Turkey receives increasing criticism from NATO and has drifted away from the European Union due to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s “particular brand of Turkish nationalist populism”, research fellow at Australian think tank Lowy Institute Rodger Shanahan wrote on Monday.
Turkey is “increasingly becoming the piece of the NATO puzzle that just won’t fit,” Shanahan said in an article on the institute’s website. “Criticism of Ankara’s activities from its European allies over a range of issues has been relatively constant.”
Last year, Turkey purchased S-400 missile defence systems from Russia, which resulted in the country being removed from the U.S.-led F-35 stealth fighter jet programme. The United States says Russian weapons systems are incompatible with those of NATO and pose a security risk. The U.S. military confirmed last week that it will purchase F-35 jets originally built for Turkey as the aircraft would not be delivered.
Germany issued a limited ban on weapons sales to Turkey last year, for military equipment that could be used in an offensive into northern Syria.
Turkey’s support for Libya’s U.N.-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) -in the form of military personnel, weapons and other hardware, and its recruitment of Syrian mercenaries to fight opposition leader Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by Russia and Egypt as well as France, has led to increased tensions with its European allies, Shanahan said. A dispute between Turkey and the EU over rights to hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has added to problems in relations.
Libya and Turkey signed a memorandum last year redefining the countries’ maritime borders. The agreement gave ammunition to Turkey’s claim to territorial waters and exclusive economic zones currently recognised as belonging to Greece and Cyprus.
In June, France and Turkey came head to head again as a French vessel on a NATO mission wanted to search a ship accompanied by the Turkish navy on suspicion that it was trafficking arms to Libya. Turkey rejected the accusations and said the ship had been carrying humanitarian material.
“Erdogan’s ultra-nationalist rhetoric and actions have won him few friends,” Shanahan said. The Turkish president has “sought to advance Turkey’s regional interests with little regard for his NATO partners” as a foreign policy opportunist, he said.
Erdoğan “cares little for what other countries or leaders think”, Shanahan said. But he was likely to face more pushback if U.S. President Donald Trump’s Democrat rival Joe Biden wins elections in November, as Biden would be “more willing to rebuff Ankara’s unilateralist foreign policies”, he said.
Biden has accused Trump of cultivating a relationship with Erdoğan driven by personal interest and says Erdoğan committed ethnic cleansing in Syria.