Following the territorial defeat of the so-called Islamic State in Syria in March 2019, President Donald Trump announced, “Mission accomplished,” and declared that the United States would be pulling out of Syria as part of his foreign policy goal of untangling America from involvement in wars overseas. While Turkey, Russia, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad welcomed Trump’s announcement, the Syrian Kurds were left greatly worried because of threats by Turkey to invade Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava), the multi-ethnic administration that is essentially a Kurdish project but is ruled with Arabs and other ethnicities in northeastern Syria.
The withdrawal announcement came amid heightened tension between Washington and Ankara which began with a failed coup that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in Massachusetts, was behind. The recent purchase of S-400 fighter jets from Russia has, however, taken Turkey’s belligerence and exploitation of its NATO membership to a new level.
While it is quite reasonable to acknowledge Turkey’s security concerns, playing both sides of the fence and buying Russian weapons is tantamount to aiding Russia which has been a clear adversary to the US and the NATO alliance since the Cold War. According to Senior Fellow Fedriga Bindi at the School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University, Erdogan “has essentially been given the all-clear to do what he wants, and this is not only damaging NATO, but also the whole Western community—and its values system.” In other words, while not the only one, Turkey’s actions under Erdogan threatens the strategic interests of NATO in the Middle East as well as the democratic values and principles that underlie it as an institution.
Some argue Turkey has a right to seek military technology outside of NATO if it feels it has not been provided with enough support to address its security concerns, and this may be valid to an extent. Nonetheless, purchasing weapons from Russia opens the door for other NATO members to start to exploit the rivalry between Russia and NATO for their national benefit. This will allow Russia to significantly weaken or divide the NATO alliance and advance its interests in the Middle East and Eastern Europe at the cost of NATO and the US. Furthermore, being a NATO member and enjoying all the benefits of membership comes with responsibilities and commitments that cannot be ignored whenever it is convenient for Turkey.
The purchase of the Russian missile defense system and other dealings with Moscow is yet another example of the dangerous anti-western direction that Erdogan has taken his country since becoming president a decade ago. Unless something is done to significantly deter or make Erdogan rethink this new-Ottoman foreign and domestic policy where he rules like an Ottoman Sultan, Turkey could continue on this path with serious consequences for itself and the NATO alliance.
NATO should, therefore, punish Turkey. This kind of activity should not be allowed to take place because the ramifications are far too great for NATO’s conflict with Russia and its attempt to curb Russian design both in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
Russian-Turkish cooperation comes as shocking to many people because the two countries have been on opposing sides since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War. At one point, the Turks even shot down a Russian fighter jet. It is, thus, quite astonishing that Turkey is now cozying up to the Russians and trying to make weapons deals outside of the NATO alliance. What is perhaps even more mind-boggling is this has taken place without any repercussions from the NATO alliance and its major powers.
This reveals a major weakness in the NATO alliance, which stems from the lack of concrete and effective disciplinary mechanisms. The US and other major powers must take disciplinary measures against Turkey if they are to prevent Russia from gaining the upper hand in the Middle East and bringing Assad and Iran to accept a political compromise that would end the civil war, the threat of terrorism, and the humanitarian crisis that affects not only Middle Eastern countries but also numerous European countries, most of whom are NATO members.
Halmat Palani is an English teacher and political science graduate from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan 24.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany