Turkey's Troubled NATO Status
MARCH 14, 2017 8:42 AM EDT
The heated campaign for the April 16 Turkish referendum, which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hopes will deliver him powers verging on the dictatorial, has created a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and some of its key North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies. Relations with the Netherlands are all but broken off, Germany is struggling to remain civil under a barrage of Erdogan insults, and Denmark is siding with its north European neighbors.
Add to this Turkey’s differences with the U.S. and the perennial tension between Turkey and Greece, and it’s no longer clear how much of a NATO member Erdogan’s country really is. Despite its considerable military strength, Turkey’s participation in alliance activities isn’t extensive, and its interests don’t necessarily align with those of NATO.
A lot of northern Europe’s resistance to pro-Erdogan campaign rallies on their soil has to do with domestic politics. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte faces a strong nationalist, anti-immigration challenge in an election on Wednesday; keeping out Turkish ministers who want to agitate the diaspora in Dutch cities helps him score political points. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s popularity suffered from her perceived softness on immigration; she could do without raucous Turkish rallies in Germany prior to her September vote. Merkel hasn’t acted as harshly as Rutte, but she’s let municipalities cancel the rallies on any pretext they can find. In Denmark, no major election is coming, but the government has asked Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim to postpone a visit: It wouldn’t look good to welcome him after Erdogan likened the German and Dutch governments to Nazis.
Erdogan himself is playing both to his domestic audience — his backers like his feisty willingness to take on all comers — and to the European diaspora, which often feels that local governments aren’t doing enough to prevent its treatment as second-class citizens.
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