How Turkey’s eastward shift may progress

Written 26 July 2016

Whether or not you believe the false-flag rumors regarding the Turkish coup attempt, it is clear that Turkey seems to be shifting away from NATO, as I have warned on several occasions. Public opinion in the country is being riled up by demagogues who are either suggesting that the US backed the coup, or are straight-up speculating on which agency of US government was involved in the coup. Whether or not the US was involved is not for me to address. What I will address is the clear trend of Turkey moving away from NATO.

German intelligence has been suspicious of Turkey and Erdogan for years. Last year, a former Head of the Germany Ministry of Defense published an article alleging that Turkey is likely close to developing a nuclear weapon of its own. Why would Turkey, a NATO ally which is protected by NATO’s security umbrella and is a participant in NATO’s nuclear-sharing program, be interested in getting its own nuclear weapon? The answer is clear: Turkey does not trust the West. Now that they believe that the West may be involved in a coup against their chosen leader, the shift eastward will begin at a much more rapid pace.

The Russians are very interested in the Turkish coup attempt because it represents a clear opportunity for them. Kremlin-linked social media was the first to suggest that the CIA or other agencies of US government was behind the coup attempt, including most notably Aleksandr Dugin. Dugin can be considered to have written the blueprint on how to split NATO apart, and this would certainly fall into the strategy. If rumors that the Russians tipped off the Turks about a coup attempt are true, then Putin definitely sees it that way as well. Furthermore, by suggesting US betrayal, Turks may soon expect their government to do something about their NATO membership.

Turkey cannot begin to have real leverage over NATO until it demonstrates that it has no need to be in NATO. The only way to demonstrate this is by testing a nuclear weapon. If it really wants to send a message, it may test the weapon in the desert of Kazakhstan, a Russian puppet state and Turkic nation. The message will be twofold: one of defiance to the West; the other of friendship with the East. Challenges may then be made to NATO bases, including in Incirlik AFB. But before any of this occurs, we are likely to see much greater cooperation with Russia over Syria. The Russians may give up their support of the Kurds in exchange for the Turks convincing its proxies in Syria to begin serious negotiations with Assad. This will serve as a litmus test as to how the Turks are willing to change their grand strategy.

While Turkey may move away from NATO and closer to Russia, the reality is that Turkey and Russia are geopolitical rivals. They will both compete for influence in the Eurasian interior and it may lead to further crises in the future. Furthermore, the geostrategic framework Russia operates in is the weakening of Turkey. Therefore, Turkey’s move east may be used as a further point of leverage for Ankara against NATO. It is therefore likely that Turkey will become a transitory power between NATO and Russia, keeping a foot in each camp. But understanding the potential Russian threat, it will be reluctant to move away from NATO entirely. If the bridge is burned, however, a potential nuclear option will make Turkey a third power as it begins to build a system of alliances in the Middle East and Central Asia.

NATO will be reluctant to expel Turkey as it forms a bulwark in the southern flank of the alliance’s geography. But if Turkey begins to act recklessly with NATO, the best option would be to expel the country from the alliance.  The Turks have some significant leverage in the Middle East and they could use it to subvert military activities in the region. Not much would be lost for NATO that it could not replace, so an expulsion would not be catastrophic. It should serve as final option, however, because it does cause significant problems. Sending this warning, however, would likely make the country more compliant to Western interests.