Yesterday, Ed pointed out that nobody in Washington seemed to know if Turkey was seriously considering blocking the bids of Finland and Sweden to join NATO. One day later we seem to have our answer and it’s that Turkey was quite serious. So what was the point of arranging talks in Germany between the United States, Turkey, Sweden, and Finland? We were allegedly going to be working some diplomatic angles and figuring out if there was a path toward agreement on NATO expansion, weren’t we? But this Morning, the Tyrant of Turkey essentially nixed the entire deal. Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that his country would be saying “no” to accepting the applications of the two countries to join the alliance, effectively vetoing the measure. And in his usual fashion, he didn’t wait around for the Turkish legislature to consider the matter or hold any sort of public referendum. He simply put his foot down and said the deal was dead. (Associated Press)
Turkey’s president emphasized his opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, stating Ankara would say “no” to their bid.
Speaking to a group of Turkish youth, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the two countries — and especially Sweden — of being “a focus of terror, home to terror.” The video of their conversation was released Thursday.
Erdogan’s objection to Sweden and Finland stems from Turkey’s grievances with Stockholm’s — and to a lesser degree with Helsinki’s — perceived support to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and an armed group in Syria that Turkey sees as an extension of the PKK. Turkey also accuses them of harboring the followers of the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen whom Ankara says is behind a failed military coup attempt in 2016.
One of two things is happening here. Either Erdogan is serious and the straight path to NATO expansion is dead or this is a negotiating tactic. Let’s take the latter possibility first. Using Finland and Sweden’s “support” of the PKK as an excuse to oppose NATO expansion is fairly weak tea. They are no more supportive than any other western nation and the number of Kurdish exiles residing in those countries is relatively tiny. Besides that, the United States supports the Kurds and that’s never stopped Turkey from taking our money and working with us on other projects when the mood strikes them.
So Erdogan might be using this as a bargaining chip. What might he want in exchange? He’s raising the subject of Fethullah Gulen again. He’s been demanding that we deport the cleric for years and turn him over to Turkey. The State Department has no intention of doing so and I rather doubt they’re going to change course now. What he’s actually doing is finding what he thinks might sound like a plausible objection so he can avoid admitting that he’s doing this to look like a hero in Vladimir Putin’s eyes and stay in his favor.
If Erdogan has no intention of being swayed, what other options remain? One is the rather drastic route to disband NATO and reform it without Turkey, which we’ve discussed here before. But that would be highly complicated and time-consuming. The other, less complicated option would be to encourage as many other NATO partners as possible to enter into formal “security agreements” with both nations and do so publicly. That would take NATO (and Turkey) out of the equation and the process could be done in a matter of weeks or even days if we really wanted it to happen.
But do we? It still feels like we’re rushing into all of this in a rather reckless, headlong fashion. Do we want to formalize a policy where we declare that “an attack on Finland is an attack on the United States?” Because at that point, we’re basically daring Vladimir Putin to call our bluff. One missile is fired toward Helsinki from across the Russian border and we’re into the first day of the third world war.
That certainly isn’t a decision I want Antony Blinken making on the fly or Joe Biden to formalize with an executive order. This is far too serious. The American people need time to weigh in on the question and Congress needs to approve the call, since this would be the equivalent of a treaty in all but name. The prospect of a war with Russia should have been unthinkable. Unfortunately, Mad Vlad’s rash actions have brought such a scenario into the realm of possibility.