Erdoğan or not, presidential poll results will impact Turkey-NATO relations: Here’s how – Bekir Sitki Sirin / FIRST POST

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By Bekir Sitki Sirin in First Post on March 18, 2023. If Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wins the presidential election, he will continue to get closer with Russia, China and Iran in the international arena.

There is little time left for the presidential elections that will take place on 14 May 2023 in Turkey. The outcome of the elections in which current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Republican People’s Party (CHP) chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu compete may also affect Turkey-NATO relations. Because if Erdogan wins the election, the question — “Will Turkey leave NATO?” — remains on the agenda. However, if Kılıçdaroğlu wins the election, Turkey’s broken relations with NATO may improve. Let’s examine this thesis together.


Erdogan came to power with the AK Party in 2002. Erdogan, who ruled the country as Prime Minister and President throughout the process, has always had a warm relationship with NATO. Until a few years ago… In particular, the coup attempt on 15 July 2016 and the F35 tensions with the United States negatively affected Turkey-NATO relations. So why did these two situations deteriorate relations between Turkey and NATO? Because these two events gave birth to the rapprochement of Turkey and Russia. 


Although Erdoğan never expressed it in an official language, both he and other AK Party administrators thought that the coup attempt on 15 July was of Atlantic origin. In fact, Minister Süleyman Soylu used the following statements several times: “The USA is behind the July 15 coup attempt!” While many explanations came from the AK Party wing in this direction, Erdogan gradually developed warm relations with Russia. Naturally, this situation caused a great reaction from NATO. In this process, Turkey was threatened with expulsion from NATO.


Another reason for the tensions between Turkey and NATO was the F35 problem with the US. This tension, which escalated with Turkey’s decision to purchase the S400 Air Defence System from Russia, adversely affected the relations between Ankara and Washington. In the face of Turkey’s rapprochement with Russia, the fee paid by Turkey, which was excluded from the F35 programme, to the United States was not returned. The fact that the US did not give both the F35s and the F35 fee to Turkey was the main reason for the crisis between the two countries.


While the problems between Ankara and Washington were not limited to the F35, the disagreements on many issues, especially the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, increased the reaction of the Turkish public against the Washington administration. While there was a cold war between Turkey and the US in the process, many names from the American side threatened to remove Turkey from NATO. Although the Ankara government has never expressed an opinion to leave NATO, Turkey’s presence in NATO has been discussed by the public for a long time. 


If Erdogan wins the election, it seems unlikely that Turkey will leave NATO in the short term. But will Ankara leave or be removed from NATO? It is seen with certainty that the question remains on the agenda. If Erdogan wins the presidential election, he will continue to get closer with Russia, China and Iran in the international arena. It is seen that this situation will continue the tension between Turkey and NATO.


The presidential candidate of the Nation Alliance, founded under the leadership of CHP, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, includes ending the bad relations between Turkey and the Atlantic. Indeed, if Kılıçdaroğlu wins the election, Ankara is likely to develop warm relations with the capitals of Western countries, especially Washington. The election victory of Kılıçdaroğlu, who has a completely Atlantic-based foreign policy understanding, will also end the crisis between Turkey and NATO.


It is an indisputable fact that Turkey, under the leadership of Erdogan, has made an axis change in foreign policy. Especially in the last few years, Erdogan has become significantly close with countries such as Russia, Iran and China in foreign policy. As a result of this situation, relations between Ankara and Washington and NATO have been strained. Kılıçdaroğlu promises the opposite of this situation. Kılıçdaroğlu, who plans to develop warm relations with the US and NATO if elected, is likely to move away from countries such as Russia, Iran and China.

Bekir Sitki Sirin is a correspondent and an author who works in Turkish media. He graduated from Istanbul University, Faculty of Communication.  He is interested in foreign policy issues, especially in the Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean, Atlantic and Eurasia. Views expressed are personal. 

By Bekir Sitki Sirin in First Post on March 18, 2023.

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