Turkey’s threat to veto Sweden and Finland’s applications for NATO membership could be a ploy to win concessions from other countries and increase its strategic importance, a former NATO official has warned.
Turkey has accused Sweden and Finland of supporting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is seen as a terrorist organization, and has demanded that they overthrow the PKK and its affiliates.
“NATO is a security alliance, and Turkey will not agree to jeopardize this security,” said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
But according to Jamie Shea, NATO’s former Deputy Secretary-General for New Security Challenges: “NATO is a very public institution, which means you can go from zero to 100 in terms of visibility if you have this bilateral issue and put pressure very quickly.”
He added: “Turkey is in shape for this kind of thing. Turkey has used NATO in the past to serve bilateral issues.”
In 2009, Erdogan protested against the appointment of Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Denmark’s former Prime Minister, as NATO Secretary General, for reasons similar to those to which Ankara now refers in the case of Sweden and Finland.
“He felt by causing this disappointment at the last minute: ‘I have made my point, Turkey has been in the headlines, everyone has talked about me, I have used NATO as a lever to try to sort out bilateral issues and get a lot of attention. because the stakes were so high, “said Dr Shea.
A similar situation occurred in 2019 when NATO adopted new defense contingency plans for the three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
According to Karabekir Akkoyunlu, Lecturer in Middle Eastern Politics at Soas, University of London: “Erdogan seems to believe that the war in Ukraine has increased Turkey’s strategic importance both for Russia and for Ukraine and the West.
“Although no one is particularly pleased with Turkey’s balancing act, no one wants to alienate it either. Erdogan seems determined to make the most of this situation. “
The Turkish president’s stance on Sweden and Finland may also have been prompted by a difficult political situation at home.
In 2019, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AK) was defeated in five of Turkey’s six largest cities, including Istanbul and Ankara, in local elections. Turkey is now suffering from a weakening economic crisis, with the lira falling sharply in recent months and inflation spiraling.
Projecting strength on the global stage is a way for Erdogan to gain the support of his constituents. “Erdogan seems to be targeting several target groups and targets,” said Dr Akkoyunlu.
“On one level, his stance reflects Turkey’s long-running quarrel with Nordic governments, especially Sweden, which has a reputation in Turkey as a haven for individuals and groups defined by the Turkish state (and in the case of the PKK, by the EU) as a terrorist. [organisations].
“By standing up for Turkey’s” national interests “, Erdogan is also appealing to the nationalist electorate at home, which is increasingly divided between supporting and opposing his government, ahead of decisive elections next year.
“To back away from its obstructionist position, the Turkish government will insist on some form of guarantee or co-operation from these countries, which Erdogan can show as a victory at home.”
But while Turkey’s concerns about the Kurdish separatists were undoubtedly a “sincere element,” Dr Shea said, “it is a broader way … to get more arms supplies to Turkey from Europe and the United States.
“Turkey has been dissatisfied with other countries refusing to supply arms to Turkey. Erdogan has had beef with other EU countries on arms sales,” he added.
A particularly difficult issue is a dispute with the United States over an agreement to supply Turkey with fighter jets, which fell apart in 2019 after Ankara bought Russian-made S400 missile systems. The United States stopped supplying Turkey with F-35 jets and sanctioned its defense industry.
However, Joe Biden has recently called on Congress to approve upgrades to Turkey’s fleet of F-16 fighter jets, as well as the sale of the latest version, which may help alleviate Turkey’s irreconcilability with Sweden and Finland.
“[Turkey’s refusal] is a way of negotiating Finland and Sweden that will also get more arms sales to Turkey from the EU and the F-16 agreement from the USA “, he added.
According to Dr Akkoyunlu, “While Erdogan seems to be putting the price of Turkey’s rapprochement with the West, he is also sending a signal to the Kremlin about the value of his government for Russia.”
However, he added: “I would like to warn against underestimating Erdogan’s determination. We have every reason to take him seriously. Time and time again he has followed up with threats that were considered bluffs and shown that he is not withdrawing from a diplomatic crisis.”
Dr Shea said it was more than likely that the problems would be solved, Turkey would be pacified and Sweden and Finland would be allowed to join NATO.
“Turkey must be aware that the countries that support it the most, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, are the ones that most want Finland and Sweden in, so Turkey can not afford to lose friends, so the press will pay off and due to Erdogan has done before, it is expected that it will go the same way: there will be some kind of agreement. “
Finland and Sweden submitted their applications to join the alliance this week, citing the threat from Russia as the Kremlin continues its invasion of Ukraine. Their features mark a major shift in European strategic policy.