Turkey’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been a topic of significance since its addition in 1952. Over the years, this alliance has evolved into a complex and multifaceted partnership.
Learn the historical, geopolitical, and strategic reasons behind Turkey’s inclusion in NATO, learn the factors that have shaped this relationship.
Historical Foundations of Turkey’s NATO Membership
Turkey’s journey toward NATO membership began in the aftermath of World War II, during the early years of the Cold War. In 1947, Turkey adopted the Truman Doctrine, a pivotal American foreign policy initiative aimed at containing Soviet expansion. This decision marked the beginning of Turkey’s alignment with the Western bloc. The following historical factors played a crucial role in Turkey’s NATO membership:
1- Cold War Dynamics
During the Cold War, NATO served as a collective defence organisation against the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc allies. Turkey’s strategic location at the centre of Europe and Asia made it a valuable asset to NATO. Its membership was seen as a means to contain Soviet influence in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
2- Regional Instability
Turkey’s proximity to the volatile Middle East and its status as a bridge between Europe and Asia made it vulnerbale to regional conflicts. NATO membership provided Turkey with security guarantees and a platform for cooperation with Western powers, reducing the risks associated with regional instability.
Geopolitical Significance of Turkey in NATO
Turkey’s geographical location has long been a central factor in its NATO membership. The unique positioning in both Europe and Asia, along with its proximity to the Middle East and the Caucasus, has provided it with exceptional geopolitical importance within the alliance.
1- Eastern Flank Defense
Turkey’s presence on NATO’s eastern flank makes it a critical ally in deterring potential threats from Russia and other opponents in the region. The country’s vast landmass and access to the Black Sea have made it an essential partner in monitoring and responding to developments in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region.
2- Control of Key Waterways
Turkey controls the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits, critical maritime chokepoints connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. NATO membership ensures the safe passage of naval forces and goods through these waterways, maintaining Western access to the Black Sea.
Turkey’s Strategic Assets and Contributions to NATO
Turkey’s military capabilities and strategic assets have further solidified its role within NATO. The nation has made significant contributions to the alliance’s collective defence and security efforts.
1- Military Force
Turkey boasts one of the largest and most capable armed forces in NATO. Its military strength includes a well-equipped army, air force, and navy, making it a key contributor to the alliance’s defence capabilities.
2- Incirlik Air Base
Incirlik Air Base, located in southern Turkey, has served as a crucial hub for NATO operations in the Middle East. It was built between 1951 and 1952 by military contractors of the United States. Incirlik air base has supported operations such as enforcing no-fly zones in Iraq and hosting aircraft engaged in counter-terrorism efforts.
3- Strategic Depth
Turkey’s geographic reach extends into the Middle East, offering NATO a unique perspective and access to the region. This has been instrumental in addressing challenges like terrorism and instability in the Middle East.
Challenges and Tensions in Turkey-NATO Relations
While Turkey’s NATO membership has brought various benefits, it has not been without challenges and tensions in recent years. Several factors have strained the alliance’s relationship with Turkey.
1) Diverging Interests
Turkey’s evolving foreign policy interests, such as its engagement in Syria and Libya, have sometimes clashed with those of its NATO allies. These diverging interests have led to disagreements within the alliance.
2) Human Rights Concerns
Turkey’s domestic policies and human rights record have come under scrutiny from NATO members, leading to criticism and calls for reforms within the country.
3) S-400 Missile System Purchase
Turkey’s acquisition of the Russian-made S-400 air defence system raised concerns among NATO members, particularly the United States. This led to tensions within the alliance and resulted in Turkey’s exclusion from the F-35 fighter jet program.
Relations between United States and Turkey
The relationship between the United States and Turkey within NATO is a complex interplay of strategic partnership and occasional tensions. Historically, both nations have cooperated within the alliance to counter common security threats and promote Western interests. However, recent challenges, such as Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system and differences in regional policies, have strained their ties.
Diplomatic efforts are ongoing to address these issues and maintain the integrity of the NATO alliance. The future of their relationship within NATO will depend on their ability to reconcile differences, uphold shared values, and prioritise collective security interests.
Why is Turkey blocking Sweden from joining NATO?
NATO has been revitalized by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In May 2022, Finland and Sweden submitted applications to join NATO. Finland was welcomed in April 2023, but Turkey, one of NATO’s 31 members, has blocked Sweden’s entry in NATO. According to history, the Swedish nation supports Kurdish insurgents as they used to send their prime soldiers to train Kurds against ISIS.
Turkey has opposed the application of both countries Finland and Sweden, as it has its interests in security and stability. Turkey accused both applicants of anti-Turkish activities because they support the Kurdistan Workers Party. The Kurdish separatist organisation based in Turkey is considered a terrorist group by the European Union, America and Turkey as well.
On the other hand, America and other Western powers also showed their concerns about Turkish policies and Sweden’s application to join NATO. On July 9th, President of the United States Joe Biden expressed his desire for Sweden to join NATO “as soon as possible” to his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Read more: Strategic Importance of Pakistan
The Future of Turkey-NATO Relations
As Turkey-NATO relations navigate these challenges, the future of this strategic partnership remains uncertain. However, there are several potential avenues for collaboration and reconciliation:
1) Diplomacy and Dialogue
Engaging in open and constructive dialogue will be essential for addressing differences and finding common ground on regional and global issues. Diplomacy can bring all members of NATO on the same page and will allow them to concentrate on future planning.
2) Shared Security Interests
Turkey and its NATO allies share common security interests, such as countering terrorism, ensuring stability in the Middle East, and addressing regional conflicts. Collaborative efforts in these areas can strengthen the alliance.
3) Adherence to NATO Values
Turkey’s commitment to upholding NATO’s shared values, including democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, will play a crucial role in preserving the integrity of the alliance.
Turkey’s membership in NATO has been a dynamic and strategically significant partnership for over seven decades. While historical, geopolitical, and strategic factors have strengthened this relationship, recent challenges and tensions have tested its resilience.
The future of Turkey-NATO relations will depend on the ability and capacity of both sides to address their differences, prioritise shared security interests, and uphold the core values of the alliance, ensuring its continued importance in an evolving global landscape.
Does Turkey want to stay in NATO?
Turkey plays a significantly important role in the NATO alliance. However, In the past years, we have seen some of the differences in NATO alliance but having a membership of NATO enables Turkey to maintain its integrity and importance at international forums.
Who has the largest army in NATO?
According to research conducted by German institute Statista, the United States boasts the largest military force within NATO in terms of personnel. Surprisingly, Turkey, a NATO member, ranks second in size with approximately 447,000 military personnel.