Why NATO Should Expel Turkey

In response to the U.S. Senate recognizing the Armenian Genocide, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to close two military bases (one American and one NATO) on its soil. This led U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper to openly question Turkey’s commitment to NATO. Two days later, The Telegraph broke a story that Hamas uses Turkey’s territory to plot attacks on Israel, which included plans to assassinate the then-mayor of Jerusalem and the chief of police, as well as a well-known advocate of Jews’ rights to pray on the Temple Mount. These two developments are part of a larger pattern of behavior where Turkey consistently acts against the strategic interest of NATO. Given this behavior, NATO should expel Turkey from its membership, as Senator Lindsay Graham and France’s EU-affairs minister recently suggested.  

First, NATO should expel Turkey because the latter’s strategic partnerships directly oppose the security of NATO and its allies. Turkey’s problematic partnerships and actions include:

  • Purchasing military hardware from Russia that directly threatens the Western alliance. Turkey has purchased S-400 missile batteries from Russia, which threaten the United States' F-35 fighter jets, are not compatible with NATO’s defenses, and brings with it Russian technicians that could compromise the F-35s. The United States has phased out sales to Turkey of the F-35 as a result.
  • Undermining the West’s war against the Islamic State by supporting the caliphate. Turkey seems to be playing both arsonist and firefighter when it comes to the Islamic State, but what is publicly known about its tacit support of the Islamic State is troubling. Turkish officials, including Erdogan’s son-in-law, purchased oil from the Islamic State through “front companies.” Turkey allowed 30,000 foreign fighters to pass through its territory into Syria via the “jihadi highway” from 2013 through 2015. Turkey allowed Islamic State fighters to travel to Turkey and be treated for their injuries in Turkish hospitals, free of charge. Such beneficiaries included the late leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Even more suspicious was the fact that al-Baghdadi was killed in Idlib in Northwest Syria, less than four miles from Turkey and which is controlled by Turkish proxies.  “Like Osama bin Laden, who took refuge in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in the mid-2000s, Baghdadi was living under the nose of his ostensible enemies,” wrote one reporter.
  • Undermining the West and its Mediterranean partners through alliances with Libya. In November, Turkey signed a military agreement with one of Libya’s warring governments. It also signed a maritime agreement with the same government that infringes on the maritime rights of NATO member Greece. Past Turkish shenanigans (its invasion of Cyprus in 1974) led Greece to withdraw from NATO from 1974 to 1980. The maritime agreement also infringes on the maritime rights of NATO partners Cyprus, Egypt, and Israel. More broadly, it increases Turkey’s strength as a competitor with Europe over influence in the Mediterranean.
  • Undermining Israel and the West by supporting Hamas and Hezb’allah. NATO has recognized Israel as an increasingly valuable strategic partner in medical aid, as well as in cyber-security, missile defense, intelligence, counterterrorism, and in combating the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Turkey’s strategic alliance with Hamas and like-minded Islamist terrorist groups undermine this partnership, and security for the West generally.

Further evidence shows how Turkey is allowing Hamas to use its territory to plot attacks against Israel. In 2014, a Hamas leader admitted that the organization uses Turkey to plan and train for terrorist attacks. Apparently, the U.S. had negotiated a pledge from Turkey in 2015 not to allow Hamas members to plan terror attacks against Israel on Turkish soil. Israel claims that Turkey has since violated that pledge. In 2016, a German intelligence report stated that Turkey provides sanctuary to Islamist terrorist groups including Hamas and Hezb'allah.

Additionally, Turkey is helping Hamas to raise and launder money in Turkey. In 2018, Israel arrested a Palestinian student leader accused of receiving about 150,000 Euros from Hamas members in Turkey. In 2017, Israel broke up a $200,000 money laundering ring in Hebron linking Hamas and Turkey. An article published last year by the think tank Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs further highlights the ways in which Hamas transfers money to Judea and Samaria (more commonly known as the “West Bank”) through Turkey, and how Istanbul’s Hamas office is run by known Hamas terrorists.

Secondly, NATO should expel Turkey as the latter’s authoritarianism flies in the face of NATO values. The second sentence of NATO's founding charter states that the organization was “founded on the principles of democracy.” Granted, Greece, Spain and Portugal were dictatorships early in their NATO tenure. But now they are free countries.  Turkey, on the other hand, is a nominal democracy that is well on its way to becoming even less democratic. Given that Erdogan once likened democracy to a train that you get off of once you reach your destination, this is not surprising. Freedom House ranks Turkey as “Not Free,” and it is the only NATO country in this category. With an aggregate score of only 31/100, with 100 being the most free, Turkey is tied with Angola, Zimbabwe, and Nagorno-Karabakh (an ethnic Armenian breakaway region of Azerbaijan). Turkey scored a meager 15/40 on political rights and 16/60 on civil liberties.  Turkey’s current Freedom House score of 31/100 continues a downward trajectory from 32/100 in 2018, 38/100 in 2017, and 53/100 in 2016. Turkey has had military coups in 1960, 1971, 1980, 1997, and most recently 2016, where Erdogan initiated a purge of 130,000 public officials, of which over 50,000 were arrested. Also lacking in Turkey are the Western values of freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion

Not only does Turkey have problematic partnerships and values that undermine NATO, but it uses extortion to hold the West (of which Turkey claims to be a member through its NATO membership) hostage. Turkey threatens Europe with sending 3.6 million Syrian refugees to the continent if Europe condemns Turkey’s presence in Syria as an occupation. Turkey threatens the West more broadly with closing its two military bases in response to the U.S. Senate officially recognizing the Armenian Genocide. Maybe it is time for the West to issue a credible threat of its own: expulsion from NATO.

