Turkey Escalates Threats to Leave NATO

Tensions rise following naval dispute with France

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan / Getty Images
July 8, 2020

A Turkish official raised the possibility of the country leaving NATO, according to a Tuesday Reuters report.

Citing an already tenuous relationship with fellow member states, Turkish ambassador to France Ismail Hakki Musa questioned NATO's capabilities absent Turkey’s involvement. "Imagine NATO without Turkey," he said. "You would have no NATO."

Turkey has pivoted away from the alliance in recent months. The country recently bought fighter jets from Russia, strengthening its ties with the longtime NATO competitor. Meanwhile, it has cracked down on domestic dissent, imprisoning a group of journalists last year and recently loosening protections for Uighur refugees from China.

Turkey's behavior has grave implications for the transatlantic alliance, experts say. "The main problem for Europe is Russia. The ambivalence of Turkey, with one foot in each camp, is the troubling factor," former EU ambassador to Turkey Marc Pierini said in January. He added that many believe "Turkey is pivoting away from the values it once said it was sharing with the European Union and the transatlantic alliance."

Other Turkish officials have floated the possibility of "cracks" opening in NATO. "Turkish national-security interests must be regarded as one of the primary issues for the U.S. and NATO," warned Ahmet Berat Conkar—the deputy head of Turkey’s delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and party associate of Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan—late last year. "If this cannot be openly guaranteed and maintained by concrete action for Turkey, new cracks may open inside the NATO alliance."

Musa's comments came as relations between France and Turkey have soured over a naval controversy. In June, a French ship under NATO command in the Eastern Mediterranean attempted to investigate a Tanzanian cargo ship suspected of arms trafficking. Turkey responded by dispatching three escort ships that flashed their radars and armed their crews to harass the French ship.

French president Emmanuel Macron has questioned Turkey's commitment to NATO. Late last year he said "it is not possible" for Turkey to continue as a NATO member if it follows through on its recent Russians arms acquisitions.

Published under: NATO , Russia , Turkey