Can Europe Afford for Turkey Not to Be in NATO?

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has united NATO in ways not seen since the Cold War.  At the same time, it has highlighted fissures in NATO, in particular the relationship between Europe and Turkey.   While the current issue confronting NATO and Turkey is the entry of Sweden and Finland into the NATO alliance, the reluctance by Europe to admit Turkey into the European Union, alongside the one-sided Seville Map detailing the Exclusive Economic Zone of Greece which gave the Aegean Sea to Greece and denied Turkey the right to develop its share of the enormous riches of the Eastern Mediterranean.

The European Union has dragged its feet in allowing Turkey to join the European Union.  The European Union, since Turkey made a formal application to join the European Union, has made one excuse after another as to why Turkey’s application was not processed.  In 2016, the European Union formally froze Turkey’s application with the excuse of democratic backsliding.  One has to wonder if democratic backsliding also pertains to the increasingly authoritarian governments of Hungary and Poland.

Turkey has the second largest army in the NATO alliance, and anchors NATO’s southern borders.  Turkey officially joined NATO in February 1952.  Additionally, Turkey is a barrier between Europe and the Middle East, yet Western Europe has treated Turkey as a pariah nation.  Refusing to process Turkey’s application to join the European Union has been a slap in the face to an ally which has guarded Europe’s southern border since 1952.

To add insult to injury, when Turkey tried to assert its rights to develop mineral resources inside of a 12-mile limit from its shores, it was stymied by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Turkey is hemmed in her home waters because of a great many Greek islands, many of which are uninhabited.  The dispute between Greece and Turkey is rather straightforward, with Greece claiming the Aegean Sea as its own.  Disputes of this kind should, according to the UNCLOS, be resolved through diplomacy

…” The rules of international law that need to be applied to the dispute are more or less clear. Articles 74 and 83 of the Law of the Sea Convention on the delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone and the Continental Shelf encourage the parties “to achieve an equitable solution”, but are silent as to the method with which to reach that goal. However, the existing jurisprudence on the matter sheds light on this question. The ICJ expressed the view in its Gulf of Maine judgment (1984) that delimitation is not a unilateral act. It requires the agreement of all interested parties. Without an agreement, unilateral acts or claims have no legal value. Similarly, bilateral agreements between Turkey and Libya or Greece and Egypt have a binding effect only on the states that signed them, but have no legal effect on other coastal states. 

Yet when Turkey sent a survey ship into the eastern Mediterranean, France and Italy sent naval vessels and aircraft to support Greece’s position in the Aegean Sea, and forced Turkey to abandon her attempts to develop the rich natural gas fields that Turkey believes it has a right to.

The underlying reason that Greece has claimed the Aegean Sea as within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is the Seville Map.  Funded by the European Union, in 2003 the Seville Map granted total mineral rights to Greece and denies Turkey’s right to exploit the mineral riches in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea

The Kurdish Problem

Since 1978, the PKK has sought to obtain an independent Kurdish state.  It was in 1984 that the PKK began an insurgency against the Turkish government.  The ongoing conflict has resulted in over 40,000 deaths.  While there have been numerous attempts to dampen the violence between the PKK and Turkey, following the 2016 coup attempt, President Ergodan cracked down and escalated air strikes against the insurgent stronghold in southeastern Turkey.

Sweden has welcomed and given sanctuary to members of the PKK, and one member of the PKK, Amineh Kakabaveh is actually a member of the Swedish Parliament.

Turkey wants Sweden to cut its links to Kurdish groups and to end the arms embargo Sweden has placed on Turkey.  Internal Swedish politics has stymied the Swedish Prime Minister, Magdalena Andersson, from obtaining the political support she needs to meet Turkey’s demands.  The Kurdish member of Sweden’s Parliament is the deciding vote to keep Prime Minister Andersson’s government in the majority.

Turkey has made clear that unless the question of Sweden’s support of PKK refugees is settled, that Turkey will never agree to allow Sweden to become a NATO member.

