NATO faces both a crisis and an opportunity. Turkey is continuing its process of leaving the NATO alliance and embracing the Russian bear instead. This is a very serious blow to NATO and a boon to Russia. At the same time, NATO has an opportunity waiting in the wings. Ukraine is taking steps to prepare for full-fledged NATO membership. This would be a boon for NATO and a blow to Russia. Let’s examine the details.
The first three links (1, 2, 3) offer varying media perspectives (mostly German and English) on the worsening crisis between President Erdogan’s Turkish government on one hand and President Trump, the USA and NATO on the other hand. This confrontation between two strong-willed leaders seems, at present, to have no middle ground for compromise. If Erdogan insists on deploying the Russian S-400 air defense system, Turkey will be expelled from the F-35 warplane project and the F-35s already built for Turkey will be assigned to another nation. It is very evident that Erdogan’s Turkey has already begun receiving the components for the S-400 Russian system as Russia’s transports are delivering the S-400 components even now. It will take some time to set them up and calibrate everything, but Erdogan has adopted a very “in your face” attitude towards Trump, the USA, and NATO. He has been warned that expulsion from the F-35 program and sanctions vs Turkey will occur if he proceeds with his Russian deal, but he is proceeding anyway. The fourth link is very revealing about Erdogan’s intent. It reports that Erdogan is even willing to have Turkey co-produce the next-generation Russian air defense system, the S-500. If Turkey not only purchases a front-line Russian air defense system which was built and designed to shoot down American and NATO aircraft, but he also joins Russia to build an even more advanced Russian system, NATO will have no choice but to expel Turkey from the alliance. If Turkey is merging its military systems with Russia, it is clear Erdogan is intending to betray NATO and embrace vassalage to Russia. It is possible that parts of the Turkish military and much of its population do not share Erdogan’s enthusiasm to become a new Russian satellite state. When you invite the Russian bear into your nation, it does not leave for a very long time– Ask the Eastern European nations about their post World War II experience with Russia.
What will be the consequences for Erdogan’s steady abandonment of Turkey’s NATO ties and his embrace of Russia? The fifth link and sixth link offer information on the likely sanctions program that the Trump administration will be announcing vs. Turkey in the near future. It is expected that many such sanctions will primarily be economic/financial sanctions. Turkey’s economy, which is already in a significant monetary and financial downturn, will be hit even harder by the sanctions. The sanctions will be designed to cause Erdogan to come to his senses, but his entire career exhibits the mentality of one who will not change his mind, even if it harms his own interest. A recent example of this was the initial outcome in the recent Turkish municipal elections where Erdogan’s party lost contests in Turkey’s largest cities. The hardest for Erdogan to accept was a narrow loss in Istanbul, where Erdogan had once been Mayor. Rather than accept the verdict of the electorate, Erdogan manipulated an elections board into rejecting the outcome and forcing Istanbul’s voters to do the election over again. Rather than being intimidated into voting for Erdogan’s hand-picked candidate, the party opposing Erdogan’s candidate won a landslide victory as the people rejected Erdogan’s heavy-handed governing stance. Erdogan’s hard-nosed tactic backfired on him badly. His hard-nosed refusal to reconsider a bad choice in the Russian S-400 purchase is likely to backfire on him even worse.
Turkey’s exit from NATO will also cause the European NATO nations to get serious about their national defenses. If Turkey aligns fully with Russia, the eastern bloc will heavily outnumber and outgun NATO in the European theater. Europe’s nations would be compelled to significantly raise their military spending levels to build new weapons, expand their standing armies, etc. This will have concomitant impacts on the EU and the Eurozone. The EU spending limits for its member nations would either have to be raised upward considerably or the EU nations will have to dramatically slash their generous social spending. These choices will cause further polarization among the internal factions within the EU, and this will act to further weaken the EU from within.
There is another consequence that is likely to happen, although it may not happen just yet. Turkey hosts a huge US air force base at Incirlik, Turkey and this base was intended to host F-35s from the USA and perhaps other NATO nations. If Turkey deploys the S-400 system designed to shoot down F-35s and other NATO warplanes, the USA will have no choice but to shut down its base at Incirlik and move the entire base’s operations somewhere else. This will also be a huge blow to Turkey’s economy as that US base is a major economic generator to a large region of Turkey. Where will the US operations be moved to? Israel would be one obvious choice, but Israel has minimal real estate to host it and Israel is a non-NATO nation. Greece would be a good choice, and it would likely be eager to host a new, large US air force base. It would help Greek security interests and it would be a big boost to the Greek economy. Another eventual consequence of Turkey’s switch to Russia’s side would be that Russia would have unfettered access for its Black Sea fleet to pass through the Bosporus and Dardanelles to the Mediterranean Sea. NATO would have to counter this new threat, and it could install anti-ship cruise missiles on a host of Greek islands to prevent Russian naval access to the Mediterranean Sea in the event of a shooting war. There is one other place to which America’s large Incirlik operations might be moved. Let’s talk about Ukraine.