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Trump's Threats: NATO Wakes Up To Türkiye's Reality Since 1964

23.02.2024 12:12

NATO without Washington would instantly make Türkiye, along with the United Kingdom (UK), one of the alliance’s two dominant military forces US exit from NATO would make Türkiye a leader of all of Central and Western Europe’s security arrangements.

"The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations (UN), will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force…."[1]

"I hope you will understand that your NATO allies have not had a chance to consider whether they have an obligation to protect Türkiye against the Soviet Union if Türkiye takes a step which results in Soviet intervention without the full consent and understanding of its NATO Allies."[2] Watching the "gasps of shock"[3] and "panic"[4] elicited by former United States (US) President Donald Trump's recent threats concerning NATO has been amusing, but with intensely tragic overtones.

Consternation was the theme of the day, so US Vice President Kamala Harris was tasked with soothing nerves. But rather than expressing awareness of the historical moment and treading carefully, she (or her speech writers) chose extremely tired rhetoric: "We must stand in defense of international rules and norms…".[5] She said that at exactly the same time that the US, while vetoing a series of UN Security Council resolutions calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, has proved completely incapable of preventing Israel from violating those "international rules and norms" in the most bloody and abhorrent manner. Who can believe such platitudes when Washington's officials do not, or cannot, uphold their professed ideals?

Türkiye's NATO reality

As a 25-year observer of Türkiye-US relations, only one succinct phrase came to my mind after Trump asserted that he would encourage Russia to attack NATO members that did not pay their allotted share of defense spending: "So how does it feel"? Frankly, I could feel no sympathy for the fretting and hand-wringing that Trump's threat elicited from most NATO capitals. Since June 1964, Türkiye has lived with the reality that the NATO Charter was not a mutual defense contract that bound all members equally. Instead, Article 5 was always applicable only if Washington decided that it was. Contrary to what German Chancellor Olaf Scholz claimed, Türkiye has long known that NATO was not exactly "all for one and one for all."[6] Scholz, also overcome by the moment's urgency and evincing no historical awareness, stated that, "Any relativization of NATO's guarantee of assistance is irresponsible and dangerous and is solely in Russia's interests."[7]

I heartily agree. But when former US President Lyndon Baines Johnson's infamous missive to Ankara became public knowledge, other NATO members did not express any special concern that the President's stance might constitute a violation of the NATO Charter, or that overall trust in the US commitment might be weakened by such sentiments. Just the opposite, Türkiye was labeled the "undependable" actor, and the US went so far as to impose an arms embargo on Ankara after Türkiye's 1974 intervention in Cyprus.[8] Washington's behavior forced Türkiye, over the past 40 years, to develop its own domestic defense industry.[9] Türkiye was also compelled to use Swedish and Finnish NATO accession as a crowbar to wrench concessions from other NATO members because Türkiye (and its interests) had not been granted equal legitimacy.

The topics those concessions concerned – the F-16 modernization kits, the weapons and technology embargoes imposed by Sweden and Canada, NATO's disingenuous stance towards the PKK/SDF (both in Syria and in Europe) -- should never have been topics that needed such political strong-arming. In fact, the policies on those issues were mistakes from the moment whichever Washington or Brussels officials dreamed them up. If Washington and the other NATO capitals had approached those issues in a reasoned, objective, and honest manner, relations between Ankara and the rest of NATO would have been far smoother over the past decade, to everyone's benefit.

NATO without the US?

