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Is Turkey an Obstructionist Ally in NATO?

Finland and Sweden, two Nordic countries accelerated the bids to join NATO due to the security concern at face of Russian invasion to Ukraine.  It expected to see Stockholm and Helsinki will obtain so-called NATO invitee status by the Madrid summit in June 2022 which will allow both countries to be representative to observe the NATO and regularly attends the meetings. In order to be accepted to the alliance, all 30 members states must give consent for their accession. Literally, it is to say Yes to the Finland and Sweden. Russia objects it with “serious of military consequences” threats.

Turkey created a stumbling block

According to many diplomatic channels, all countries are in favor of the bids of and positive for both countries except one-member country of NATO. While all ambassadors of NATO members promised to support the decision of Finland and Sweden to NATO, Turkey stood out only member states to say Nay to the imminent memberships of these countries. Ahead of the talks, Turkey created a stumbling block which it was unheard of for all members. Finland president was confused seeing Turkey’s objection. He said, president of Turkey, Erdogan was in favor of the decision when both talked over the phone a month ago. Now this stumbling block must be achieved not through ambassadorial works but with high level of political officials’ involvement. It seems that Turkey will resist on its objection, to use the diplomatic cooperation open, talks for the political gain and outcome as Turkey is heading to the general election in 2023 that is expected to end the Erdogan 19 years of governance.

Although Erdogan said, indicating Sweden and Finland “they will come to the Turkey on Monday, don’t bother to come”, there is no consensus in Turkish political landscape to oppose the accession of the Nordic states. Opposition parties have not spoken yet about the crisis.  Simply, Erdogan says one thing, but the Defense Minister will say another; as recently as 2 weeks ago, Diplomats, ministerial figures, influencers reported in Erdogan’s AKP government that official communications or cables sent from senior officials as in ministerial heads of government can completely contradict statements from Erdogan in the same momentary vein when pressed for closure on Turkey’s official stance or position on a foreign affairs issue, geopolitical development, or moment of crisis.

The primary reservation for Turkey is not to admitting Stockholm and Helsinki to NATO is derived from their support of Kurdish separatist organizations operating in Turkey and the wider Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq and YPG the Kurdish separatists from Syria Turkey sees affiliations with PKK that United States supported YPG due to their work to defeat ISIS. Turkey believes that especially Sweden help this group members to carry out their grassroots, lobbying and financial activities and Sweden failed to respond Turkey’s request of the extraditions of some members of group.  After July 2016 failed military coup, many members of Gulen Movement find future in these countries fearing their lives at the risk in Turkey are also considered to be part of bargaining chip. Gulen movement members were subjected to genocidal treatment, isolations and deprived of fundamental human rights that is still ongoing, so far, Gulen movement have been rejecting the allegations that AKP Turkey designated them behind the coup.

Turkey is very ambivalent to add Gulen movement in the list

To me Turkey is very ambivalent to add Gulen movement in the list however, according to the Nordic Monitor, founded in Sweden by two exiled Journalists from Turkey, that their website and themselves are also in the list of the demand by Turkey to Sweden. While writing this article on May 19, Erdogan reiterated that Sweden is a home of terrorists, he also mentioned that Turkey made a mistake to accept Greece NATO membership. 

Recently, Prime minister of Greece paid a visit to United States and gave a speech in Senate, and received a standing ovation from senators must have disappointed Erdogan. I don’t think the two countries were having a history of hosting official delegations or full-blown amnesty to organizations like the PKK, PUK, or PJAK, but they have not recognized each group as a terrorist organization like the United States and United Kingdom.

Erdogan settles down less when push comes to shove

Recently, Erdogan has a history of coming hard and forceful at first when faced with an opportune geo-political moment to exercise leverage to influence outcomes both in the Middle East and abroad, but in the end, Erdogan settles down less when push comes to shove. Turkey seemed to have a favorable position or outlook on the prospect of admitting new members to NATO like Sweden and Finland. However, there is leverage to be that Turkey will take full advantage of what could possibly be the most significant watershed moment in the Russo-Ukrainian War. Analysts are counting on “Erdoganian Pragmatism” to prevail which means concessions will be made elsewhere, particularly in the area of defense to bolster Turkey’s national military industry.

If NATO expands with the ongoing war in Ukraine, Russia will have suffered a geopolitical defeat considering Moscow failed to deny NATO expansionism as a means of reinforcing action to Russia’s uncertain new foreign policy position dedicated to undermining NATO. I think Erdogan is playing the role of littoral harbinger, but making a concession to Russia by preventing the expansion of NATO while maintaining Ankara’s position as a major Ukrainian ally against Russia with the big picture objective of assuming the role of geopolitical mediator by bringing Moscow and Kiev to Turkey to negotiate an armistice.

What Finland and Sweden can do

There are many reasons for the NATO members along with Finland and Sweden not to heed Turkey’s demands, firmly oppose the decisions coming from Turkey but look for more convincing diplomacy without concessions. Because of along with the Erdogan pragmatism, Turkey has become an authoritarian regime with many human rights violation, anti-democratic treatments and hampered rule of law. Secondly, Turkey terrorism concept is politically coined and motivated designed in judicial system to crack down on Erdogan’s critics. It should not be taken seriously but Also, Turkey threats international renditions in many countries if the demands of extraditions are not met. Turkey has long time ago lost the liberal understanding of conducting business with its allies. As Turkey is already excluded itself from the value of the alliances and desires to be in the security umbrella which can be considered not a value based but a security-based ally will demise and questions Turkey’s strategical and valuable partner of the European security mechanism.

Turkey, founding and non-EU member of the NATO with the second largest army of NATO to block the Finland and Sweden talks due to the “terrorism” concerns are part of diversionary foreign policy to distract society from bundle of social and economic problems.

Abdulmelik Alkan is a political commentator and expert on South Caucasus and Turkey.

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Abdulmelik Alkan
Abdulmelik Alkan
Abdulmelik Alkan is a doctoral researcher focusing on Foreign Policy Analysis, South Caucus, diaspora and ethnic minorities.

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