I was just reading this article detailing how Turkey purchased tanks from Germany to fight the Kurds, who had been armed by the British and the US.

So a NATO member bought weapons from another NATO member to fight a group backed by a third and fourth NATO members. This sounds insane to me and makes me wonder what NATO could do about it, if anything?

  • Are you asking specifically about the scope of NATO as written in the treaty or are you asking if a group of NATO members could speak out about this regardless of whether they are enabled to do so by the treaty?
    – JJJ
    Mar 25, 2021 at 6:07
  • I guess both? I know the treaty itself is fairly short, but there's also the treaty's governing body, the NAC, which I think must have more to say about it than just the text of the treaty.
    – Ryan_L
    Mar 25, 2021 at 6:09
  • Yes, of course. What made you think it could be otherwise? Mar 25, 2021 at 23:52
  • It got really confusing in the past when greece (nato) and turkey (also nato) was at each other throats about some sparsely inhabited islands.
    – Stian
    Mar 26, 2021 at 8:19
  • It helps if you think of NATO as more of a compatibility matrix for weapon system exports (and weapon sales/sellers) than as a political organization or binding treaty. It is allegedly the latter, but behaves more like the former. Mar 26, 2021 at 12:58

3 Answers 3


There's nothing in the treaty that prevents Turkey from doing what it's doing. First and foremost, NATO is a defense alliance that's aimed at attacks against its member states.

While the Kurds in Syria are an ad-hoc ally of some NATO members, Turkey views them as enemies. Allies of NATO members are not protected by NATO, so there is no article 5 obligation for NATO members to step in.

Aside from that, NATO members are regular countries which use diplomatic tools to pursue their interests. Aside from Turkey, I don't think other NATO members approve of the fight against the Kurds, but doing more than just speaking out has consequences.

First of all, Turkey is a NATO member and as such it is an ally of other NATO members. Doing more than speaking out hurts that relationship. As such, any response beyond speaking out has to weighed: the benefit of taking action to prevent conflicts that you don't approve of (view as unnecessary / harmful) against the downside of pushing an ally away.

The apt schoolyard proverb would state that it may be better overall to have someone inside the tent pissing out than to have them outside the tent pissing in.

Specifically with Turkey, NATO allies will be wary of Turkey entering Russia's sphere of influence over their own. An example of such tensions is the purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems.

Turkey is also NATO's way into the Middle East. In turn, the Middle East is an important logistical artery for ships travelling between Asia and Europe. To maintain geopolitical stability in the face of Saudi-Iranian tensions, Turkey is strategically located if the conflict escalates.

Punishing Turkey too hard may cause it to enter (even further) into Russia's sphere of influence and that may be seen as a greater downside than some proxy wars in Syria where NATO allies have little if any interests other than humanitarian concerns.

  • 1
    (+1) Interestingly, you could easily turn things around. It's not only about what Turkey is doing or how it could be influenced. From Turkey's perspective (even among people with very different political leanings), what the country is doing is just defending its core interests in a region where much more is at stake for them. Shouldn't an alliance like NATO preclude another country arming an irregular fighting force they have called terrorist?
    – Relaxed
    Mar 25, 2021 at 22:14
  • Beyond that, do all NATO members approve getting involved in Syria? In Libya, things are even messier with widely different strategies between NATO countries where Turkey was not always the odd one out.
    – Relaxed
    Mar 25, 2021 at 22:23
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    @Relaxed oh yeah, even between (other) NATO members there are different foreign policy interests and views. For example, Germany is more pacifist whereas others are more interventionist. Regarding Syria, there's a NATO-wide interest to keep ISIS contained. There's little interest in having an all-out war, so there has to be a balance. That results in ad-hoc alliances and sometimes these conflict (e.g. supporting groups which allies or other branches of government deem the enemy).
    – JJJ
    Mar 26, 2021 at 1:24
  • Just as an example for some of the diplomatic complications that may arise: İncirlik Air Force Base is, for all intents and purposes a US Air Force Base. While it technically belongs to the Turkish Air Force, US service members outnumber Turkish ten to one. In addition, the base is also home to the Royal Air Force, Royal Saudi Air Force, and Spanish anti-aircraft artillery units. Oh, and the USAF stores dozens of nuclear warheads there. The German Air Force also staged out of İncirlik. The base is the most important logistics and staging hub for basically every war and intervention the US … Mar 26, 2021 at 22:43
  • … and NATO (as well as individual NATO members) were involved in during the last 30 years: Iraq I and II, Afghanistan, ISIL, several humanitarian missions. This relationship goes way back, even in the 1950s, the US launched spy balloons and U-2s directed at the USSR from there. Mar 26, 2021 at 22:50

That is not the generally accepted meaning of a proxy war, where one country uses surrogate forces to fight another.

For example, North Vietnam was a proxy for Soviet-bloc aggression against US interests.

While Afghanistan saw the US back the Mujahideen to serve as proxies to hurt the USSR.

If Turkey was a close German ally (it is not) and if the Kurds were being used by the British and the US to "get at" either Turkey or Germany, then you could talk about proxy wars. This is not the case here and the Kurds getting provisioned with weapons is largely them getting rewarded/outfitted for pulling US chestnuts out of the fire in Iraq and against ISIS, rather than to attack Turkey.

Note also that, to a large extent, Turkey could also just choose to mind its own business and only oppress Kurds on its territory, rather than also in neighboring states. But again, it is doing so on its own terms and not to further the interests of Germany against the US or the UK.

As to the level of anxiety caused by this kerfuffle to other NATO members, it seems rather less worrying than the occasional Greek-Turkish flareups.

Edit: for those who might be wondering about my focus on proxy wars, the original title of this question was Doesn't NATO have something to say about proxy wars between its membersconflicts with non-NATO allies?

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    Turkey isn't a close German ally? I mean, they are part of a mutual self defence pact backed by the use of nuclear weapons and the thread of global annihilation. Seems reasonably close.
    – Yakk
    Mar 25, 2021 at 18:23
  • 5
    Would you then call Greece and Turkey close allies? Your same conditions apply ;-) Outside the limits specified by Article 5 on mutual assistance in case of outside attack, I wouldn't call their relationship all that close. Turkey is generally kept somewhat at arms length by the rest of Europe. Before Erdogan because they weren't all that keen on admitting it in the EU and because of Greek lobbying, Since Erdogan because of his policies. Plus Germany has some special relationship due to the number of Turkish immigrants living there, but that is not always cause for harmony. Mar 25, 2021 at 18:32
  • 1
    I don't think I'd use Greece and Turkey's relationship as an analogy for any other international relationship.
    – Yakk
    Mar 25, 2021 at 18:38
  • 3
    they are part of a mutual self defence pact backed by the use of nuclear weapons and the thread of global annihilation You can have close allies within NATO and not-so-close allies. I, again, would not call Turkey-Germany all that close. Merkel-Erdogan seem to be doing a "reset" of sorts lately, but have frequently traded (small) barbs in the past. Mar 25, 2021 at 18:39
  • @Yakk: If there was a way to expel a country from NATO, Turkey would probably have been given the boot by now.
    – Vikki
    Mar 26, 2021 at 22:06

Most of this never shows in the mainstream media. After the failed coup in Turkey the US both removed spoused of diplomats as if it was no longer a safe country and also moved neuclear missiles to Bulgaria.

So I think the answer to your question is yes, but it isn't a public thing.

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