Turkey: An Inconvenient Tie Between NATO and the EU
The admission of Turkey into NATO structures was not the mistake, it was the result of contemporary circumstances. The common failure of NATO (as well as of the EU) was the inability to keep Turkey in the discourse of democratization – which is a cornerstone of NATO's internal integrity and solidarity.
Turkey became a member of NATO in the 1960s during the Cold War era. At that time, it could have been seen as a great tactical step; NATO gained an ally in the southern neighborhood of its biggest rival. Unfortunately, today it seems to be the heart of the worst strategical decision made by NATO representatives. Even worse at present because Turkey has nowadays a core role in both NATO and EU politics.
"Ankara has a major role in shaping what the Alliance does," said the former honorable Secretary-General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen in 2012 – nevertheless, there should be no doubt that the situation has not changed dramatically. But how beneficial could a membership based on the circumstances of the bipolar world, rather than on commonly shared basic values and interests, be?
During the Cold War, Turkey's admission into NATO was understandable: an ally against the Soviet Union was needed. Similarly, like in the EU, NATO members have to share some basic values, goals and interests. It makes the process of decision-making and planning a strategy for the future easier and more acceptable to all other members. NATO members are mostly European and North American countries, sharing their markets, economic interests and democratic systems. I do not want to say that lack of democracy in contemporary Turkey is the core of the problem. The problem, and my primary thesis, is that Turkey's economic and political interests, summed with its domestic policy and general characteristics are the obstacles in the process of integration for the EU. In the case of NATO, the defensive issues and motivations could, for now at least, suffice: this is not the case for the EU. Unfortunately, NATO and the EU include the same member states and a dramatic disagreement in one organization has – necessarily – an influence on the second one. Such integrated dimensions of politics could not have been distinguished during the Cold War period.
For now, the essay could be interpreted as blaming NATO for admitting Turkey into the Alliance. But extending membership to Turkey itself is not the biggest mistake. The biggest mistake was performed later – and is still not fixed.
To sustain the current system, ensuring secure and sustainable relations between members is essential. However, currently relations between Turkey and the EU, and particularly with Germany, are frosty.
Turkey is able to damage its rivals on the platform of NATO as well as in treaties with the EU. NATO's ability to act promptly could thus be indirectly jeopardized – at least ideologically, because Turkey is becoming a country where democracy is gradually being constrained. Furthermore, at present Turkey is able to make other states prioritize Ankara's demands, instead of upholding EU core values such as the right of free speech and expression.
Thus, correcting relations between Turkey and European states should now be the major non-military strategic goal of NATO.
The common failure of NATO and of the EU was the inability of these organisations to keep Turkey in the discourse of democratisation – which is a cornerstone of its internal integrity, solidarity and coherence. Today the discrepancies are clear on the EU floor only, but, they should be expected at the NATO level too in the near future.
Today, EU representatives and members have much to do to sustain their own integrity. After the "leave" result of the recent referendum in the United Kingdom, the EU has to focus more on its internal affairs. Furthermore because of the migration treaty, EU representatives are not strong enough to influence Turkey.
Thus, there is an opportunity for NATO to play a very important role in the process of re-integrating Europe, and to improve and balance its own inner structures. For Ankara, membership in NATO is too useful to leave, or to launch any significant campaign against the other members. Ankara's acts and the crises in the Near East challenge NATO to cooperate with Turkish representatives closely; later could be their policy better and easier influenced. On a side note, attempting to solve the contentious Kurdish issue could become the first step.
Trying to isolate Turkey within NATO makes no sense – and trying to push them out is the same.
During its lifetime, NATO has performed many actions and taken bad decisions, such as regarding Ukraine. These sort of mistakes are one-time, procedural mistakes as opposed to mistakes caused by embedded structural weaknesses. However, Turkey is asymptomatic of a structural weakness, and should be viewed as a long-term problem within the organization. ISIS or Russia are able to harm NATO tomorrow and painfully, but the Alliance has its own capabilities to protect itself; an unsolved inner crisis could jeopardize these capabilities in the future.
Anna Jordanova studies media, journalism and history at the Masaryk University in Brno.
This article has been submitted for category B "NATO's Biggest Mistake and Lesson Learned" of the competition "Shaping Our NATO: Young Voices on the NATO Summit". Comments are most appreciated. You can also read the other articles in this category. Learn more about this competition and how you can submit your own text or video in the categories C and D.
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