The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Is Turkey Going to Exit NATO?

Turkey has NATO’s second largest army.

Turkey recently bought Russian s-400 air and missile defense systems. The US had warned that if Turkey did so, it would not be able to have F-35 fighters. Of course, part of this is that Turkish companies producing parts also lost those contracts. The companies will be compensated by helping produce the s-400.

No big deal. The F-35, if not the biggest, errrr, turkey in US defense appropriation history, is certainly part of the pantheon. I wish Canada hadn’t bought them. It’s just a pork operation, and a lot of arm-twisting and bribes were required to make anyone buy them.

But as Buchanan points out:

Under U.S. law, the administration is also required to impose sanctions on Turkey for buying Russian weaponry…

..US hawks are already calling for the expulsion of Turkey from NATO. And the withdrawal of American forces and nuclear weapons from the Incirlik air base in Turkey in retaliation is not out of the question.

I cannot imagine Erdogan’s response to US sanctions–that alone would stand a good chance of ending Turkey’s NATO membership.

But context is important here. Turkey has increasingly been swinging into the anti-Saudi alliance, with Iran and Qatar. Turkey made sure to get Qatar supplies, and Qatar and Iran also became close.

Meanwhile, there is the China factor: An important chunk of China’s Belt and Road Initiative needs to go through Turkey.

More context. For decades, the Turks, under the old secular government, effectively on their knees, begged the Europeans to let them join the EU. The Europeans dragged their feet, and dragged their feet, and dragged their feet.

The secular Turks saw themselves as part of Europe. Europe didn’t want them. Eventually, the Young Turks, having failed because Europe made them fail, turned to a populist Islamist government.

Membership in NATO was part of Turkey saying: “We are one of you.”

Now that Turkey knows it isn’t part of Europe, and knows that Europe would never let it be part of Europe (the same lesson Russia learned after Communism’s collapse, and, oh, did they want to be Westerners, and oh, did we fuck them over), it is moving to a different world with different economic and military ties.

You can only spurn someone for so long.

If the West wanted a secular Turkey which was a solid ally, it needed to make the economy part of the equation work for Turkey, and it needed to let Turkey in. Instead, over and over, it made it clear that Turks weren’t really Westerners.

Erdogan, and now this turn to the East, are the results of Western policy and prejudice. The Turks gave us many many decades to welcome them to the family.

Having failed to do so, we can hardly complain now.

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  1. nihil obstet

    NATO is an organization flailing around for a reason to continue existing, other than as a collection of plum assignments for well-connected senior officers. Continued membership might be very low on the Turkish government’s set of priorities. The U.S. probably now wants use of the military bases more than Turkey wants to be part of NATO, and that gives Turkey a strong hand in any negotiations.

  2. Tom

    Erdogan is not an Islamist nor is AKP an Islamist Party and doesn’t pursue Islamist Policies. AKP is and remains a secular party and pursues a centrist political platform.

  3. bruce wilder

    The U.S. all-or-nothing totally for us or against us approach contrasts dramatically with Russia’s ad hoc deal making.

    Russia has navigated its intervention in Syria very parsimoniously. In Syria, Russia is cooperating indirectly with Iran to oppose both Turkey and Israel, but manages a kind of alliance with Israel and does this deal with Turkey that seriously attacks NATO. Russia’s relationship with Iran is not generally a particularly friendly one. It is impressive diplomacy for a second-rate power against the muscle-bound U.S.

  4. S Brennan

    I wouldn’t get too worked up, the Turks have never been loyal to the west, always playing both sides.

    The western people Turkey are western but, those to the east…still long for the days that they ruled eastern Europe. Russia will offer Turkey a tentative, cautious embrace, they know that the Ottoman Empire’s…er..ah Turkey’s goals are imperial in nature and that, to the Turks, [of Ottoman inclination], Europeans are to be subjugated. Yes, folks, in spite of DC’s official declarations, Russians are European.

  5. Andy Sprott

    Canada hasn’t bought the F35. We’ve actually paid slightly less for membership in the consortium to date than has Turkey.

  6. Dale

    So I have read here that there is this scientific hypothesis that we humans have never been able to make contact with intelligent extraterrestrials because as intelligent species arrive near the point of intergalactic communications they destroy themselves. Hence the earth’s sixth mass extinction event we are living in. Does this explain why our government is acting the way it is?

