Expelling Turkey from NATO would create a dangerous foe

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Some Washington “experts” would kick Turkey out of NATO for aggression against the Kurds, and make the latter America’s new Middle East ally. They ignore the reality that Turkey is vital to NATO — and far more important to U.S. national security than the Kurds. 

Political scientist Samuel Huntington warned in “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” (1996) that Turkey eventually would turn Islamist and leave NATO. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is an Islamist strongman who has been pulling away from NATO and leaning toward Russia.

Turkey’s departure from NATO may be historically inevitable — but it is irresponsible for Washington elites to accelerate a process that could begin the unraveling of NATO. Turkey, after all, is not the only discontented NATO member.

President Trump is right to try to accommodate Turkey’s legitimate security interests on the Syrian border, while protecting the Kurds, in order to keep Turkey in NATO. 

After the United States, Turkey has the second-largest standing armed forces in NATO, with more soldiers (639,000 military, paramilitary and civilian personnel), tanks (3,200), armored fighting vehicles (9,500), artillery (2,400) and military aircraft (1,067 fighter jets, attack helicopters and transports) than Germany, France or the United Kingdom. Turkey’s navy comprises 194 ships, mostly frigates, corvettes and coastal gunships but including 12 submarines.

Some analysts evaluate Turkey as among the most militarily powerful nations, ranking ninth among 137 military powers worldwide.

Do we really want to kick Turkey out of NATO and have its military power and strategic geography aligned with Russia?

Geographically, Turkey occupies some of the most strategically important territory in the world. It is the only NATO member state in the Middle East, bordering Syria and Iraq, near Lebanon and Israel, a region that has been — and continues to be — the crucial crossroads of empire and history since biblical times. Turkey controls the Bosporus Straits, Marmara Sea and Dardanelles Straits between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, giving it the capability to contain Russia’s powerful Black Sea Fleet. Turkey’s geographic location and strong military makes it the anchor of NATO’s southern flank against Russian aggression.

Turkey also is an unsinkable aircraft carrier, with 98 airports capable of supporting NATO air operations over the Middle East, Black Sea and the Balkans.

It is one of only five NATO states (the others being Germany, Italy, Belgium and The Netherlands) storing U.S. tactical nuclear weapons on its territory. Some 50 B-61 nuclear bombs are bunkered at Incirlik Air Force Base, controlled by U.S. personnel stationed there. 

Washington’s foreign policy elites are so fixated on recent Kurdish contributions to defeating the Islamic State (ISIS) that they seem to have forgotten Turkey’s much longer record as an ally of the U.S. and NATO: 

  • Turkey fought alongside the U.S. during the Korean War (1950-1953).
  • During the early Cold War, Turkey agreed to basing U.S. nuclear bombers and IRBMs on its territory, making Turkey a nuclear target for the USSR. (President Kennedy was able to avoid nuclear war with the Soviet Union and resolve the October 1962 Cuban missile crisis by secretly promising Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to remove the U.S. IRBMs.)
  • Turkey joined the U.S. and NATO in bombing Bosnia during Operation Deliberate Force (1995). 
  • Turkey joined the U.S. and NATO in bombing Serbia during Operation Allied Force (1999).
  • Turkey participated in Baltic Sea air patrols demonstrating support for the NATO Baltic states (2006).
  • For years and continuing today, Turkish forces have participated in NATO peacekeeping in Bosnia and Kosovo.
  • Turkey provided military and intelligence support to U.S. operations that destroyed the ISIS terrorist “caliphate.”

Turkey’s membership in NATO quelled the long cycle of conflicts and wars with Greece, also a NATO member. Significantly, even Turkey’s controversial invasion of Cyprus in 1974 did not trigger a war with Greece, in no small part because both are NATO members.

Unfortunately, Turkey under President Erdogan is abandoning secularism and democratic norms, becoming an Islamist authoritarian state, and pulling away from the U.S. and NATO. Indeed, Erdogan is beginning to align Turkey with Russia, buying Russian military equipment over U.S. objections.

Erdogan even has threatened to develop nuclear weapons, which justifies withdrawing U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from Turkey. Yet Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel and other Middle East allies all have legitimate fear of Iran developing nuclear missiles, so threatened nuclear proliferation by Turkey and others may be a sign of U.S. failure to uphold its alliance obligations through credible extended nuclear deterrence and other means.

Turkey controls the flow of Middle Eastern refugees into European NATO, a crucial role whereby a friendly Turkey can help stabilize its neighbors — or an unfriendly Turkey could unleash a human flood into Europe. 

Israel, too, will be better served if Turkey remains in NATO and, thus, a moderating influence on Islamist Erdogan, who eventually may be replaced by a secular leader. Imagine the threat to U.S. and Israeli interests if Turkey leaves NATO and becomes another Islamist rogue state like Iran. 

Turkey’s withdrawal from NATO may, or may not, be historically inevitable. But the United States should do everything possible to keep such a valuable ally in NATO and prevent Turkey from becoming a dangerous foe.

Dr. Peter Vincent Pry was chief of staff of the Congressional EMP Commission and served on the staff of the House Armed Services Committee and at the CIA. He is the author of “EMP Manhattan Project: Organizing For Survival Against An Electromagnetic Pulse Catastrophe” (2018), “The Long Sunday” (2016), “Blackout Wars” (2015), “Apocalypse Unknown” (2014) and “Electric Armageddon” (2013).

Tags Donald Trump Kurds in Syria NATO Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Turkey Turkey–United States relations

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