Türkiye and NATO
What drove Türkiye to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1952 in what was the first wave of enlargement? Do you know how the city of Izmir contributed to reinforcing Euro-Atlantic security during the Cold War? Discover the monumental gift Türkiye offered the Alliance in 1960 and find out how a young Turkish scientist became a Nobel Prize winner with, inter alia, the help of NATO.
You will find in us an ally animated by a spirit of whole-hearted collaboration and ready to take a full share in all the efforts directed towards the realisation of the aims of the Treaty to which we are now acceding.Mehmet Fuat Köprülü
Speaking at the meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Lisbon, 20 February 1952
Straddling two continents, with a foot both in Europe and Asia, Türkiye is a multi-faceted country with a rich cultural heritage. Land of trade, agriculture and tourism, this vast country is at a crossroads of civilisations, between countries of the Middle East, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia.
As the Cold War developed in the post-war era, dividing Europe into Eastern and Western blocs, Türkiye chose to side with Western Powers. It is this policy that led to its membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on 18 February 1952. Since then, NATO has been the cornerstone of Türkiye’s defence and security policy.
Setting the scene
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded the Turkish Republic in 1923 and introduced vast reforms that led to the democratisation and modernisation of society – as early as 1934, women were granted the right to vote. Foreign policy was founded on the principle of "Peace at home, peace abroad" and sought to reinforce cooperation and regional security. For instance, Türkiye initiated the Balkan entente with Greece, Romania and Yugoslavia in 1934 and the Saadabad Pact of 1937 with Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Threatened on two fronts by forces of the Axis and the Soviet Union, Türkiye was non-belligerent during most of the Second World War. Once over, it joined Western democracies in standing up against Soviet expansion as the Cold War started to develop. Türkiye later benefited from the support of the Truman Doctrine (1947) and the Marshall Plan (1948) offered by the United States to deter communist influence and help with the economic reconstruction of post-war Europe. In 1950, Türkiye sent troops in support of the United Nations to defend South Korea from the North Korean incursion across the 38th parallel. As a result of growing threats to security in Europe, it joined NATO in 1952.
JOINING THE CLUB
As the Cold War gradually polarised international relations, putting the United States and the Soviet Union at loggerheads, Türkiye saw its membership of NATO both as a security guarantee and a way of reinforcing its Western identity. Seeking NATO membership was as much a political move as it was a military one. For NATO, Türkiye's capacity to provide land and sea bases, its strong military forces and its strategic importance on the south eastern flank of the Alliance, meant that the country would be a solid ally in the region. The Montreux Convention, signed on 20 July 1936, set the rules governing the passage of vessels of war through the Straits. Türkiye has implemented the Convention in full transparency and impartiality since then.
It was in Lisbon, Portugal, at the ninth meeting of the North Atlantic Council on 20 February 1952 that Türkiye was formally welcomed as one of NATO's first two new members, alongside Greece; two days prior, Türkiye had signed its Instruments of Accession.
Support for the West was practically unanimous across the country and went beyond military and security considerations. Türkiye identified itself with the West and its values, which helped the successive İnönü and Menderes governments introduce political and economic reform over two decades. A NATO film produced in the 1950s, as part of a series on NATO member countries, captures the atmosphere of this era and the country’s main characteristics: its strategic advantages, its political and historical heritage, and its profound post-war economic transformation, as well as its industrial and military assets.
This film, together with other initiatives were taken by NATO to help members get to know each other. The photo collection below depicts the daily life of Turkish citizens from different walks of life.
Some initiatives took on a more educational aspect and consisted, for instance, in the creation of posters of the uniforms of the militaries of each member country. One such poster was produced on the Turkish armed forces.
From NATO’s point of view, Türkiye was a cornerstone of Western security on its southern flank, so communicating with its citizens to explain NATO’s role was vital. NATO went to people’s doorstep with its mobile exhibition called “Caravan of Peace”. This resonated in a country where Atatürk’s mantra had been “Peace at home, peace abroad”. The “Caravan of Peace” attracted much curiosity: during a total of 29 days, over 420,000 people in Ankara, Izmir and Istanbul visited the exhibition, an equivalent of 30 per cent of these cities’ populations.
Türkiye embraced NATO membership and used it as an opportunity, for instance, to reorganise its army. The United States was particularly active in offering support in many areas, including military, economic and even educational spheres; it provided military assistance for many years. In parallel, Türkiye sought to maintain strong links with its other European Allies, some of whom had embarked on the adventure of constructing a “European Economic Community” of states. Türkiye’s first institutional tie with Europe after the Second World War was with the Council of Europe: it became a founding member in August 1949. Later, in July 1959, Türkiye applied to be associated with the European Economic Community (EEC) – the forerunner of the European Union. The negotiations resulted in the “Ankara Agreement”, which created an association between Türkiye and the EEC, 12 September 1963.
Türkiye also cultivated relations with its neighbours in the region: in 1953, it signed the Balkan Pact with Greece and Yugoslavia to protect the latter from the perceived threat of the Soviet Union at the time; and in 1955, it played a key role in the formation of the Baghdad Pact - or Central Treaty Organization (CENTO). This pact brought together Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Türkiye and the United Kingdom in a defensive military alliance until 1979, when it was dissolved.
More than a gift – a symbol
In 1960, Türkiye offered a monumental mosaic that has since adorned three political headquarters – Porte Dauphine in Paris, France, and the first and second (current) headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. It weighs 10 tons and measures over 14 metres by 3,5.
One of the most prolific figures in the history of contemporary Turkish art, Artist Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu created the art work over a period of six months. It combines the Anatolian tradition of making mosaics with that of folk symbols. A former Ambassador to NATO, Mehmet Fatih Ceylan, describes the design as a symbol of Türkiye’s integration into the Alliance and, more broadly, into the Western world.
