On July 29, the collective leadership of the Turkish military resigned en masse to protest Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's political persecution of current and former officers. Over the past several years, Erdoğan has ordered the arrest of several current and former officers on vague charges that they had plotted against the government. The government has failed to present evidence or even a formal indictment against many of the accused. The officers simply rot in prison without any trial or chance to defend themselves. Many Europeans cheer such actions so long as the targets are soldiers, but show their hypocrisy by raising hackles when the megalomaniacal Erdoğan acts similarly against journalists, writers, and professors. Many officers cannot afford to wait even a month for their shot at justice: Simply being accused disrupts careers and undermines promotions. Accordingly, morale in the armed forces has plummeted.
While some diplomats may cheer the end of the Turkish military's effective political influence at home, the fall of the Turkish military should worry Washington for quite a different reason: If Erdoğan erodes the independence of the military and, through purges and promotions, makes it a reflection of his own ideology, then all sharing of technology and techniques with the Turkish military can theoretically put U.S. national security at risk. I have written here both about NATO concerns about Turkey's dealings with Russia and China, as well as about concerns that Turkey might provide Iran or China with access to the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the backbone of American air defense for a generation to come. Curiously, Congress has failed to require the Pentagon to report on the vulnerability to and possibilities of technology leakage should the planned sale of the F-35 to Turkey go forward. The fear is enhanced by the sympathy Turkey's intelligence chief reportedly has for the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Turkey traditionally has been an important U.S. ally. Turkish troops fought alongside their American counterparts in the Korean War, suffering horrendous casualties as a result. Turkish forces have also pulled their weight in Afghanistan. Still, time marches on. Nostalgia is no basis for foreign policy. Turkey may be a NATO ally but, especially with the Turkish military no longer a check on Erdoğan's anti-Western tendencies, providing Turkey with top notch technology is not only ill-advised, but national security malpractice of the highest order.