Robert W. Welch, Jr. said, “For not only every democracy, but certainly every republic, bears within itself the seeds of its own destruction.” Welch’s argument was that the very openness and democratic ideals within a nation (or institution) carry with it the risk that the members will vote to diminish, or eliminate, the very things that brought them into existence in the first place. While the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is not a country, it is an organization of countries who came together with noble ideas about freedom and collective defense of that freedom. In 2016, NATO restated its purpose: “Our alliance remains an unparalleled community of freedom, peace, security and shared values—including individual liberty, human rights, democracy and the rule of law.”
Entering into this historic partnership, the Republic of Turkey, the successor to the Ottoman Empire, took pride in its commitment to freedom and individual liberty. It was a trusted ally not only of the United States, but a reliable ally to most of the civilized world. It was a nation where its citizens were free to worship in the religion of their choice and exercised freedom of speech and of association without fear of government intrusion. It was dedicated to such high ideals when it joined NATO in 1952. For years it has been host to thousands of U.S. military personnel and was a much sought-after assignment to members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Sadly, this is no longer true.
As detailed in the ACLJ’s book Burning Bridges, Turkey’s President Erdogan has embraced an Islamist ideology and has pushed the nation into extremism based on religious intolerance and authoritarianism. Following an attempted coup in 2016, Erdogan declared a state of emergency and gained unprecedented power. With Turkey’s military being trained and supplied by the United States, Erdogan has purged Turkey’s military, replaced its judges with those loyal to the president, and jailed members of the press and anyone else he perceived to be a threat. Most regrettably, non-judicial executions and imprisonment without due process of law became Erdogan’s preferred methods in order to preserve law and order.
Caught up in this widespread lawlessness is Pastor Andrew Brunson. A Presbyterian minister and U.S. citizen who has spent the last twenty-three years ministering to and loving the people of Turkey, Brunson has been imprisoned since October of 2016 on false charges of being involved in the attempted coup. Turkey is using this Christian pastor as leverage in order to force the U.S. to extradite one of Erdogan’s political enemies living in Pennsylvania, a Muslim cleric who has no connection to Pastor Andrew. Andrew Brunson is not merely a prisoner or a detainee; he is a hostage; a hostage being held by another NATO country and ostensibly an ally of the United States.
That Pastor Andrew could be held hostage by a member of NATO is unimaginable. One cannot conceive of any other NATO country behaving this way. Can you imagine France, or Belgium or Germany or any of the other 29 countries in NATO illegally imprisoning an American, or vice versa? It is beyond comprehension. It is a shocking betrayal of all that NATO represents. One expects this kind of behavior from Iran or North Korea, but not from a nation who claims to be an equal partner in an organization which was formed to oppose and prevent this very type behavior.
In addition to tensions following the coup attempt and the arrest of Pastor Andrew, the United States and Turkey have significant differences on policies and plans concerning the conflict in Syria. Today Turkey is in the second phase of a military campaign to attack Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), even though U.S. military personnel are co-located with some of the SDF troops. The SDF have been instrumental in the defeat of ISIS. The two nations are dangerously close to a military confrontation in Syria, with Erdogan demanding that the U.S. leave the region entirely. Erdogan has created an alliance with Russia and Iran, seeking to diminish the role and influence of the U.S. throughout the Middle East. Only recently, Erdogan announced that Turkey would purchase the Russian S-400 long-range missile defense system instead of the system that is interoperable with the systems used by all of the other NATO countries.
While NATO was originally founded to counter the aggression of the Soviet Union, with the fall of that Communist state, NATO has sought to bind its members together in a common support for democracy and human rights. Turkey tramples on these values.
NATO has no provisions to remove member states who do not live up to its ideals and common commitments. That does not mean that Turkey can violate the principles of NATO or of basic human rights with impunity. As suggested by the Wall Street Journal, the strategy of using the carrot instead of the stick is not working. Diplomatic language, dropping the charges against Erdogan’s security team who attacked demonstrators in Washington D.C., or distancing the U.S. from the Kurds that Turkey perceives as a threat have done nothing to change Turkey’s behavior or achieve the release of Pastor Andrew.
Now is the time for strong and unambiguous action by the United States and the other members of NATO. Turkey must be held accountable for the violence and lawlessness taking place. Every verbal, diplomatic and economic tool available must be utilized to punish Turkey until it once again embraces common decency and the rule of law. It is time for strong measures. Sanctions against Erdogan and his inner circle and the suspension of U.S. aid totaling over 150 million dollars a year would be an excellent place to start.
Turkey needs the United States and the other members of NATO much more than they need Turkey. NATO only works when its members can trust one another. Until Turkey frees Pastor Andrew, proves itself trustworthy and acts like the NATO ally it claims to be, it should be shunned and isolated by the other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
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