What would happen if Russia destroyed Turkey?

They all came to the anniversary summit, the heads of state and government of the NATO countries. The Atlantic Alliance will be 70 years old on April 4th, 2019. There will be speeches and self-assurances. But then the Turkish president blows up the celebrations with an announcement: His country, says Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the sidelines of the summit, will leave the integrated command structure of the alliance. He reserves the right to take further steps. A complete exit is also on the table as an option.

This is how it could play out if what experts from the Berlin Science and Politics Foundation (SWP) have designed as a scenario occurs: Turkey is leaving NATO - and both the country itself and the shrunken alliance have to find their way in a new world . In the study "While we were planning", the authors spin the anniversary surprise even further.

The day after the summit, Erdoğan explained his motives in a CNN interview: The allies did not appreciate Turkey's achievements enough, interfered in domestic Turkish affairs and lacked engagement in the fight against terror. The final impetus was the military clash between Turkey and the United States in northern Syria, in which Turkish soldiers were killed in August 2018.

The Turkish-American relationship suffered the most

It's still a mind game. We are not yet in the year 2019. There have been no direct skirmishes between Turkish and US soldiers, and Turkey has left NATO. At the moment it even looks as if NATO membership is one of the more stable links between Ankara and the West. In any case, more stable than the vague prospect of EU accession, which nobody believes any longer. Nevertheless, the scenario is not absurd.

The processes that, according to the SWP authors, could culminate in Turkey's departure have long been underway. Alienation grows. The Turkish government has felt threatened by the West since the Gezi protests in 2013, when there was a lot of sympathy for the demonstrators in Western Europe and the USA, but especially since the failed coup attempt in summer 2016. At that time, many Western governments were only hesitant to express their solidarity - which gave the impression in Ankara that the West sympathized with the putschists.

The mistrust is heightened by the fact that the alleged mastermind of the coup, the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, lives in the USA and the US authorities have so far made no move to extradite him. Germany and other European countries also grant asylum for diplomats and officers who are considered putschists in Turkey. For the Turkish government, the attitude of the West is outrageous.

The Turkish-American relationship suffered the most. Next to Gülen, Syria is the biggest point of contention. Washington supports the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG with weapons and logistics; from the US perspective, the Kurds are powerful allies against the IS terrorist militia. For Ankara, the YPG is an offshoot of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and therefore a terrorist organization that must be fought at all costs. Kurdish aspirations for independence have always been a nightmare for Turkey; the strengthening of the Kurds in northern Syria has intensified these fears.

Erdoğan is not alone in his distrust of the West

The fact that the USA, a NATO partner, are doing common cause with the YPG, an "enemy" of the Turkish state, is perceived in Ankara as a frontal attack on national integrity. On all sides there is growing nervousness that Erdoğan could send his troops from Afrin on to the Kurdish city of Manbij. US troops are also stationed there; the feared clash could occur. Such an incident would actually plunge NATO into a serious crisis.

The exit scenario is based on the assumption that the current leadership remains in power, i.e. Erdoğan and his AKP win the early elections. How the crisis with the West would develop if opposition forces came to power is uncertain. What is clear, however, is that Erdoğan is not alone in his distrust of the West. The SWP study cites polls from 2017, according to which 72 percent of Turks see the US as the greatest threat; four years ago it was 44 percent. NATO only got 23 percent approval.

Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1952, almost from the very beginning. Structures that have grown over decades cannot be quickly dismantled. However, Ankara has been working on alternatives for a long time. Above all, Russia has come into play as a new strategic partner. While the goals of Turkey and the USA in the Middle East are drifting more and more apart, Ankara is trying to coordinate with Moscow. In addition, the two countries are expanding their cooperation in energy supply and defense. Ankara's decision to replace the Russian missile defense system sparked outrage S-400 to buy. Many see this as a strategic realignment. In order to "maintain and operate a system that is central to the security of the country", says the SWP study, "a larger number of Russian officers will be permanently stationed in Turkey in the future". A worrying prospect for NATO.

The fact that the Turkish government dismissed almost 25,000 military personnel after the attempted coup is also viewed with concern. Not only is there a lack of know-how. In addition to Gülen supporters, there were also many so-called Atlanteans who were trained in the West and who have a positive attitude towards the alliance. Even if Turkey remains in NATO, political and operational cooperation is likely to become more difficult.

Turkey's departure would be a severe blow for NATO. No country has ever left the alliance - a precedent like Brexit for the EU. It would weaken NATO at a time of great uncertainty. According to the SWP experts, an exit would also have serious operational consequences. Geostrategically, Turkey is of "inestimable importance". Numerous NATO institutions are on Turkish soil.

Turkey is involved in ongoing NATO operations, such as "Resolute Support" in Afghanistan; their quotas would have to be replaced.

Financially, her exit would also tear a hole that other members would have to fill. Last but not least, the "anti-Western camp" would be politically strengthened, the authors state. Turkey would move even closer to Russia; economically, it could seek closer proximity to China and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

It doesn't have to happen that way, emphasize the SWP experts. Nevertheless, they make precautionary recommendations: The alliance should work to prevent the exit scenario. Should it come to an extreme, new ways would have to be found to bind Turkey institutionally. Whatever the case, it would be a turning point for Turkey and NATO with unforeseeable consequences.