Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan bolstered his image as a petty little tyrant Thursday by declaring that he will reject Finland and Sweden’s applications to join NATO, hindering the West’s efforts to stand up against Vladimir Putin’s aggression.
Worse, the Turkish threat inspired tiny Croatia to also declare opposition, though that’s likely just an effort to win some sort of bribe from other members.
In the wake of Russia’s war on Ukraine, the Swedes and Finns both abandoned their decades-long policies against entangling alliances, military or political.
It was a recognition that the world has changed: It’s no longer possible to see NATO as a tool of US imperialism while post-Soviet Russia no longer leads any kind of power bloc (but sadly is well on its way to rogue-nation status).
And both Finland and Sweden have been edging closer to NATO, cooperating on multiple fronts. “This is a good day at a critical moment for our security,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the day before the Turkish announcement. “Every nation has the right to choose its own path.”
Erdogan’s gripe is actually his own demand for a bribe: He wants the Swedes and Finns to end what he calls their support for “terrorist organizations,” chiefly the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and lift export bans on certain arms sales to Turkey.
In fact, the two nations have simply offered support to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which do cooperate somewhat with the PKK (because beggars can’t be choosers). Ironically, Erdogan early in his tenure actually neared peace in Ankara’s decades-long struggle against the PKK in Turkey, before his imperialist/Islamist ambitions reopened the conflict.
That is, his insistence that the rest of NATO respect Turkey’s “national security” is really about demanding a free hand for policies deeply at odds with core Western beliefs, including Stoltenberg’s “Every nation has the right to choose its own path.”
“NATO’s enlargement is meaningful to us to the extent that it respects our sensitivities,” Erdogan insists. But increasingly Turkey is the odd man out.
Top Swedes and Finns will meet with President Biden to discuss a path forward; greater bilateral cooperation with most of NATO is a sure thing. Too bad Biden lacks the chops to compel a “yes” from Turkey, and so is sending Putin yet another message that the West will never get its act together.