American arms control experts say the U.S. Air Force is worried about the security of some 50 American B-61 nuclear bombs in storage at the Incirlik air base in Turkey, and some believe they should be removed.
Turkey’s behavior has become so incorrigible that other foreign-policy experts believe it’s time for the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to boot Turkey out of the alliance.
No wonder. Despite a long, friendly relationship with Turkey, Ankara under Islamist strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has become increasingly belligerent towards the United States and our allies, especially Israel and, most recently, the Syrian Kurds.
Turkey’s invasion of Syria this month to subdue U.S. Kurdish allies has generated condemnations from Western European and Arab nations, as well as from Russia, India, China and, surprisingly, even Iran.
But this is only the latest dust-up: Erdoğan’s Turkey is guilty of a string of international offenses.
• In 2015, Turkey, unprovoked, shot down a Russian fighter jet.
• To Egypt’s annoyance, Turkey supports its enemy, the radical Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.
• Erdoğan frequently issues anti-Semitic calumnies, is a reliable foe of Israel and in 2010 attempted to run Israel’s blockade of Gaza, which ended in the deaths of 10 Turkish activists.
• Turkey deployed a team of thugs to the streets of Washington, D.C., to abduct anti-Erdoğan Turkish activists.
• Turkey illegally occupies most of Cyprus.
• After buying American F-35 fighter jets, Erdoğan contracted with Russia to purchase anti-aircraft batteries—against stern U.S. objections.
• Erdoğan runs Turkish politics with an authoritarian fist, just a short step from totalitarianism
To make matters worse, Turkey is a member of NATO, the alliance’s only Eurasian member; all others are North American or European, but Turkey has been in the group since 1952. Under Erdoğan’s leadership, Turkey has moved further from the goals and policies of other NATO members, often standing in stark opposition to the body’s will, as it is currently doing in Syria.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence insisted that “the United States of America is not going to tolerate Turkey’s invasion of Syria any further.” Defense Secretary Mark Esper is encouraging NATO members to take “diplomatic and economic” measures against Turkey. President Donald Trump threatened Erdoğan with devastating economic sanctions, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noted that “military action” may be needed.
In other words, the United States is unprecedentedly threatening economic and even military war with a fellow NATO member. Some six European countries have suspended arms sales to Turkey—hardly the behavior of allies.
Erdoğan, however, remains defiant, despite negotiations with Pence and the Russians. He seems determined to secure a stretch of Syrian territory currently controlled by the Kurds in order to push the Kurds back from the Turkish border and populate the region with millions of Syrian refugees now in Turkey.
In short, it’s contradictory that an alliance like NATO, made up of liberal, democratic nations originally to counter the bullying threat of Russia, should count Turkey among its members.
Not only does Turkey undermine the interests of NATO members, but it is increasingly sidling up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, going so far as to purchase Russian weaponry that can be used to defeat NATO armaments.
While removing Turkey from NATO would mark a sea-change in U.S. and NATO policy—and would surely drive Erdoğan more resolutely into Putin’s arms—it is a step (or a threat) that would certainly get Ankara’s attention. It would also increase the global security of the U.S. and other NATO members.
While we’re at it, let’s remove those American nuclear bombs to a more friendly country.
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.