In response to the U.S. Senate recognizing the Armenian Genocide, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to close two military bases (one American and one NATO) on its soil. This led U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper to openly question Turkey’s commitment to NATO. Two days later, The Telegraph broke a story that Hamas uses Turkey’s territory to plot attacks on Israel, which included plans to assassinate the then-mayor of Jerusalem and the chief of police, as well as a well-known advocate of Jews’ rights to pray on the Temple Mount. These two developments are part of a larger pattern of behavior where Turkey consistently acts against the strategic interest of NATO. Given this behavior, NATO should expel Turkey from its membership, as Senator Lindsay Graham and France’s EU-affairs minister recently suggested.  

First, NATO should expel Turkey because the latter’s strategic partnerships directly oppose the security of NATO and its allies. Turkey’s problematic partnerships and actions include:

  • Purchasing military hardware from Russia that directly threatens the Western alliance. Turkey has purchased S-400 missile batteries from Russia, which threaten the United States' F-35 fighter jets, are not compatible with NATO’s defenses, and brings with it Russian technicians that could compromise the F-35s. The United States has phased out sales to Turkey of the F-35 as a result.
  • Undermining the West’s war against the Islamic State by supporting the caliphate. Turkey seems to be playing both arsonist and firefighter when it comes to the Islamic State, but what is publicly known about its tacit support of the Islamic State is troubling. Turkish officials, including Erdogan’s son-in-law, purchased oil from the Islamic State through “front companies.” Turkey allowed 30,000 foreign fighters to pass through its territory into Syria via the “jihadi highway” from 2013 through 2015. Turkey allowed Islamic State fighters to travel to Turkey and be treated for their injuries in Turkish hospitals, free of charge. Such beneficiaries included the late leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Even more suspicious was the fact that al-Baghdadi was killed in Idlib in Northwest Syria, less than four miles from Turkey and which is controlled by Turkish proxies.  “Like Osama bin Laden, who took refuge in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in the mid-2000s, Baghdadi was living under the nose of his ostensible enemies,” wrote one reporter.
  • Undermining the West and its Mediterranean partners through alliances with Libya. In November, Turkey signed a military agreement with one of Libya’s warring governments. It also signed a maritime agreement with the same government that infringes on the maritime rights of NATO member Greece. Past Turkish shenanigans (its invasion of Cyprus in 1974) led Greece to withdraw from NATO from 1974 to 1980. The maritime agreement also infringes on the maritime rights of NATO partners Cyprus, Egypt, and Israel. More broadly, it increases Turkey’s strength as a competitor with Europe over influence in the Mediterranean.
  • Undermining Israel and the West by supporting Hamas and Hezb’allah. NATO has recognized Israel as an increasingly valuable strategic partner in medical aid, as well as in cyber-security, missile defense, intelligence, counterterrorism, and in combating the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Turkey’s strategic alliance with Hamas and like-minded Islamist terrorist groups undermine this partnership, and security for the West generally.

Further evidence shows how Turkey is allowing Hamas to use its territory to plot attacks against Israel. In 2014, a Hamas leader admitted that the organization uses Turkey to plan and train for terrorist attacks. Apparently, the U.S. had negotiated a pledge from Turkey in 2015 not to allow Hamas members to plan terror attacks against Israel on Turkish soil. Israel claims that Turkey has since violated that pledge. In 2016, a German intelligence report stated that Turkey provides sanctuary to Islamist terrorist groups including Hamas and Hezb'allah.

Additionally, Turkey is helping Hamas to raise and launder money in Turkey. In 2018, Israel arrested a Palestinian student leader accused of receiving about 150,000 Euros from Hamas members in Turkey. In 2017, Israel broke up a $200,000 money laundering ring in Hebron linking Hamas and Turkey. An article published last year by the think tank Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs further highlights the ways in which Hamas transfers money to Judea and Samaria (more commonly known as the “West Bank”) through Turkey, and how Istanbul’s Hamas office is run by known Hamas terrorists.

Secondly, NATO should expel Turkey as the latter’s authoritarianism flies in the face of NATO values. The second sentence of NATO's founding charter states that the organization was “founded on the principles of democracy.” Granted, Greece, Spain and Portugal were dictatorships early in their NATO tenure. But now they are free countries.  Turkey, on the other hand, is a nominal democracy that is well on its way to becoming even less democratic. Given that Erdogan once likened democracy to a train that you get off of once you reach your destination, this is not surprising. Freedom House ranks Turkey as “Not Free,” and it is the only NATO country in this category. With an aggregate score of only 31/100, with 100 being the most free, Turkey is tied with Angola, Zimbabwe, and Nagorno-Karabakh (an ethnic Armenian breakaway region of Azerbaijan). Turkey scored a meager 15/40 on political rights and 16/60 on civil liberties.  Turkey’s current Freedom House score of 31/100 continues a downward trajectory from 32/100 in 2018, 38/100 in 2017, and 53/100 in 2016. Turkey has had military coups in 1960, 1971, 1980, 1997, and most recently 2016, where Erdogan initiated a purge of 130,000 public officials, of which over 50,000 were arrested. Also lacking in Turkey are the Western values of freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion

Not only does Turkey have problematic partnerships and values that undermine NATO, but it uses extortion to hold the West (of which Turkey claims to be a member through its NATO membership) hostage. Turkey threatens Europe with sending 3.6 million Syrian refugees to the continent if Europe condemns Turkey’s presence in Syria as an occupation. Turkey threatens the West more broadly with closing its two military bases in response to the U.S. Senate officially recognizing the Armenian Genocide. Maybe it is time for the West to issue a credible threat of its own: expulsion from NATO.