By Demetries Grimes
On the centenary of a crime against humanity on the Mediterranean shores of Asia Minor, the statue of Turkish General Mustafa Kemal Ataturk on horseback facing and pointing West inscribed with the quotation “Armies, your first target is the Mediterranean Sea. Forward,” stands taller and prouder than ever on the shore of the Turkish city of Izmir. Once known as Smyrna, more than 150,000 Greek and Armenian inhabitants of the city were slaughtered and more than 750,000 made refugees by Turkish forces during the burning of Smyrna in September 1922.
In reining in rogue ally Turkey, the European Union and United States have failed to address one of the greatest enduring threats to peace and stability in Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman, Muslim Brotherhood ambitions cannot be dismissed as “local election political posturing,” but are a clear and present danger that extends beyond Turkey’s borders. While the United States has returned to a “lead from behind” foreign policy posture, France has taken a greater leadership role in Europe as Germany and the United Kingdom continue to avoid exercising sound judgment and taking serious action in European security matters. But, the dangerous absence of Western leadership and unity emboldens adversaries across the globe.
Erdogan commands the second largest military force in NATO. His military force of more than 435,000 is one-third the size of the United States’ 1.3 million-strong force and twice the size of the next largest NATO ally, France, with its 208,000-strong force. The Turkish “allied” force, however, continues to demonstrate it is an adversary with access to NATO’s secrets, codes, communications, tactics and defense plans.
Erdogan is emboldened by the enduring myth of Turkey’s geostrategic importance, greatly diminished since the end of the Cold War, and the decades-long failure of the European Union, US and NATO to seriously address Turkish aggression. Turkey’s decades-long unreliability as an ally, its role as a gateway for foreign jihadi fighters between Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, and flirtation with China and Russia in advanced weapons procurements — such as the Russian S-400 missiles — affirm Turkey cannot be trusted as a NATO ally.
Failure to rein in Erdogan has destroyed the credibility of NATO, the EU and the US. In addition to EU and key NATO member-states’ indifference to security matters and the botched US withdrawal from Afghanistan, failure to rein in a fellow NATO ally’s own aggression and end its decades-long occupation of an EU member-state is another factor that emboldened Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine. The United States and fellow NATO nations have been inept at ending Erdogan’s continued assaults on the EU’s borders in Greece and the Aegean, the Turkish military occupation of an EU sovereign state, Cyprus, Turkish claims to EU economic zone hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern Mediterranean, the desecration of Christian UNESCO World Heritage monuments, attempts to derail the unification of Cyprus, strengthening of economic ties with Russia during the Ukraine conflict, and Iran as it pursues its nuclear ambitions.