Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on April 16 won a referendum by a narrow margin of 51.4%, extending the powers of his office and curtailing the powers of the parliament and judiciary in Turkey. This vote took place at a time when approximately 40,000 individuals have been jailed following a coup attempt against Erdoğan. Despite the curtailment of the other branches of government and the incarceration of many of those who strongly oppose him, Erdoğan, in an interview with CNN, insisted that these reforms do not make him a dictator. He stupidly declared himself mortal and insisted that he would have a successor as supposed reasoned proof that his holding of the office would not be permanent.
Erdoğan's new powers bring up another important question: who deserves to belong to NATO?
Whether Turkey is or is not a democracy after this revamping of the government by Erdoğan is important, as it is one of the two purposes that are the basis for NATO unity, with the other being military support in the case of attack. NATO itself states, "NATO promotes democratic values and encourages consultation and cooperation on defence and security issues to build trust and, in the long run, prevent conflict."
The term "democratic values" is sufficiently vague to cover a range of definitions. Keeping in mind that NATO was originally a defensive organization against communism, particularly as represented by the USSR, democratic values could be understood as "non-communist values." The federalism and checks and balances of the U.S. constitutional model could not be said to apply to many of the European states. Further, the idea of a responsible citizenry at the grassroots is different in the USA from how it is in European states. Also, some of those states at the time NATO was formed enjoyed colonial rule over other countries, whereas the United States had never gone the colonial route, although many on the left would dispute this statement.
The parsing of the definition of a democracy has become a commonplace in the Middle East. Often, democracy is portrayed as simply allowing people to vote rather than imposing a military dictatorship on the populace. Compromise, consensus-building, respect for differing viewpoints, checks and balances, proper balance between local districts and central government, an informed and responsible citizenry, no taxation without representation, and respect for law greater than respect for office or person are essentials for a democratic context in which voting takes place.
As long as the West sees elections in Libya, Egypt, Iran, Afghanistan, or (now) Turkey, many naïve people docilely accept that those countries are "democratic," but they are not. It is typically forgotten that in the Soviet Union, Josef Stalin sometimes garnered 99% of the votes. Workers were given time off from their employment and directed to go vote (with Stalin as the only candidate).
Years ago, after the Taliban was kicked out of Afghanistan by the U.S., our TV newscasters were so happy to show photos of smiling Muslim women voting for the first time with purple ink on their fingers as a sign that they had gone to the polls. Thus, if people vote, you have a democracy. Ignored was the fact that even with a new "democratic government," the U.S. and the Afghanis were still in a fight to the death, as we are today with the Taliban and other warlords throughout the country. Further, Hamid Karzai, their first democratic president, was hardly George Washington. He was a corrupt official who, with his cronies, lined his pockets with American aid and other forms of corruption.
Turkey's membership goes back to early 1952, during the administration of President Harry S. Truman. At that time, both Greece and Turkey were admitted.
NATO was formed to protect Europe from the threat of communism. Not only had Stalin occupied Eastern Europe, but there were real threats against Greece and Turkey by internal communist insurgents in Greece and by the USSR, which was threatening Turkey about the use of the Turkish Straits. Because of the threat of the USSR to Turkey and, following that, to the Eastern Mediterranean, we were forced to make an exception by admitting Turkey as an Asian country into a European alliance system. Today, however, and in fact since 1991, our European alliances no longer require Turkish participation.
In addition to the question of a member's commitment to democracy, the other key reason for NATO's existence is the members' commitment to militarily defend the other NATO allies. Under the NATO alliance system, Articles 5 and 6, an attack on any of the members is considered an attack on all. Therefore, considering the volatility of the Islamic world, as it presently stands, if any country attacks Turkey, we are treaty-bound to come to Turkey's defense.
Can Turkey really be counted on as a NATO ally? It is undemocratic now, and anti-Israel. What if the USA or another NATO country were attacked because of defense of Israel? Does anyone really think Turkey under that scenario would come to our defense? Or what if we had to attack Turkey because of their helping an attack on Israel? How could we attack a NATO ally?
As Turkey becomes less democratic and comes increasingly to resemble the other dictatorial countries of the Middle East, their governmental vision is less in conformity with NATO's stated goals. Further, Turkey and the U.S. no longer have the same enemy we shared when Turkey was first admitted to NATO. Lastly, many scenarios can easily be imagined where the U.S. would be attacked and Turkey would not wish to fight for us, or where Turkey would be attacked, and we would not like to fight for them.
For these reasons, Turkish membership in the NATO alliance should be revoked. If a military alliance of some sort should still be deemed warranted, it should be written on a bilateral basis with Turkey, and in terms of 21st-century realities, not those that existed at the end of WWII.