The lack of support from NATO for Turkey's counterterrorism fight and the U.S. partnering with the PKK terrorist organization's Syrian affiliate YPG have increased anti-Western sentiment among the Turkish public, which has also been reflected in the mainstream political parties' opinions on Turkey-NATO, Turkey-U.S. ties
Although there have always been ups and downs in Turkey-NATO relations over the past 65 years, the latest developments muddied the water for the two allies once more since the latter insists on staying silent over the terrorist attacks against the former and not acting in accordance with the rules of alliance, causing a questioning of the existence of joint benefits for both sides.
Turkey, as one of the earliest members of NATO, criticizes the organization for its lack of support to the country in its fight for providing its own security against terrorist elements both within and outside the country. Especially following Turkey's launch of Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20 against the People's Protection Units (YPG) and Daesh terrorists in northwestern Syria, NATO has embraced an attitude that does not support Turkey but instead prefers to stay silent against the attacks of the terrorists despite verbally pretending that it sides with Turkey.
Such crises in Turkish-NATO relations have caused the emergence of anti-NATO public opinion, which has also been observed in the mainstream political parties' stance on ties between the two. NATO head Jens Stoltenberg said after Turkey launched the operation in Afrin that Turkey had legitimate security concerns. "No NATO member country has been exposed to as many terror attacks as Turkey. Turkey has the right to deal with its own security concerns. Yet, it should do it in a moderate way," Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels, approving Turkey's operation verbally while not providing any concrete support for the country.
As a response to NATO's abstaining stance, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently called on the organization to fulfil its responsibilities.
"NATO! You are obliged to take a stand against those who harass the borders of one of your partners," he said.
As a matter of fact, according to Article 5 of the NATO agreement, members of the alliance agree that "an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all," which shows that the NATO acts against its own articles by not providing the support that Turkey deserves.
NATO's silent attitude against Turkey caused an outrage in the Turkish public as well, raising questions on whether or not NATO is a true ally of Turkey and appreciates the membership of the country. According to a recent survey, the majority of the Turkish public believes that Turkey can provide its security needs even if it stays outside of NATO.
According to the results of a survey by Kadir Has University's Turkey Studies Center conducted in 2017 with the participation of 1,000 people from 28 different cities of Turkey, 64.3 percent of the respondents think the U.S. poses a threat to Turkey. This percentage, the survey found, was 39.2 percent in 2015 and 39.2 percent in 2016. The survey also reveals that Turkish people do not consider NATO countries their allies.
Another survey conducted by the Istanbul Economics research revealed that 67 percent of Turkish citizens are of the opinion that Ankara is not too dependent on NATO. The interviewees said Turkey can provide its own security, even if it stays outside the alliance.
Carried out in 12 provinces across Turkey with over 1,500 participants, the survey discovered that Turkish people do not favour NATO, especially after the recent incident. The research found that approval for NATO membership has gradually dropped. Another survey carried out in January also found that support for Turkey's membership in NATO dropped seriously in the last two years, from 76.2 percent in 2014 to 69.5 percent in 2015 and 58 percent in 2016.
The incidents like the portrayal of Erdoğan and the founding father of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, as enemy forces during a NATO dill in Norway in November, as well as a Norwegian officer of Turkish origin's opening a fake Erdoğan account on NATO's internal social media network and posting anti-alliance comments in the name of the president also became effective in the Turkish public's opinion of NATO, shaking trust in the organization.
Actually, the incidents led to the withdrawal of 40 troops from a planned NATO drill despite the fact that NATO was quick to react to the incidents. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg apologized for the incidents to Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar and President Erdoğan. However, the survey was conducted before the enemy chart crisis erupted.
The Turkish-NATO alliance was also questioned after it was announced that Ankara purchased the S-400 missile defence system from Moscow. "Recently, some NATO allies are putting up serious resistance to giving Turkey defence systems, including simple weapons that we need. I need to build an air defense system, but I cannot buy it from my allies. In that case, I have to get it from somewhere else. I have an urgent need," Çavuşoğlu said. Even though Stoltenberg previously said the alliance respects Turkey's decision to buy the missile defense systems, the U.S. remains bothered. Turkey's access to NATO technology will be restricted if it acquires the Russian S-400 air defence system as the current system is not "inter-operable" with Russian missiles, Heidi Grant, the deputy undersecretary of the U.S. Air Force for international affairs, said.
The status of İncirlik Air Base has also become a matter of discussion for both Turkey and NATO following the tense relations with the U.S. due to the visa crisis, during which the two allies mutually suspended visa services at their diplomatic mission in October after U.S. Consulate employee Metin Topuz was arrested when Turkish authorities charged him with links to the FETÖ. Although initially the rumours claiming the U.S. was thinking about shutting down the base were spread, the U.S. clearly expressed that the base was of critical importance for them.
However, before long, closing the base had also come to Turkey's agenda in January 2017, when Presidential Spokesman İbrahim Kalın said Ankara had the right to close down the air base.
"Turkey has the right to shut down İncirlik. We always have the right. However, as I said, first the conditions should be evaluated. We have the right of ownership as part of Turkey's sovereignty," Kalın said. In reply, Pentagon spokesman John Dorrian once more acknowledged that İncirlik was priceless to the U.S.
İncirlik Air Base, located in the southern province of Adana, opened in 1954 and contributed to significant NATO operations including the 1990-1991 Gulf War. The base has been used by the U.S.-led coalition forces in anti-Daesh operations since 2015.