When it comes to Turkey, NATO must consider divorce – Chicago Tribune

This week, I’m getting married in France. I should be writing my vows, but instead I’m writing this column, even though the concept of marriage is still on my mind.

Being a foreign policy nerd, it occurs to me that the closest approximation to marriage in international affairs is a wedding ring.

Partnerships, between peoples and nations, have a wide range of possible meanings and scopes. But wedding rings are formal agreements that indicate a specific type of commitment, such as marriage. A covenant is a promise between nations to support and defend each other, in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, or more specifically, in times of peace or war.

Alliances shouldn’t be made by chance, but they shouldn’t be unalterable either. If an alliance becomes an obstacle to a nation’s ability to meet its needs, the standards and the way out must be clear and reasonable.

This brings me to Turkey. As any true friend of NATO would, I must ask: is the Turkey of today really the Turkey you were drawn to as a partner 70 years ago? I fear that you and Turkey have drifted apart, most recently with its threat to block NATO membership for Sweden and Finland. I fear that the growing differences are becoming irreconcilable.

At the start of NATO, Turkey sat on the border of the Soviet Union. When halting Soviet expansion was NATO’s primary goal, Turkey’s geography might have been compelling enough to overcome other shortcomings. It was also easy to do, given Turkey’s potential at the time. It seemed to be moving firmly towards a Western identity and embracing the liberal and democratic values ​​that NATO saw in it.

As often happens in relations, this promise did not materialize and Turkey experienced coups and unrest in the decades to come. In 2002, the West thought that this era could be different, with the democratic election of Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s Justice and Development Party (AKP), but the commitment to democracy was still not real, and Turkey has taken a difficult turn towards an illiberal and authoritarian regime. .

Turkey’s undemocratic nature is not just a bad image of an alliance that claims to be based on democratic principles. It also undermines NATO security. Turkey wields its veto within the alliance like a cudgel, slamming its allies on unrelated issues to punish it for not validating Erdogan’s obsession with punishing the Kurds. Erdogan is there for what Erdogan wants – and that often does not align with alliance interests and security.

While they clash on several issues, Erdogan is still close to Putin, as he tries to play both sides. Turkey’s purchase of Russian missile defense systems in 2019 was a slap in the face at NATO and a direct violation of US sanctions. Can Turkey still be trusted for NATO weapon systems, or does the close relationship between Turkey and Russia risk compromising classified information on NATO weapon systems?

NATO, you can do better. Finland and Sweden are courting you, after all. Like Turkey, they have a capable and professional military and a strategic geography, but they also share your values, such as democracy and the rule of law. You are not likely to see Finland or Sweden imprison political opponents or threaten journalists. And Erdogan’s objection to Finland and Sweden joining raises the question of whose side Erdogan is on.

Other NATO members have long had enough of Turkey’s duplicity and games. This is not the first time that Turkey’s expulsion from the alliance has been discussed. The possibility was raised after Erdogan’s harsh crackdown in 2016 following a failed coup attempt, as well as Turkey’s 2019 invasion of northeast Syria. But as NATO has no mechanism to suspend or expel an ally, the way forward is unclear.

If the rest of the alliance finds that Turkey has consistently violated NATO principles, they can unanimously agree to withdraw Article 5 protections from Turkey, effectively suspending its participation and any assistance it receives from NATO.

It’s probably the closest divorce he can get, but even that determination would require a lucid assessment of the benefits Turkey brings to the table and the risks as well. Perhaps Turkey would agree to a no-fault divorce – it can always opt out. If not, marriage counseling may be in order.

No ally is the perfect ally, and no spouse is the perfect spouse. Some form of compromise and understanding is always necessary.

It’s ultimately up to NATO to decide whether Turkey is worth the formal defense commitment, but it’s a decision they should feel empowered to make rather than accepting the alliance as is. Periodically reconsidering the value and legitimacy of these commitments is not unreasonable. In fact, it’s a marker of a healthy relationship.

As I return to my vows, I consider what is most important to me in my personal covenant. NATO, do you and Turkey have a common vision of the future and of your collective priorities? Can you trust Turkey to support you?

Otherwise, consider your options. Breakups are tough and messy, but you might be better off in the long run. And Finland and Sweden might be able to help the rebound.

Elizabeth Shackelford is a research fellow on American foreign policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. She was previously an American diplomat and is the author of “The Dissent Channel: American Diplomacy in a Dishonest Age”.

Submit a letter of no more than 400 words to the editor here or email letters@chicagotribune.com.

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