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To Be Or Not To Be (In Nato)

To Be Or Not To Be (In Nato)

Following the recent scandal at the NATO exercises taking place in Norway, there has been a serious public bias towards Turkey breaking off from the organization.

Originally published in Turkish at

This trend is being propagated through social media and efforts are in place to intensify the turmoil. In fact, this is nothing more than the continuation of the deliberate operation executed in Norway, and those who are consciously or not an instrument to this cause are serving this very plan. Let’s be clear here: Turkey’s non-NATO outreach is a deception and a diplomatic disaster. Let’s briefly explain the reasons.

1 – Following the strategic concepts adopted in 1999, NATO was transformed from a defense organization limited to North America and Europe, into a security mechanism capable of military operations around the world. While in the past, one of the member states had to be faced with military aggression before NATO could take action, nowadays other incidents such as human rights violations, ethnic conflicts, possible threats which do not directly affect the members may very well act as triggers for NATO’s involvement. This, in practice, allows the NATO members to intervene in almost any situation they want regardless of whether the basis is legitimate or not, as long as they all are all in agreement. In that sense, NATO is a structure which can take military action much more leniently than the UN, and where US influence is much more dominant.  NATO, effectively, can be considered a military threat for basically any country out there.

2- NATO decisions are taken unanimously, and thus the only way to have any kind of influence over it is to remain within the organization and strive to shape its decisions. This can be considered as a veto power, and NATO membership is the only thing that can stand up to its unjust and unfair practices. Turkey has time after time used this function as a member effectively as her trump card in countless diplomatic negotiations. Greece’s submission to military pressure (until the 1980 military coup), Israel’s right to participate in military exercises, election of the organization’s general secretaries, etc. are a few examples. The decision-making mechanism will tend to work against outside countries. Which means, as long as Turkey stays within NATO, NATO cannot take military action against Turkey; but a Turkey that chooses to leave the organization, will be threatened by NATO on matters such as the continental shelf in the Aegean, territorial waters, possible internal revolts, and particularly, the Kurdish issue.

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3- With Turkey out of NATO, many issues that seem to have been swept under the carpet will be re-introduced. The negotiation table will have Turkey -all alone, on one side against the combined powers of all NATO members on the other. NATO stage is a very a productive and effective power that should not be absconded to others. Just because the organization is looking weaker today, does not mean it is going to stay weak in the near future. The world order is evolving in a way to empower military pacts. To leave NATO into the hands of our adversaries will turn out to hurt us the most. When you leave the ship, you let the pirates win; what needs to be done is to stay and fight. The goal should be to become the captain -not jump on the lifeboats and leave a perfectly healthy ship.

4- Turkey’s departure from NATO and lieu of converging with China and Russia does not point to a redemption but rather a deeper mire. It is enough to look at the history in order to see how Russia treats its allies who have surrendered to it completely without maintaining any other alternative allegiances. The only way to establish a balanced relationship with Russia is to consolidate the relationship with the WESTERN alliance. China is not any better than Russia when it comes to imperialism. Both countries are readily implementing political strategies aimed at expansion and sovereignty. You cannot get into the sack with either the bear (Russia) or the dragon (China); if you do you become nothing more than the prey. There is not even the slightest indication that either of these two countries will ever be more virtuous than the current hegemon states of the US or Europe. The trick is to be able to maintain a balanced politics and that’s what Turkey has always been best at: the stabilizer of the balance.

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5- Turkey’s doctrine has always been to become a part of the Western world since the time of the Ottomans. This stance was confirmed at the Paris Peace Conference back in 1856. The needle of Turkey’s compass is deeply rooted in Anatolia, while the leg has always reached towards the West. For a country like Turkey which has been building a solid barrier in the east starting with Armenia and going towards Iran, Iraq and Syria, it is imperative that it backs down from building a psychological border with the West, and instead reverse its strategy towards building an alliance with it. Otherwise its whole foreign policy becomes a Cartch-22. What must be done is to act in complete opposition to what Turkey’s detractors are trying to do and get them at their own game. They wish noting more than to make Turkey a prey to NATO by pulling her out of it. The only way to come ahead in this game is to stand in the way of the detractors and hit them where they expect the least. Otherwise we will hand over the trophy to them while drunk with populist self-cheering.

Prof. Dr. Deniz Ülke Arıboğan’s previous evaluations of this subject:

“What matters is not Turkey’s departure from NATO, but its ability in winning against the operatives by increasing its influence within NATO. Otherwise, the conspirators will have won. Turkey is not a party as much as it is a balancing force.” (19 November 2017)

The enemy list was used for the NATO drill, which includes both Ataturk and Erdogan by name. So, the withdrawal of Turkish troops is normal and appropriate. However, this is definitely a hostile attitude and whether forgiven or not we must not forget! (November 17, 2017)

Originally published in Turkish at

About The Author

Deniz Ulke Aribogan

Deniz Ulke Aribogan is a professor of International Relations at Istanbul University and a Senior Fellow of CRIC (Center for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict), Harris Manchester College at University of Oxford. She was previously the Rector of Bahcesehir University between 2007-2010. She has given undergraduate and graduate level courses related to International Security and Terrorism at Istanbul University, Istanbul Bilgi University, Turkish War College and Turkish Air Force Academy. She has also been a WAAS (World Academy of Arts and Sciences) fellow since 2005. She is currently a board member of the International Dialogue Initiative (IDI). Prof. Aribogan is known for her efforts for empowering women in the society and in the Turkish business community. She is a founding member of Turkish Businesswomen Association (TIKAD) and the ’’Women on Board” cross-company mentoring program.

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