The risks of continuing to treat Turkey as a normal NATO member could be great. Ankara gains intelligence, influences policy, and affects operations. Moreover, the U.S. is believed to store some 50 nuclear bombs at Incirlik Airbase. Any attempt to wreck the Turkish economy, or worse, retaliate militarily for Turkish activity in Syria, would force Erdogan to respond—if only to preserve his nationalist credentials. His government could attempt to seize these weapons, which would also advance his ambitions to make Ankara a nuclear power.
Instead of denouncing and punishing Ankara, the Americans and Europeans should address the more fundamental problem of Turkey’s NATO membership. When the alliance was being negotiated, Canadian and American officials supported creating a process to address precisely this problem: a member whose government shifts away from democratic values. But, as reports historian Tim Sayle, the British and French opposed the idea, and so it was dropped. When asked about the possibility, Senator Arthur Vandenberg observed: “Under such circumstances the pact simply ceases to be operative in respect to them.”
However, that isn’t working with Turkey. Washington is imposing economic sanctions on and threatening war with a fellow member, while a half dozen European nations have suspended arms sales. This dissension undermines the alliance’s battle-worthiness. Now is the time to revive the expulsion proposal.