    As the world’s supposedly super power with the greatest military ever seen, we haven’t been able to win a war with some of the most backward nations on the planet. Hell, we haven’t “won” a war in decades. We are shedding allies faster than Trump sheds advisors. We are up to our national and personal ears in debt, have burnt through our natural resources with little to show for it, while our enemies are bringing roads and education to those countries with resources we could use. Pumping drone carried explosives into other people’s religious facilities doesn’t strike me a positive, long term plan for freedom and liberty around the world. Our political parties aren’t doing a dammed thing to at least slow down climate change. Whatever happened to journalism? Where are this decade’s Walter Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley? If’when the economy really goes to hell, what are you going to buy with digital currency? I can’t eat 0’s and 1’s, can you?

    Pushing our past ally Turkey around like some bully mistreating others just is not logical. Can anyone tell me what the Neoliberal/Neocon end game is all about? What is the final result supposed to be? I don’t get it. Perhaps it is that hypothesis in action, I don’t know.


    Hopefully this doesn’t impede Muslim fashion trends which is big business.

    Why Muslim Fashion is Taking Over the Luxury World

    For the most part, however, the rise of Muslim fashion has been appreciated by women in the Islamic world. Many who seek clothing which abides by their religion are now being able to turn to mainstream brands who are supplying just that.

    An Islamic consulting agency, Ogilvy Noor, reported that over 90 percent of Muslims say their religion has an influence over their choices as consumers.

    Aside from being one of the fastest-growing markets, Islamic fashion is also on track to be the most lucrative, forecasted to grow 5 percent annually. By 2023, Islamic fashion will reach $361 billion, according to Al Jazeera. Turkey is the biggest spender in this regard, consuming fashion worth $28 billion a year. The United Arab Emirates and Indonesia follow.

  8. ponderer

    Come on, Turkey is occupying part of Syria for their own reasons. They have their own regional hegemonic goals. Just because we aren’t the good guys, doesn’t mean the other party is. For the most part, there are only bad guys, ask Machiavelli or Khan.

  9. s

    […]there is this scientific hypothesis that we humans have never been able to make contact with intelligent extraterrestrials because as intelligent species arrive near the point of intergalactic communications they destroy themselves. […] Does this explain why our government is acting the way it is?

    IIRC, the hypothesis is about physical and environmental limitations on complex systems rather than human psychology. The difference being – do you think that there are different (sane) decisions that people could be making that would lead to successful growth of high-tech civilization, or are people reacting (badly) to inevitable material shortfalls as a result of the requirements for eternal economic growth and complex high-tech social systems?

    For example, people are always saying that the US could cut military budgeting to pay for a bunch of desirable social programs. The counter-argument to this idea is that cutting American military power across the globe would result in the US having less material wealth with which to support the social programs they would otherwise be voting to uphold. IOW, it\’s not a matter of Americans having the right priorities, it\’s a matter of Americans not understanding how their globally anomalous level of wealth is maintained.

  10. bruce wilder

    For the most part, there are only bad guys, . . .

    It isn’t that there are only “bad guys” per se, but that social or political cooperation / competition necessarily involves strategic calculation by all parties and that leads to taking risks with “the system” (whatever framework holds it altogether).

    The U.S. military has become deeply corrupt and incompetent as “the system” of alliances and weapons system development has become routinized and ever more elaborate and complex. We are witnessing the end game.

    And, it does not take a genius to see that this is the end game. Erdogan is so disordered a personality that I almost find it hard to credit completely, but I imagine he has looked on at developments in Syria and asked himself if he actually had to use a weapons system, which would he rather have? For him, the answer to that question has gained primacy over the usefulness of the western alliance to Turkish economic development.

    That the U.S. has backed the Kurds and is powerless to interfere with the Iran-Iraq alliance reduced the value of the NATO connection. That he is willing to openly challenge the Saudi regime shows he knows who is vulnerable and weakening.

    My point is that complaining that a player is either cheating or reneging in the context of the established game misses the point that the game itself is falling apart for reasons other than the “reneging” — the reneging is caused by the degeneration of the game from other causes.

  11. Tom


    Uh, no. Turkey has been restrained and patient and has legitimate reasons for intervening given it hosts 5 million refugees and has had to deal with the fallout of the war on its own soil. It didn’t start this war, and had they been listened to and Assad taken out in 2013, we wouldn’t be in this mess today.