Turkey’s Natural Resources

Turkey has substantial natural resources within her borders.  The top three natural resources are chromite, bauxite, and copper.  In addition Turkey has natural resources of iron, manganese, lead, zinc, antimony, asbestos, pyrites, sulfur, and mercury.  

Turkey’s agricultural resources is ranked among the top 10% in world agriculture production.  Turkey grows wheat, sugar beets, milk, poultry, cotton, potatoes, and tomatoes.  Turkey is also the world’s top producer of apricots and hazelnuts.

Turkey’s GDP for 2020 was $720.1 billion.  Turkey’s GDP did decline in 2021, but this was more the result of the Covid-19 virus than anything else.

Turkey has a military which numbers 355,000 active duty members with 380,000 army reservists.  Its Navy consists of 16 frigates, 10 corvettes, 35 patrol boats, 11 minesweepers, and 12 submarines.

The Turkish Air Force consists of 206 fighter aircraft, 80 transport aircraft, 276 training aircraft, along with 497 helicopters.

Turkey’s National Security Needs

The last five years has seen Turkey face significant and serious national security issues.  Due to international changes, and the slow but steady decline of American interests in the Middle East, Turkey has increased her security posture significantly.  Turkey has had to contend with the escalating threats from regional conflicts in Iraq and Syria which has spilled over into Turkey’s political borders.  There have been increased terrorist attacks by the PKK, Daesh, and the Gulenist Terror Group.

In a statement by President Ergodan in May of 2022, President Ergodan expressed dis-satisfaction with the failure of NATO to support the national security needs of Turkey.

In a speech on May 23rd, 2022, President Ergodan expressed Turkey’s frustration at the continuing support of the PKK by Sweden.  In his remarks…”At a time when the alliance solidarity must be kept at the highest level, the policy of making up excuses must be abandoned and Turkey’s rightful expectations, especially regarding sanctions and support in the fight against terror, must be met.”

As Turkey has been at odds now with several NATO members, Greece, France, and Italy,  it must be asked whether or not NATO is filling the national security needs of Turkey.  Turkey does have other options…

A Possible Russia-Turkey Alliance?

As mentioned before, Turkey faces terrorist threats from Syria, where the PKK has established bases where terrorist training is provided, and from where terrorist activities originate.  It has been reported that an offshoot of the PKK, the YPG, have been forcing children to join their ranks by force.

The PKK launches the majority of its terrorist attacks against Turkey.  Turkey also faces threats from Iran.  While Turkey’s relations with Iran have been cool, and correct, there have not been any adversarial relationship until recently.

With Turkey involved in a brush fire war in northern Syria, forces from Turkey and Iran have been bumping up against each other.  Indeed, Turkey recently warned against Iran attempting to create Shia states close to the Turkish border.  And with Turkey seeking a rapprochement with Israel, relations between the two sides will only deteriorate.

Russia is in a unique position to assist Turkey with its military in Syria.  Russia could put pressure on the PKK, and eliminate the threat the PKK against Turkey. 

Turkey could assist Russia in facilitating the transit of Russian ships through the Dardanelles Straights, allowing Russian grain and Russian oil to be exported to countries who have not condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian navy would once again have access to the Mediterranean Sea, and could support Turkey in her claim to a fair portion of the natural minerals and resources in the Eastern Mediterranean.

NATO and the European Union Need to Re-evaluate Their

Treatment of Turkey

If NATO is going to retain Turkey as an effective member of NATO, and help protect the southern flank of Europe, Europe needs to re-evaluate how Turkey is treated. 

A continuation of the process of Turkey’s accession into the European Union would be a step in the right direction.

Allowing Turkey access to the rich natural gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean would be another step that should also be taken.

At the end of the day, NATO and Europe need to reconsider how they have treated Turkey.  Unless they do so, they may lose their southern border security, with the Turkish resources, and military being aligned with the interests of Russia.

Richard E. Caroll
Richard E. Caroll
I am a retired economist, and a retired soldier. I have a degree in Economics and a degree in Liberal Arts. While in the military my specialty was in Intelligence and Administration.