NATO and the New Turkey

In the past, and especially during the Cold War, defense partnership constituted a pillar of Turkey’s relations with the West. Nowadays, however, declining threat perceptions have fundamentally altered this perspective, giving Turkey greater latitude in foreign policy.

ISTANBUL – Turkey joined NATO at the beginning of the Cold War to gain United States protection in the event of a Soviet attack. Back then, Turkey was clearly on the frontline; today, however, its leaders are assertively pursuing an independent foreign and security policy, and their growing confidence is now testing the Alliance’s cohesion.

Meanwhile, cooperation between NATO and the European Union remains stalled, owing to the dispute with Turkey over divided Cyprus. Moreover, in sharp contrast to the majority of NATO members, Turkey maintains that Iran and Syria should not be viewed as threats. And, at the height of the Libyan crisis, while NATO officials were preparing operational plans to intervene, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was speaking out against military action.

As a result, some now say that Turkey is turning its back on the West. But it would be more accurate to say that Turkey is broadening its reach. Turkey may indeed cause tensions within NATO, but its position represents an astute balance between loyalty to the Alliance and appropriate regard for its own national interests.

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