    As it is, Syria is a failed state and Assad doesn’t even call most of the shots anymore. The country has effectively been partitioned and that is solely the fault of Assad and no one else.

    Turkey’s goals are simple, push out HTS politically without wrecking its frontline fighters in Idlib and absorb them and other FSA groups into an actual military force led by the SNC. Gut the PKK and its Alias from Syria and Iraq and reconstitute local control not tied to those terrorists. Form a new Northern Syrian State with the oil and wheat fields and half the Syrian Population and let the South wither till Assad is gone.

    Its the same goal as in Cyprus when the Turks intervene to prevent a massacre of Turkish Cypriots after the Greek Cypriots launched an illegal coup in violation of signed treaties on Cyprus.

    Like Maduro, Erdogan is very patient and forgiving, such that when he acts, everyone is surprised.

  12. ponderer


    My point is that complaining that a player is either cheating or reneging in the context of the established game misses the point that the game itself is falling apart…

    I wasn’t complaining that Turkey was cheating. I was complaining because attaching moralistic virtues to at best a collective of competing interests i.e. governments is the wrong way to approach the events at hand. Ian is generally good about separating out elite, national, and human interests when it comes to US policies. My complaint is that all countries should be examined with skepticism, not just the US or Israel.


    It didn’t start this war, and had they been listened to and Assad taken out in 2013, we wouldn’t be in this mess today.

    So if we were to follow Turkey and start an illegal war of aggression, Turkey wouldn’t now be forced to illegally occupy another country while absorbing remnants of AlQueda and ISIS into its military forces… I try to say things out loud to see if they sound ridiculous before I write them down. I don’t think I would have blamed a sovereign country for refusing to die so that the “forgiving” Turks were forced to steal their land and oil and support Terrorists attacking civilians in said sovereign nation.
    Endrogen seems to be fated to over-reach. In particular trying to court the US and Russia and set them against each other was a big mistake. Russia will remember and the shoe won’t drop until Turkey has no chance to return to the West. Then Syria will get back their land, their oil, and their Kurds.

  13. Poul

    When the EU allow Cyprus to join without resolving their conflict with North Cyprus/Turkey it was a very obvious flipping-the-middle-finger at Turkey.

    Care to guess on Cyprys interest in having Turkey becoming a EU member.

  14. Hugh

    The US used to be a big supporter of Turkey in Europe. It is the reason that Turkey got into NATO. It supported a closer relationship with the EU. The problem to this were two-fold. Old-fashioned European racism and the failure for Turkey to liberalize its social and political institutions and to stop persecuting its Kurdish citizens. Indeed Erdogan went the other way, de-secularizing the state. In more recent years, Erdogan has gone full-on totally corrupt, megalomaniacal dictator and increased repression of the Kurds. He also allowed Turkey to be a funnel for ISIS recruits into Syria and Iraq and helped finance ISIS by allowing ISIS oil to be trucked out through Turkey.

    Erdogan has fired and/or imprisoned thousands of judges, teachers, and journalists for being secular or worse insufficiently loyal to him. And in the anti-Gulanist”coup” he has purged the army of a lot of its senior officer core. So while the army remains big, it has been effectively hollowed out.

    He has played games with American use of the big airbase at Incirlik in the fight against ISIS. The result is the US is switching more to bases in Jordan and Iraq.

    His anti-Saudi stance has to do with his support of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Saudis are rabidly anti-MB. This also explains his opposition to Egypt where the current dictator al-Sisi overthrew Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood dictator wannabe.

    Russia is not the USSR. It can cause problems, but it is not the strategic threat it once was. So if Erdogan exits NATO, Turkey’s security posture will decline further. But from a NATO and American point of view, a Turkish exit would be something of a wash.

  15. Forecasting Intelligence

    The Turkish elite might be secular but not the masses from the heartlands.

    Turkey doesn’t belong in Europe – its Islamic.

    As for NATO, it’s a dying alliance worthy to be put in the dustbin of history.

  16. Ian Welsh

    Didn’t say Turkey is the good guys. That’s for damn sure.

  17. Synoia

    As the world’s supposedly super power with the greatest military ever seen, we haven’t been able to win a war with some of the most backward nations on the planet.

    Unless Chaos in the Middle East, the western end of the Silk Road and along the silk road, is the objective.

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