Turkey Quietly Renounces NATO Links, But Not NATO Benefits

Turkey Quietly Renounces NATO Links, But Not NATO Benefits
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (R) greets Turkey's President Reçep Tayyip Erdogan at a NATO summit at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, on June 14, 2021. (Francois Mori/AFP via Getty Images)
Gregory Copley

Turkey on Aug. 3 made its most pointed renunciation of its ties to the NATO alliance.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was sworn into office for a new term on June 2, restructured his armed forces leadership by removing all leaders who had held NATO appointments.

Turkey, as a result, has stopped attempting to balance its NATO membership against its commitments to Russia. It has, de facto, now thrown in its lot with Eurasia.

The new appointments come amid a crisis in the Turkish armed forces, which have seen, in recent years, a marked decline in the professionalism of key officers. Mr. Erdogan has favored political loyalty to him over operational experience, often replacing professional military leaders with Gendarmerie (Jendarma) generals.

The Turkish Supreme Military Council (YAS) met on Aug. 3 at the presidential palace under the chairmanship of Mr. Erdogan, with the main focus on the annual reviews of the senior officers of the Turkish armed forces (TSK). Before the meeting, and in keeping with protocol, the president accompanied members of the YAS to the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, where he laid a wreath and signed the Official Book, in which, after praising the role of the armed forces, referred to the new strategic goal of the country as the “Century of Turkey,” promising “an increase in the strength of the army.”

The Century of Turkey plan, which includes the Blue Homeland doctrine, specifically targets the interests of Greece. Promoted were senior officers who were known for their anti-Western profile and who were involved in the contrived 2017 “Ergenekon” and 2013 “Varioupoula” purge scandals.

A new chief of general staff was appointed, along with a new chief of land forces (GH) and a new chief of air force (THK), while the chief of naval forces (TDK) remained in his position. The new chief of the general staff is former 2nd Army commander Gen. Metin Gurak, who replaced Gen. Yasar Guler, who was appointed defense minister in the new government in June 2023.

Deputy Chief of General Staff Gen. Selcuk Bayraktaroglu was named as commander of land forces. Chief of Air Force and Anti-Aircraft Missile Defense Gen. Ziya Cemal Kadoiglu was named commander of the Air Force. Adm. E. Tatlioglu, the chief of the South-Western Command, remained in his position.

During the meeting, 32 senior officers were promoted, and 63 officers of the rank of colonel or equivalent became senior officers. It was decided to increase the number of senior officers by 20 to reach 286, in order to fill administrative positions, as many new Brigade and especially commando-level formations had been created.

Gen. Gurak became the first chief of general staff to be appointed without prior service as a chief of a service branch. This requirement had been dropped by Mr. Erdogan to give him more flexibility in appointing loyalists to the top posts. None of the newly appointed chiefs has served in NATO or other Western countries’ posts or schools, despite that in the TSK, officers with NATO experience had been highly regarded.

The chief of general staff, Gen. Gurak, does have operational experience. From his service with the 2nd Armored Brigade of the 1st Army (Istanbul) and as commander of the Army Air Force and the 4th Army Corps (Ankara), he’s familiar with the operational plans concerning the Aegean and Thrace. He served as an adviser in Libya when Turkey established military bases and supported Islamist forces against Cairo-backed Gen. Khalifa Haftar.

Gen. Gurak speaks Arabic, considered important at a time when Mr. Erdogan is investing in relations with the rich Arab countries of the Gulf. He took a controversial stance on the night of the July 15, 2016, “coup attempt” as commander of the 4th Army Corps and Ankara Fortress, and was appreciated by Mr. Erdogan for the assistance of the 2nd Army units in the earthquakes of February 2023, since the affected regions were in his area of responsibility.

The new Air Force chief has neither NATO nor any particular operational experience. He is, however, considered an extreme nationalist. He was also involved on the night of the “coup attempt,” at the Air Operations Center (in Eskisehir).

Mr. Erdogan also conducted another purge of the Police–Security Directorate in early August 2023, again favoring political loyalists over professional and operationally-experienced officers: 52 out of a total of 81 prefectural directors, who were considered loyal to former Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, were removed.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Gregory Copley is president of the Washington-based International Strategic Studies Association and editor-in-chief of the online journal Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy. Born in Australia, Copley is a Member of the Order of Australia, entrepreneur, writer, government adviser, and defense publication editor. His latest book is “The New Total War of the 21st Century and the Trigger of the Fear Pandemic.”
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