Coups Inside NATO: A Disturbing History

Exclusive: Turkey’s embattled President Erdogan suspects U.S. sympathy for the failed coup if not outright assistance to the coup plotters, a belief that has some basis in history, writes Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

The Turkish government’s strong suspicion that Washington sympathized with or covertly backed the recent failed military coup — even if completely unfounded — may seriously damage the Western alliance.

After all, the preamble to the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty emphasizes the determination of the signing countries “to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a message on the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016. (Turkish government photo)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a message on the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016. (Turkish government photo)

Emphasizing the high political stakes for the alliance, India’s former Ambassador to Turkey M. K. Bhadrakumar recently declared that the “Turkish allegation has no precedent in NATO’s 67-year old history – of one member plotting regime change in another member country through violent means.”

But the assumption that NATO has always before respected peaceful political change within its ranks is false. The historical record — which may fuel Turkish paranoia — suggests that anti-communist solidarity within the alliance has too often taken precedence over the fine democratic sentiments endorsed in NATO’s founding document.

Before this summer’s botched attempt, for example, Turkey previously experienced military coups in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997. Comforted by the staunch anti-communism of its military, U.S. officials rarely batted an eye when Turkish officers took charge. In some cases, Washington may have had foreknowledge of the plots.

The 1960 coup was engineered by Colonel Alparslan Türke?, reportedly a liaison officer to the CIA and founder of a NATO-backed “counter-guerrilla” paramilitary organization.

After that coup, which led to mass purges of judges, prosecutors and universities, the New York Times called it “gratifyingly reassuring” that “the new rulers declare that they remain completely loyal to…

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