That is likely a significant reason why the United States and other key NATO powers opposed the coup and quickly expressed support for the President Erdogan’s government. But Erdogan’s victory over an extraordinarily inept coup plot did not signal a victory for a truly democratic Turkey. Instead, his government has used the incident to purge not only the military, but the judiciary and the educational system of thousands of opponents. The extent and speed of the purge confirms that Erdogan simply used the attempted coup as a pretext for a plan long in place. NATO still confronts the problem of a member state that is now a dictatorship in all but name. That is likely to be unpalatable to several fellow members and cause serious tensions and divisions in the alliance.
But Turkey’s descent into authoritarianism is hardly the only sign of illness in the alliance. There are noticeable uncertainties about the most pressing security issue: how to deal with Russia. Most of the East European members embrace a confrontational stance toward Moscow, believing that any sign of weakness will only encourage the Kremlin to become even more abrasive and belligerent. NATO’s political and military leadership clearly favors a similar approach. So far, the hawkish strategy has largely prevailed. NATO has conducted air, naval and ground force maneuvers in the Baltic region, the Black Sea, Poland and Ukraine. The decision to deploy three battalions to the Baltic republics (along with one to Poland), ratified at the recent Warsaw summit as a symbol of NATO’s determination to defend even those highly vulnerable members, reflects a similar mentality.