In recent years, many Americans (and other nationalities for that matter) have asked the question of why Turkey is allowed to stay in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).  Created during the Cold War to balance power against the Warsaw Pact nations of the Soviet Union, NATO consists of America, Canada, and 26 European nations excluding a few such as Finland and Sweden.

For the most part, NATO members work within defined legal systems, promote democracy within their borders, and conform to international norms of what is considered proper behavior.  Turkey has stood in stark contrast to other NATO nations as the Erdogan-led government pursues what some have called “neo-Ottoman” ambitions.  Within Turkey, the government has been downright repressive, crushing dissent and arresting political rivals to Erdogan’s agenda.  At home and abroad, Turkey has supported international terrorism.  The links between Turkey and ISIS are well documented at this point as are the links between other Turkish proxies like Ahrar al-Sham.  How can a member of NATO also be a supporter of not just Islamism but also of international terrorism?

With this in mind, how can a country like Turkey possibly be a NATO member?  Furthermore, why is Turkey permitted to remain in NATO? This is especially interesting as after the United States enacted Article 5 in the NATO charter after 9/11 which states that an attack against one NATO nation is an attack against all, yet Turkey continues to provide material support to terrorists.

First, Turkey has the most powerful military in NATO aside from the United States.  With about one million troops divided between active duty and reserves, the Turkish military plays an especially important role in their country’s politics and culture.  In Turkey the military is often described as being the “guardians of the republic.”

Second, Turkey is the only Muslim majority nation in NATO except for Albania.  This is important as NATO deploys military forces to Afghanistan and NATO members states are currently fighting ISIS in Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and from Turkey itself.  Without Turkey, the Jihadist propaganda line (that Islam is facing a Christian crusade) could gain increased momentum in the Middle East.  With Turkey on board, it demonstrates that Muslims are also included in the fight against radicalism.

Third, Turkey’s geo-political position on the map is critically important.  Sitting between Eastern and Western worlds, Turkey controls access to the Black Sea and sits on borders with countries such as Syria, Iraq, and Iran.  Furthermore, the United States has placed strategic nuclear weapons at Incirlik airbase in Turkey.

Despite Turkey having the largest standing military in NATO after the United States, Erdogan has provided only 1,700 troops to the campaign in Afghanistan and none of those troops can be placed into combat.  While NATO wants Turkey to give Western-led military operations a Muslim face, Turkey will not seriously participate in warfare against or within a Muslim nation.  Erdogan’s strategy has been to ride the coattails of Islamism that have been growing in the Middle East over the last four decades.

Meanwhile, Turkey is additionally seeking to become a member of the European Union.  Previously, this has been blocked by the island nation of Cyprus which is occupied by both Turkey and Greece.  Today, the issue of Islamism is at the forefront in a way it wasn’t in the 1970’s and 80’s when the Cold War still threatened to go hot.  Massive influxes of Muslim immigrants into Europe have deeply concerned EU citizens who see their cultures and economies as being under attack.