Event Summary: Evolution of Turkey’s Security Policies and Its Position in NATO
On Wednesday, July 15, 2020, the SETA Foundation at Washington, DC hosted a virtual panel of experts to discuss ‘Turkey’s Security Policies and its Position in NATO.’ The discussion featured Mustafa Kibaroglu, Dean, Faculty of Economics Administrative and Social Sciences at MEF University, and Michael Reynolds, Associate Professor, Department of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. The panel was moderated by Kadir Ustun, Executive Director at SETA DC.
Kibaroglu made it clear that the US-Turkish relationship of the past is now behind us and the future is open to numerous possibilities. At any time in history, there are both continuity and change in foreign and security policies, with certain events accelerating or decelerating developments. He insisted that Turkey was never warmly welcomed to NATO or the West, but was brought along because it had much to offer in light of Soviet threats. Now, Western European allies and the US are questioning Turkey’s status as a NATO member. As a result of many developments, US-Turkish relations have deteriorated, particularly with Turkey’s desire to buy air defense systems from China and then Russia. Many in the Western camp also question whether the 2016 coup attempt was real, something Kibaroglu called “insane.” These suspicions have poisoned the mindset of the West and prevent it from putting Turkey in the proper context. He then pivoted to highlighting the fact that he does not believe that US intelligence and military personnel at the Incirlik air base did not have any information about a potential coup prior to July 15, 2016. If there was no intelligence, that is bad, but if there was intelligence and they did not share it with Turkey, that is even worse. In his eyes, the official statements from the US made in response to the coup attempt were too little, too late.
Reynolds began by addressing the attitude that the coup attempt was not real. There is an inability for most American foreign policy experts to appreciate how big of a deal this event proved to be. The reality of the situation still has not resonated, and many experts continue to write it off. People assume that due to Turkey’s long history of coups, the Turkish people have become used to these attempts to overthrow the government. But with nearly 300 deaths and 2,100 injuries, this coup attempt was far more violent than any other coup in Turkey’s modern history. He insisted that Turkish citizens, Turkey’s neighborhood, and the West are extremely fortunate that the coup failed; had it succeeded, it would have plunged Turkey into civil war. This event exacerbated the downward trend in US-Turkish relations by enhancing the Turkish distrust of the US. According to Reynolds, statements from the Obama administration were insufficient and undiplomatic. While Ankara is responsible for many reasons why this bilateral relationship is fractured, Washington’s mishandling of the coup attempt specifically made matters worse. For both countries, their Middle East policies over the last decade and a half have blown up in their faces. This frustration has fed into the anger both countries feel toward each other, causing both the US and Turkey to take their feelings out on each other.