A Turkish bump in the Swedish (and Finnish?) road to Nato
May 16, 2022
As Sweden and Finland the other day were about to finalize their watershed decision on joining Nato – after all these years of military non-alignment – a cold Turkish shower was surprisingly delivered, with first the Turkish president Erdogan and then his foreign minister Cavusoglu announcing that Turkey would not welcome the two north European countries as new members of the alliance.
As Sweden and Finland the other day were about to finalize their watershed decision on joining Nato – after all these years of military non-alignment – a cold Turkish shower was surprisingly delivered, with first the Turkish president Erdogan and then his foreign minister Cavusoglu announcing that Turkey would not welcome the two north European countries as new members of the alliance. Both explained that this Turkish stand was due to both countries supporting, in fact hosting, groups deemed by Turkey to be terrorists. Attempts at foreign minister level in conjunction with the recent Nato foreign minister meeting in Berlin (to which SE and FI as de facto candidate members) to sort out any misunderstandings or misgivings seemed to have failed. For now.
Even if it had been expected that the Turkey factor could become a bump in the road at the stage when all 30 current member states of Nato are to have their respective parliaments ratify an accession agreement – in view of a certain history of parliament surprises in Turkey, notably its final non-acceptance of the USA attacking Saddam Hussein´s Iraq via Turkish territory in 2003 – it did seem to come as a surprise to many that the Turkish president should seize this immediate opportunity to make such a point. However, it should not have come as a surprise, considering that moves like this have happened before (e g the case some years back when Turkey withheld its acceptance of a NATO support package for the Baltics and Poland for several months, asking in return to have Nato stamp Syrian YPG as a terrorist organization), and that current political and economic pressures on the Turkish government makes it constantly look for opportunities for counter-pressure.
So signaling intention or at least readiness to now block Sweden´s and Finland´s entry into Nato is in fact a signal primarily to the US and the wider EU that Turkey demands respect for its national security concerns and is not willing to give anything away – when the opportunity arises – without asking for negotiations, or horse trading: what´s in it for us, what concessions are you ready to offer, in return? What is the US, as a supporter of Sweden´s and Finland´s Nato bid, willing to offer Turkey in return for Turkey de-blocking this matter and accepting a fast track?
But the case of Turkey. Sweden and the Kurdish question are decades old – what is new now is the opportunity given to the embattled Turkish president by the current Nato issue to lift an old stick afresh. But he does so well aware that even of the PKK matter has for long been a stone in the Swedish-Turkish diplomatic shoe, well before Erdogan coming to power 2002, the other side of the coin since many years has been a Turkish appreciation of Sweden´s strategic view of and support of Turkey´s bid for membership in the European Union. So we have here a case of Turkish strategic ambivalence: appreciation of Sweden´s basic support for Turkey´s EU ambitions, but dislike of Sweden´s critical stance over human rights abuses and refusal to treat other Kurdish groups, in Turkey and Syria/Iraq (and elsewhere) as terrorists, in the expansive Turkish definition. Sensitivities are based also on the fact that in Sweden, rather unlike Finland, there is a rather group of Kurdish origin immigrants.
It is also possible that regime circles in Ankara see the current Nato issue as an opening of sorts for some revanche (of sorts): if you keep blocking our membership of the EU (through pursuance of Turkey HR criticisms in the EU and the Council of Europe), we are ready to block your entry to Nato; tit for tat. For now. In any case, it seems inconceivable that no matter how prioritized our Nato issue the current situation should or could make Sweden rush to Ankara with a package of concessions over matters of principle. Rather, Sweden and Finland could now make use of pledged solidarity from the US and other leading Western countries, those that share our views on human rights and responsibly limited definitions of terrorism. It should be remembered that in the critical struggle against ISIS some years back, the Kurdish YPG sacrificed some 11 000 or more lives. Whereas the US lost no more than some 10.
One needs to add here one more element. In a year´s time at the latest Turkey will be constitutionally obliged to carry out elections, parliamentary and presidential, a crucial test of the Erdogan regime´s viability, survivability and legitimacy in an extremely problematic context of economic crisis and foreign policy difficulties, especially the Ukraine crisis. In the unavoidably heated electoral campaign the Kurdish question in its entirety will be a core dimension, including the high probability that sooner rather than later the regime (Erdogan´s AKP in coalition with Turk-nationalistic MHP) will implement plans already at work to close the pro-Kurdish party HDP, a hugely destabilizing measure.
So no wonder. perhaps, given this larger drama, the Erdogan regime in Turkey is seizing any opportunity to help boost its clear and present need for legitimacy and international respect. This time it happens to affect Swedish and Finnish security core interests. A reminder that security in North Europe security is not only an East-West matter, but also a North-South one.
Regardless of developments of the Turkey-Sweden/Finland-Nato issue during the next few days, the Turkish president, after all, is a master of surprise moves.