Trump's other threat, to pull the US out of NATO, was just as wild, and the implications – not openly mentioned as far as I could discern – must have been hair-raising in Brussels. The reason is that NATO without Washington would instantly make Türkiye, along with the United Kingdom (UK), one of the alliance's two dominant military forces. Türkiye owns, by a sizable margin, the second largest conventional military in NATO, has emerged as a premier drone power, now enjoys significant domestic defense production capacities, and has been face-to-face with Russian forces in places as diverse as Syria, Libya, and the Caucasus Mountains for the past decade. Curiously, recent analyses agonizing about Trump's threats and Europe's lack of military capacity studiously avoid saying anything substantial about Türkiye.[10]

With a US NATO exit, some NATO capitals, which for decades looked upon Türkiye as a second-class member, would suddenly have no other recourse than to accept Ankara's enhanced leadership role in the alliance. I previously argued that Türkiye should have long ago been made the leader of NATO's Eastern Mediterranean security arrangements,[11] but a US exit from NATO would go one step further, making Türkiye a leader of all of Central and Western Europe's security arrangements.

Renewed Türkiye-US cooperation?

Following the Turkish parliament's approval of Sweden's NATO accession, the corresponding flurry of remedying actions taken by other NATO members on issues important to Türkiye, and the recent discussions between Ankara and Washington, many analysts have begun talking of a renewed relationship.[12] The subtraction of New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez seems to have improved the Congressional atmosphere for Türkiye. Even New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who has echoed Menendez's aggressively anti-Türkiye rhetoric in the past, seemed genuinely pleased to be in Ankara this past week.[13]

On the other hand, the many regrettable actions taken by US officials towards Türkiye over the past ten years, and the US's continued support for the PKK's Syrian arm, clearly indicate that hopes for a renewed relationship should remained subdued pending further developments. Consequently, as the November US election approaches, Russia improves its position in Ukraine, and the conflict in Gaza shows no sign of abating, a quiet window of opportunity for US and NATO officials to rebuild relations with Ankara may have arrived. Even if none of the Trump-focused doomsday scenarios are realized, more permanent progress might be achieved if those same US and NATO officials can assess their prejudices about Türkiye in a more rational and balanced manner.

[1] Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.

[2] U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) to Türkiye's President İsmet İnönü, 5 June 1964. For reference, see: The Middle East Journal, Summer 1966, p. 387.

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2024/02/15/us/politics/trump-nato-threat.html#: ~: text=News%20Analysis-,Trump's%20NATO%20Threat%20Reflects%20a%20Wider%20Shift%20on%20America's%20Place,segment%20of%20the%20American%20public.

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/2024/02/16/world/europe/biden-putin-navalny.html

[5] Ibid.

[6] https://www.nytimes.com/2024/02/14/world/europe/europe-nato-trump-ukraine.html

[7] Ibid.

[8] The official U.S. documents from the era make clear that Washington saw Greece as the primary impediment to a solution in Cyprus, but Türkiye was treated as the malcontent. See: https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1964-68v16

[9] See, for example: Füsun Türkmen, Türkiye-ABD İlişkileri, pp. 98-105; Nasuh Uslu, Türk-Amerikan İlişkileri, pp. 177-179; Suha Bölükbaşı, "The Johnson Letter Revisited," Middle Eastern Studies, July 1993, pp. 505-506.

[10] https://www.nytimes.com/2024/02/14/world/europe/europe-nato-trump-ukraine.html; https://www.nytimes.com/2024/02/18/world/europe/europe-russia-munich-conference.html

[11] https://www.aa.com.tr/en/analysis-news/-turkey-s-new-regional-security-role-70-years-late/1350816

[12] https://www.aa.com.tr/en/turkiye/turkish-president-erdogan-receives-us-senators-in-ankara/3143313; https://www.reuters.com/world/us-turkey-ties-now-have-significant-momentum-senator-murphy-says-2024-02-21/; https://www.mfa.gov.tr/sayin-bakanimizin-abd-li-senatorler-jeanne-shaheen-ve-chris-murphy-yi-kabulu--20-subat-2024--ankara.en.mfa; https://carnegieendowment.org/2024/02/12/can-f-16-deal-revive-turkish-american-partnership-pub-91606

[13] https://www.aa.com.tr/en/world/interview-us-senator-lauds-positive-relations-with-very-important-ally-turkiye/3144760

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu. -



 
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