Did you know that Turkey’s international institutional partnership with the most popular support is with NATO? According to several surveys, 55 to 60 percent of Turkey’s public supports the continuation of NATO membership. Number crunching aside, in the last few weeks, as Turkey’s relationship with Russia has gone through a series of crises over conflicts of interest in Idlib and Libya, its ties with NATO have received an unexpected boost. 

On the 68th anniversary of Turkey’s entrance into the North Atlantic Treaty on Feb. 18, the Foreign Ministry of Turkey was singing NATO’s praises via Twitter: 

 “On the 68th anniversary of our membership, we are among the top contributing Allies to @NATO. Since 1952, we have been assuming important responsibilities in NATO operations and missions. #WeAreNATO”.

The Turkish NATO delegation topped Turkey’s Foreign Ministry’s adoring chatter with other social media messages, too:

“Today we proudly celebrate the 68th anniversary of Turkey’s accession to NATO. Throughout 68 years our country has successfully protected NATO’s borders and upheld the Alliance’s values and principles. We will continue to work with our Allies in unity and solidarity #WeAreNATO”.

NATO reciprocated the gesture by sharing a video clip on Twitter reiterating that “NATO is a family of common values. We are united with our Allies for peace and stability. #Turkey is NATO, #WeAreNATO”. 

This was the warmest embrace that Turkey has received from a Western institution for a long time. 

Will these cozy mutual flatteries lead to NATO giving actual and factual militaristic support of Turkey’s Idlib operations? Russian official news agency TASS did not think so: 

“NATO has no plans to provide Turkey with military support if the government launches a military operation in northern Syria, a diplomatic source from a member state told Tass on [February 17].”

According to the Russian news agency, a NATO official said that the alliance will not invoke the principle of collective defense known as Article 5, which is at the heart its founding treaty.

“‘NATO countries will not support the invocation of Article 5 over the death of Turkish troops in Idlib in early February,’ the source said.”

While Ankara may not receive the solid backing from NATO that Turkey is seeking against Russia now, dialogue channels with NATO are stronger compared to other international institutions — for example, the European Union. 

Turkey flirted with Russia for far too long, crowning the growing relationship with the purchase of the S-400 missiles. “Russification” among the Turkish public was evidenced by rising levels of trust and positive views of Russia. But, as I always said, Turkey-Russia relations lacked official backbones and frameworks, such as institutional links, formalized treaties, agreed-upon written values, and shared interests. So, everything relied on goodwill between the leaders of two countries, Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin, and their corresponding interests. Once the interests collided and the two leaders did not see eye-to-eye, the very expectable outcome occurred: things went haywire.

The Turkish public seems to be pragmatic in their view of NATO as a necessary safety valve to ensure Turkey’s security.  According to Kadir Has University’s (KHAS) annual Turkey Trends poll, announced in mid-January 2020, around 55 percent of the Turkish public supported the continuation of Turkey’s membership in 2019. KHAS’ results in 2018 indicated higher support — around 60 percent. MetroPOLL’s December 2019 report, “Turkey’s Pulse,” measured the support for Turkey’s NATO membership at around 59 percent. 

Despite all the conflicts of interest and tensions that Turkey and European states, as well as Ankara and Washington, have endured, their links with NATO are still intact.  

In the end, institutions do matter.