This summer Turkey became the latest victim of President Trump's global trade war, hallmarking a new low in already rocky US-Turkey relations; pushing Turkey to the brink of economic crisis as the Lira collapsed. The difference with Turkey as opposed to other countries, was that Trump not only enacted economic tariffs on the country, but also introduced personal sanctions against senior members of the Turkish government - sanctions which had previously only been reserved for staunch US enemies, not a NATO ally.
This poses the questions: what has caused US-Turkey relations to reach such an irreconcilable state; what consequences does this have for Turkey’s future role in the international community?
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a country, such as the US, which takes its engrained evangelical roots so seriously, the short term catalyst for the recent drop in relations was a dispute over an American missionary - pastor Andrew Brunson. Brunson, who has been in Turkish jail for two years and faces thirty-five more has been accused by Ankara of espionage through the involvement in the failed 2016 coup d'état to overthrow Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Denying the charges against him, and reportedly in increasing ill-health, Turkey has resisted demands from Washington for Brunson's release - leading to the backlash by the Trump administration.
Ankara, meanwhile, has for years been particularly thornful that the US continues to provide safe haven to exiled Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gülen. Gülen, leader of the aptly named 'Gülen Movement’, which promotes a tolerant and altruistic agenda of Islam in Turkey, is considered a terrorist by his home state. Having been accused of being the conspirator behind the 2016 coup to which he denies, Erdoğan is obsessed with gaining vengeance on the cleric, who is said to have inspired the work of Brunson. US-Turkish relations must therefore be viewed, at least until any potential prisoner release take place, through the contextual lens of these two men. (HERE)
Trump's doubling of tariffs on Turkish aluminium and steel in particular is economically maniacal, and will have a greater effect on the Turkish citizen and foreign investors than the Turkish government elites themselves. However, Washington can be proud for finally taking a stand against Erdoğan 's brutish authoritarianism.
Since the failed 2016 coup Erdoğan has consolidated power in his de-facto dictatorship, purging tens of thousands of teachers, bureaucrats and academics. Journalists and judges too have faced the wrath of Erdoğan; with media outlets non-supportive of the ruling AKP party harassed, intimidated and shut down. The public have been all-but censored from opposition news. (HERE) Further too in April 2017, Turkey approved a constitutional referendum (fraught with voter intimidation and suppression), which by abolished the parliamentary system of government and formalised Turkey’s transition to an elected dictatorship.
This extirpation of what was once at least a partially liberal-democratic state has, until now, been met with deaf ears by an international community scared of facing up to a NATO ‘ally.’ Trump’s sanctions therefore, even if enacted for the wrong reasons (as an evangelical figure should never dictate international politics), represent a positive change in this attitude; demonstrate that Turkey can and will be forced to pay a price for its actions.
Rocky US-Turkey relations have been further complicated over the issue of the Kurdish people, especially in the geopolitical context of the ongoing Syrian Civil War. The Kurds, an ethnic group spanning several countries in the region who, frequently terrorised by the Turkish regime, have long sought self-determination. While various Kurdish factions have received international backing in their involvement in the Civil War against Daesh and the Syrian government, the US’s support for the YPG, the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit, has angered Ankara in particular. This, as well as Turkey’s continuing cosying up to Russian aggression, through the purchasing of arms and munitions, has made US-Turkey relations even more fraught.
Even with these fraying relations and continuing aggression, Turkey continues to be an official member of NATO – but is this continuing membership still tenable?
Membership of NATO is based on a shared commitment to mutual defence; military cooperation – that if one country in the alliance is attacked, it is as if all are under attack. In this sense, while not a politically oriented organisation, NATO is based on a shared set of common values and principles.
Erdoğan’s Turkey has made it clear, through not only its domestic authoritarianism, but also aggressive policies internationally, that it is no longer able to be defended and no longer wishes to abide by the values NATO promotes. Albeit to the sad detriment of the Turkish people, Turkey should therefore no longer be protected under the guise of alliance but should be shunned in the international community; banished from NATO.