmailing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, seeking both to contain his independent policies and to deprive Turkey itself of the right to vote without US government recommendations.

Thus, the US does not intend to exclude Turkey from membership in NATO, but only sternly warns Ankara about what it should do and what it should not do. Otherwise, Washington threatens to exacerbate all of Turkey’s external and internal contradictions and arrange a “Turkish Spring” to either transform its government into a controllable regime or fragment Turkey’s territorial integrity, taking into account current and dormant ethnic issues.