Türkiye has always been an important Nato ally since Ankara chose to join the Western bloc by entering the Korean War in 1950. Türkiye assumed the responsibility of protecting the south-eastern border of the Alliance during the Cold War period. Among Nato allies Türkiye has the second-largest army, and since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the country has become a regional security actor in the Black Sea region.
Notwithstanding Türkiye’s key Nato status, other Nato leaders have not hesitated in warning Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the strongest terms regarding his military actions, especially in Syria.
The US imposed sanctions on Türkiye’s top defence procurement and military-industrial arm following an order by the Erdogan government for the Russian-made S-400 air defence system. France, Germany, Norway and Nato partner Finland are reported to have suspended the sale of military equipment to Türkiye following Ankara’s operation against Kurdish armed groups in Syria.
While French President Emmanuel Macron, and the then German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Donald Trump expressed serious concerns, calling for an immediate end to Türkiye’s military operations against Kurds in 2019, US diplomats have gone as far as to threaten Türkiye with expulsion from Nato.
US Senator Lindsey Graham, Representative Eliot L Engel, chairperson of the House of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and US Defense Secretary Mark Esper all expressed their anger and suggested that the US should consider kicking Türkiye out of Nato if the Turkish army continued to target Kurdish forces that assisted the US in the destruction of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Caliphate.
There is a growing perception among the Turkish public that Nato has started seeing Kurds and Greeks as better allies than Turks. The leaders of Nato’s strong members who warned Erdogan regarding Türkiye’s military action in Syria targeting Kurds in October 2019 may indicate that Western countries consider Kurds a better ally than Turks against ISIS.
An increase in the defence co-operation between the US and Greece has also been a source of some degree of panic for Türkiye which remains in dispute with Greece over the Aegean islands. And Erdogan no longer views Nato as a reliable organisation since the Atlantic organisation withdrew Patriot batteries from Türkiye in 2015, despite Erdogan’s concerns regarding the threat of Russia from Syria.
Nato’s major force, the US, has expanded its military co-operation with Greece, thereby directly undermining Türkiye’s power in the Aegean Sea as Greece began locking Turkish fighter jets over the Aegean Sea. Greek lawmaker Kleon Grigoriadis has accused the government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of turning the country into a "huge US base, accusing Washington of expanding its access to military zones across the European country”, Radiorebelde reported in June.
Erdogan also complained that America’s military bases in Greece were a threat to Türkiye but not to Russia.
AP reported on June 29 that the US garrison will be permanent in Poland and the US would send two additional squadrons of F-35 fighter jets to the UK and more air defences and other capabilities to Germany and Italy, and Nato plans to increase the size of its rapid reaction force from 40 000 to 300 000 troops by next year.
Erdogan has ordered the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system despite Nato’s strong warning and sanctions. He has also established a close relationship with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) did not join the Western sanctions imposed on Russia over the Ukraine war and Erdogan now faces accusations of being “Putin’s Trojan horse in Nato”.
Russia’s Ukraine invasion gives Washington a great opportunity to increase its military presence in Europe to counter Russia without depending on Nato’s disruptive member Türkiye. Unlike during the Cold War, Türkiye no longer serves as the most important outpost of Nato against the threat of Russia.