However, by the end of the decade, Erdogan and his party had immersed themselves in corruption and initiated authoritarian rule. His commitment to Islam turned harsh and political. Rule of law, individual liberties, and democratic procedures all were sacrificed to enhance regime power. The 2016 attempted coup was Erdogan’s Reichstag fire, justifying the brutal crackdown and purge that he’d long wanted and may have planned. Last year, for the first time, Erdogan tampered with the actual vote, forcing a rerun of the Istanbul mayoral race, which his party ended up losing twice. Next time he may be more desperate—and simply steal the election.
The cumulative impact has been to destroy what was always a flawed and limited democracy. The group Freedom House rates the country as not free. The State Department points to “reports of arbitrary killings; suspicious deaths of persons in custody; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary arrest and detention of tens of thousands of persons,” and that’s just the start.
All of which has undermined NATO. The Europeans take democracy more seriously than during the Cold War. Indeed, they justified the alliance’s post-Cold War expansion as a means of integrating the former communist states of Central and Eastern Europe into the West. The allies also perceive Russia’s slide backward into authoritarianism as part of its menace.
Even more problematic for NATO is Ankara’s increasingly independent and hostile foreign policy.