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Turning Turkey Around

In search of unanimity within NATO.

President Erdogan of Turkey
Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The events of February 24th, 2022, have probably changed Europe forever. While it brought the continent together in solidarity with Ukraine, it has also demonstrated how varied its states are and how different their agendas are.

With the Kremlin toppling the rules-based order by crossing international borders, European countries, especially those near Russia, are shoring up their defenses. What better way to do so than to join the greatest military alliance in history—NATO?

Turkey has openly expressed its opposition as the two Scandinavian nations, Finland and Sweden, pursue induction into NATO with urgency. With the unanimous approval of all existing members as a prerequisite for admitting new members, the Turkish President’s stand could stall the fast-paced decision the two countries were hoping for.

Turkey joined NATO in 1952 and was a strong ally of the organization for a decade before that. Its geographic position, bordering Syria and Iraq to the south and southeast, makes it a strategic partner for many of the international missions in the region.

After the invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent holdup of food grains in the country, the Turkish government was urged to create a safe food corridor in the Black Sea to facilitate transportation of the same. Even as the country plays a crucial role in mitigating some of the fallout from the Ukraine war, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is using the situation to fulfill some of the country’s long-standing demands.

Turkey is opposing the entry of Sweden and Finland based on the two nations’ refusal to extradite Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) members. This insurgent group has been fighting to secure greater rights for Turkish Kurds in the country. Ankara has deemed the group terrorists, which has led to a strained relationship with the West, which relies on Kurdish fighters to combat Islamic State.

After the Syrian War, the PKK has spread its network throughout Europe, including in Sweden. At one point, Greece and Italy provided refuge to the PKK’s imprisoned founder and leader, Abdullah Öcalan, leading Ankara to question Europe’s commitment to the country’s sentiments and demands.

President Erdoğan, well aware of the situation and his bargaining power, is also demanding the lifting of embargoes on Turkey’s defense industry, which were imposed after Ankara bought Russian air defense systems.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted that he had discussed with Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin “the need to address Turkey’s concerns and move forward.” Concessions will have to be made to the “valued ally” to secure his support and pave the way for NATO expansion into Scandinavia. President Erdoğan is stipulating that NATO be “ready to show alliance solidarity.”

A few days ago, the EU had to contend with Hungarian objections when it came to imposing sanctions on the import of Russian oil. NATO will also have to yield to at least some of President Erdoğan’s demands. It remains to be seen what concessions will be granted to expand NATO’s presence in Europe. It also raises the question, how will the organization fare in the coming years when members lack trust within the alliance?

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