From R. Nicholas Burns, Damon Wilson & Jeff Lightfoot, the New Atlanticist: If NATO hopes to maintain a central role in shaping its strategic neighborhood, it will need Turkey to take on a position of leadership within the Alliance. Within the next decade, a Turkish Secretary General should lead the Alliance. But for that to happen Turkey will have to act like the responsible power it should become, and Europe will have to be willing to accept a leading Turkish role in European affairs. . . .
For too long, Turkey has been relegated to NATO’s back bench. Turkey has been excluded from NATO’s traditional ruling circle, the ‘Quad’ (the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany). No Turk has ever been considered to lead NATO. This must change. A Turk should become NATO Secretary General within the decade.
Turkey, however, will have to earn its place of leadership within the Atlantic community. First, Turkey must bring a spirit of cooperative leadership to NATO, seeking to build consensus, rather than burdening NATO by blocking cooperation with the European Union and preventing Israel from working closely with NATO. Turkey can earn newfound leadership within NATO by recommitting to internal democratic reform, improving its relations with its ethnic minorities, pursuing peace with Cyprus, continuing efforts to normalize relations with its neighbors, and lowering tensions with Israel.
The challenge does not lie with Turkey alone; Europe has responsibilities too. If Turkey is able to advance reforms and fully embrace the values embodied by the transatlantic community, Europe has to be willing to welcome Turkey into a position of leadership within the Alliance and ultimately in the European Union. . . .
German and French hostility toward Turkish membership in the European Union minimizes Europe’s influence in pushing for continued reforms in Turkey. Prime Minister Erdogan has reformed Turkish politics by exerting civilian control over the military. But summary arrests of Turkish generals and restrictions on the media have raised serious concerns about his ultimate aims. Erdogan’s efforts to ensure that democratic principles apply to Turkey’s military and judiciary do not give carte blanche to persecute political enemies, restrict free speech, or imprison military officials and journalists. A more open road to the European Union might help check negative tendencies while reinforcing progressive policies.
R. Nicholas Burns, former U.S. ambassador to NATO, is professor of the practice of diplomacy and international politics at the Harvard Kennedy School and a board director of the Atlantic Council. Damon Wilson is executive vice president of the Atlantic Council. Jeff Lightfoot is deputy director of the Council’s International Security Program. This piece is adapted from the Atlantic Council publication “Anchoring the Alliance.”