Turkey, Not Trump, Is the Biggest Threat to NATO Right Now

Tuesday’s NATO summit in London marks 70 years of the world’s longest and most successful military alliance. However, behind the smiles and handshakes, there will be serious concerns about NATO’s future. U.S. President Donald  Trump has NATO in his sights, recently moving to substantially cut its contribution to the NATO budget; France’s President Emmanuel Macron recently declared that NATO is becoming "brain-dead."

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However, NATO’s biggest internal challenge remains Turkey. 

Last week, Turkey tested its newly-acquired Russian S400 missile defense system against F16 fighter jets, despite S400s being incompatible with NATO hardware. Ankara is also threatening to veto NATO’s plans for the defense of Poland and the Baltics unless NATO backs Ankara's operations in Syria against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Although the YPG contributed to the territorial defeat of ISIS, Ankara deems it indistinguishable from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been waging a separatist war against the Turkish state since the 1980s.

During the Cold War, Turkey was a bulwark against Soviet expansion. Its western orientation, large military and geostrategic location made Turkey a strategic asset.

A Turkish flag flies next to NATO logo at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, November 26, 2019 Francois Lenoir/ REUTERS

Today, however, the main security concerns of NATO are Russian belligerency, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, the deteriorating security situation in the Middle East and the associated threats of migration and terrorism. If anything, Turkey has contributed to the proliferation of these security threats.