Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “disturbing” foreign policy has spurred U.S. officials to intensify preparations to withdraw from Incirlik Air Force base, according to a senior Republican senator and American analysts.
“We don’t know what’s gonna happen to Incirlik,” Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee for Europe, told the Washington Examiner. “We hope for the best, but we have to plan for the worst.”
Erdogan has threatened American access to the base, which reportedly houses dozens of U.S. nuclear weapons, multiple times since he squashed a failed coup attempt in 2016.
A withdrawal would signal a major shift in the balance of trust between the United States and the country that boasts the second-largest military in NATO, but Erdogan’s increasing affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin and truculence with other NATO allies has angered American officials and raised the specter of other crises in the transatlantic alliance.
“We want to maintain our full presence and cooperation in Turkey,” Johnson said. “I don’t think we want to make that strategic shift, but I think, from a defensive posture, I think we have to look at the reality of the situation that the path that Erdogan is on is not good”.
The disagreements between Turkey and other NATO allies has grown in recent years, in part due to Erdogan’s purchase of advanced Russian anti-aircraft missile systems — a decision that led President Trump’s administration to expel Turkey from the F-35 stealth fighter program. More recently, Erdogan has gotten embroiled in a maritime boundary dispute with Greece, a controversy grave enough to prompt NATO officials to intervene to try to ensure that the two alliance members avoided a military clash.
“My main worry is an unintentional clash,” the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ senior Turkey analyst Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish lawmaker and Erdogan critic, said during a discussion of the Turkey-Greece dispute. “Even a short-lived military conflict could be extremely detrimental to NATO. Because when you think about it, you know, from the Russian perspective, nothing could be better than two key members of NATO’s southeastern flank fighting with one another.”
Both Turkey and Greece joined NATO in 1952, but the U.S. relationship with the two countries is trending in opposite directions. “We’re already looking at Greece as an alternative,” Johnson said while considering a prospective exit from Incirlik.