Türkiye’s strategic location on the south eastern flank of the Alliance increased NATO’s presence and area of responsibility to the entire Mediterranean and the Black Sea. With this in mind and just as the ink was drying on the Instrument of Accession signed by President Bayar, NATO Allies established a military headquarters in the port city of Izmir. Allied Land Forces Southeastern Europe (LANDSOUTHEAST) was opened on 11 June 1952. Its area of responsibility stretched from the Caucasus to the western shores of Greece. It was responsible, together with the subordinate Thessaloniki Advanced Command Post, for the operational control of Greek and Turkish land forces should a crisis or a conflict involving NATO break out. LANDSOUTHEAST was initially commanded by an American, with the support of two deputies: one from Türkiye and one from Greece. In 1974, Greece temporarily withdrew from NATO’s military command structure and in 1978, it was agreed that LANDSOUTHEAST would come under the command of a Turkish General, with an American Major-General to assist as deputy.
LANDSOUTHEAST was not the only NATO presence that Ankara allowed on Turkish territory. The Headquarters of the Sixth Allied Tactical Air Force was also based near Izmir on the grounds of the former American Collegiate Institute for Boys. Both came under the command of Allied Forces South (AFSOUTH), which had been based in Naples since 1951.
The Sixth Allied Tactical Air Force was NATO’s easternmost air headquarters. Its mission was to ensure the air defence of Greece and Türkiye, and deter any plans of aggression in this strategic corner of the world. It was supported by the Turkish 1st, 2nd and 3rd Tactical Air Forces and the Royal Hellenic 28th Tactical Air Force of Greece’s Air Force. It also utilised the services of the 39th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron of the Royal Air Force unit flying out of Malta.
Preparedness was essential for aerial warfare, so crews were carefully trained to be airborne within minutes. Aircraft assigned to the Sixth Allied Tactical Air Force included jet fighters with conventional and nuclear capabilities, while others were simply reconnaissance aircraft.
NIKE surface-to-air missiles also formed part of the air defence of Türkiye and Greece and, furthermore, in the early 1960s, NATO was authorised by Ankara to station medium-range Jupiter missiles near Izmir for a short period of time. The NATO pipeline system, set up during the Cold War to provide fuel supplies in times of crises, also ran through the country, and the government authorised the use of some of its military bases by NATO forces. Turkey participated in the NATO Air Defence Ground Environment (NADGE) programme, which provided the Alliance with a powerful barrier against the intrusion of fast-flying, or even supersonic, enemy aircraft into the NATO European airspace. An unbroken chain of stations ran through several NATO member countries to improve the Alliance’s ability to detect, identify and intercept aircraft and, if it came to that, destroy enemy aircraft.
First female fighter jet pilot
© Turkish Air Force
The first female fighter jet pilot to operate under a NATO flag was Leman Bozkurt Altınçekiç, from the Turkish Air Force, in the early 1950s.
Türkiye, together with the Netherlands and Denmark, were the first NATO countries to allow women in their Air Forces. However, Türkiye was the first to train female fighter jet pilots.
A BROAD APPROACH TO FOREIGN POLICY
Since its inception, the security of the Republic of Türkiye has been shaped by two main elements: geography and longstanding ties with neighbouring countries.
During the Cold War, Türkiye helped coerce the Soviet navy, provided one of Europe’s largest armies and hosted critical NATO facilities. It also joined Allied forces in the many exercises that were organised throughout the Cold War.
Türkiye considers the Alliance as the linchpin of transatlantic ties and Euro-Atlantic security. Article 5 of the Washington Treaty –the Alliance's founding document- embodies the principle of collective defence and constitutes a valuable security guarantee for Türkiye, as it does for other Allies. At the same time, Türkiye is a valuable asset for NATO and continues to contribute to the protection of the south eastern border of the Alliance. Over time, its role within the Alliance has adapted alongside the changing circumstances, risks and challenges that came with the end of the Cold War, while remaining committed to the shared effort of maintaining peace and security in the Euro-Atlantic area.
How science can change lives
During the Cold War, Türkiye had a strong interest in NATO's science programme in more than one way. The most notable story is that of a boy from the province of Mardin in south-east Türkiye - Aziz Sancar.
After toying with the idea of becoming a football star, Aziz decided to dedicate his life to research. Along the way, NATO supported his efforts, together with the Turkish Scientific and Technological Research Council (TUBITAK), with a fellowship grant that allowed him to move to the United States and take his research further. Later, he benefitted from two collaborative research grants from NATO that helped him and his colleagues focus on DNA repair; their work provided a better understanding of how our bodies fix DNA mutations that can cause serious illnesses and aging. Aziz went on to win the Nobel Prize in 2015 by pursuing research in this subject area with two fellow scientists. He also set up a mentoring programme for young researchers, helping them as he had been helped in the past.
With the ultimate aim of encouraging mobility and fostering long-lasting ties between scientists, the NATO science programme has funded collaborative research in many ground-breaking domains. Professor Nimet Özdaş – a Turkish national - was able to pioneer a huge anti-pollution project when he led NATO's science programme in the 1970s. Turkey, together with Greece and Portugal, were the main beneficiaries of the Science for Stability programme during that period.
The following film entitled "Prospect of Türkiye" was produced by NATO in cooperation with Turkish Radio and Television and the Turkish Director-General for Press and Information, on the occasion of the centennial of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's birth in 1981. The memory of Atatürk's birth was honoured by the United Nations and UNESCO by declaring 1981 as the Atatürk Year in the world. The film showcases Turkey's cultural and economic assets while explaining how Atatürk's reforms endured through time.