There is a better way for NATO to manage its relationship with Turkey, requiring neither sustained appeasement nor abrupt divorce. Erdogan’s outspoken protests against the West notwithstanding, Turkey cannot afford to break with NATO for the simple reason that its own security rests on the alliance’s ability to counter shared threats. On Thursday, Brussels should remind Ankara those threats—led by an expansionist Russia, hostile Iran and a failed Syrian state across Turkey’s longest land border—remain shared.
Erdogan’s long-held quest to free Turkey from its perceived dependence on the West and pursue an independent course has failed. Instead, Turkey now sits uncomfortably between NATO and a Russia-Iran axis that has no desire or ability to transform Turkey into the regional power of Erdogan’s reveries. Russia is also Turkey’s chief historical adversary, and the two sides are at loggerheads on most regional issues—including Russian policies toward Armenia and Crimea. As Russian zones of influence expand, Turkey finds itself increasingly surrounded and outmaneuvered. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Syria, where Russian support for the Bashar al-Assad regime weakens the Turkey-backed opposition.
More important, Moscow’s dealings with the Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (PYD), which Turkey considers its most urgent security threat, far outweigh the level of tactical cooperation that the U.S. has cultivated with the group: the PYD opened a diplomatic mission in Moscow last year, and Russian forces reportedly operate a training base for the group’s military wing in Syria’s PYD-held Afrin. Despite mounting animosity, Ankara’s concerns about the PYD still elicit sympathy among its Western partners; in Moscow, they ring hollow.