The threat of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to close Americans’ access to two bases in Turkey, if the US Congress approves the sanctions bill, does not indicate a desire to sever relations with NATO, but a strategy to use the alliance as a lever against Washington, Bloomberg reported.
US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said closing the Incirlik and Kurecik airbases would cast doubt on Turkey’s commitment to the alliance. This has revived the debate that Turkey poses a long-term risk to NATO.
The US Senate approved the defense budget, which provides for the exclusion of Turkey from the program for the creation of the stealth fighter F-35 and the cessation of supply of 100 fifth-generation aircraft amid Ankara’s decision to acquire the Russian S-400 system. But Turkey may face tougher sanctions in the coming days, as another bill approved by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations provides for measures that should be taken in accordance with an act aimed at organizations doing business with Russia.
According to Bloomberg, Turkey’s threats do not indicate Erdogan’s readiness to break with NATO, but rather uses the alliance as a lever in a bilateral dispute with Washington.
Neither Incirlik nor the airbase in Kurecik are NATO facilities, they are Turkish-controlled bases that the US can use on the basis of an agreement with Turkey, subject to specific permissions from the Turkish parliament.
According to Aaron Stein, Director of the Middle East Program, Incirlik now simply acts as a warehouse for US tactical nuclear weapons and as a transfer center for deployment in Afghanistan. But the closure of Kurecik, which houses the US-managed but critically important radar installation for NATO, may have more practical consequences because of its strategic location.
According to Stein, more important than any of these bases is a tough assessment that, although Turkey’s military ties with the US and NATO are desirable, they are no longer needed.