Since the founding of NATO three of its members had military coups and juntas:

  1. Greece from 1967 to 1974
  2. Portugal from 1974 to 1975
  3. Turkey

    1. from 1960 to 1961
    2. in 1971
    3. from 1980 to 1983

Since NATO partners agreed to "contribute toward the further development of peaceful and friendly international relations by strengthening their free institutions." (NATO treaty, article 2), how did it handle this weakening of the free institutions of two of its members? Was it just "business as usual" for the soldiers?

Note: Portugal is special since in the end it actually strengthened the free institutions in Portugal.

  • The answers are mostly in the wiki articles you link to: Greece and Turkey were very important to NATO as they gave a strategic position close the underbelly of the USSR, and the juntas/coups in these countries were reasonably anti-communist. The Portuguese revolution of 1974 was different because the country was quite undemocratic before then.
    – user13123
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 3:27
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    Also, getting involved in the internal affairs of a state, worst of all a civil war, usually does not yield the desired results (unless your goal is to make the civil war worse). Recent history is full of examples for this...
    – DevSolar
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 8:17
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    During the Cold War it was better for NATO to deal with a military coup instead of a potential communist goverment.
    – Santiago
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 19:41

2 Answers 2


NATO stayed out of the way; and they "consulted"

Article 4

The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.

Civil war, insurrection, coup, and any number of other calamities short of war may meet those conditions, and thus trigger an official consultation.

The limitations of the Washington Treaty

The Washington Treaty was designed as a cooperative defensive treaty, not license to interfere with one another's internal politics. Granted, being in a multinational body where money is involved will bring with it varying amounts of influence. But interference in one another's internal political affairs is not addressed within the treaty.

Within the constraints of the Treaty, the organization as a whole can act only with unanimous decision, which makes any Alliance-wide response difficult to envision since whomever is having a problem may likely veto (or break silence) any proposed interference (or assistance?) from the combined group comprised of the other nations. If Turkey didn't ask for help, there wasn't going to be a NATO action. Likewise with Greece, etc.

My experience with the Turkish "post modern coup" in 1997

At our HQ (I worked for a Turkish officer) our Turkish colleagues disappeared for a few days when the various maneuverings in Turkey began that led to the 1997 Turkish Military Memorandum which amounted to the fall of Islamist Prime Minister Erbakan. NATO itself didn't issue a press release specifically covering that happening, though the governments of the 16 members of NATO (at that time) all dealt with the situation of their NATO ally differently, and in a bilateral mode.

Bottom Line: as an alliance, not much NATO could do. As individual members, offers of assistance were of course provided via the usual diplomatic channels irrespective of NATO connections.

What NATO has done recently; stayed out of the way, consulted, etc.

In the past year, events in Turkey have created a problem for NATO in the form of a diplomatic / political dilemma. The current government has taken the stand that most of the officers assigned outside Turkey on the NATO staffs are politically unreliable, and sent replacements with orders to the officers on the staff to return home. Needless to say, most of the officers believe that upon returning home they will be denied their freedom, or worse. Most of them appealed to host nations -- not NATO -- for political asylum. The German government, for example, granted asylum but that's bilateral/local decision, not an alliance-wide decision.

A report published in the German daily Suddeutscher Zeitung states that most of the asylum requests by military officers have been approved after the result of the 16 April 2017 referendum on constitutional reforms granting sweeping powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. However, the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) denied that the referendum outcome have affected their decision to grant asylum to the Turkish nationals, according to the report.

Most of the military officers whose asylum requests were approved were stationed in NATO bases in Germany or other European countries as well as in Africa.

The German Federal Ministry of Interior has confirmed that the asylum requests were approved

Regrettably, the notebook full of material from the NATO staff officer's course (circa 1995) that included some basics on the problem of coups within the alliance seems to have suffered from an attic cleaning and is no longer in my possession.

  • The current situation in Turkey is one reason for this question as it's likely that German forces will be removed from Turkey and I noticed that there is no way to expel a nation from NATO. Commented May 17, 2017 at 19:27
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    What German forces are deployed to Turkey, or are you talking about Turkey sending home the German nationals on NATO Staffs in Turkey? Indeed, a nation has to file a 1 year notification to leave NATO, the original charter did not include provision for "we'll throw you out" which makes for an interesting next decade as the Turks figure out what they are doing next. Commented May 17, 2017 at 19:39
  • German Tornados are at Incirlik. But Turkey is not allowing German Member of Parlament to visit them, so the troops will probably relocate to Jordan. Commented May 17, 2017 at 19:43
  • Mr Erdogan is all about burning bridges, it seems. Commented May 17, 2017 at 19:44
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    Apparently it's retaliation against the asylum for Turkish soldiers. It happened before last year: then it was retaliation against the German parliament recognizing the Armenian genocide for what it was. Commented May 17, 2017 at 19:51

You have to see it in the historical context. Compared to the Communists, they were "free" indeed, even as a military dictatorship. For suitable meanings of "free," which was mostly defined as being against the Communists.

  • Greece had fought a civil war in 46-48, which had left deep divisions, and the coup participants of 67 were very anti-Communist.
  • Turkey had agreed to base Jupiter MRBMs. In the eyes of the West, that conclusively proved their good faith.
  • Compared to the Communists, they were free indeed, even as a military dictatorship. +100
    – sds
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 14:58
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    @sds, my quotation marks were set with deliberation. It was a time when the West did overlook many flaws as long as the ally was anti-Communist.
    – o.m.
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 15:19
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    My removal of quotation marks was deliberate too. I lived through the most "vegetarian" period of communism and compared to that all those bloody dictatorships were free indeed.
    – sds
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 15:24

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