• Batuhan Üsküp

Explainer: Turkey’s Concerns on NATO Expansion

Photo credit: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/5/21/erdogan-speaks-to-stoltenberg-over-finland-sweden-nato-bid

Especially after the 15 July (2016) coup attempt, Turkey entered into a process of questioning its position within NATO and got bogged down in its relations with the USA. Although Turkey's rising popularity and respective support for Ukraine after Russia's invasion was welcomed in the Western camp, it is still very difficult to understand and predict the foreign policy drifts of the Erdogan's regime. In general, among the rumors about Turkey, it is said: Turkey is a country that is difficult for even the Pentagon to predict, especially on geostrategic issues. “As the war in Ukraine has unfolded, Turkey has been allowed to indulge in its long-running double game, continuing to play Russia and the West against each other, delivering pre-ordered drones to Kyiv on the one hand, while ignoring sanctions against Moscow and opposing Finland and Sweden’s applications to join NATO on the other.”(Çandar, 2022). Turkey’s confusing stance is being followed calmly by its NATO allies, while Erdogan is trying to strengthen his hand abroad before the upcoming election period. “The much-touted balanced policy between Moscow and Kyiv is resulting in another major disruptive stance against NATO at one of the most critical times since its establishment.” says Marc Pierini (2022), visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe. In spite of the fact that this conflict is recognised as the beginning of a new Cold War, it is clear that it has triggered a tangle of problems such as dynamics of alliances, migration, energy security that will occupy the Eurasian geopolitics for many years.

The emerging new European security system after the Russian invasion pushed countries such as Sweden and Finland, which had acted with the principle of neutrality for many years, to make a choice. The demands of these two countries were met positively by both their communities and other NATO allies.(Lenzu, 2022) But this bid hit Turkey's blockade policy unexpectedly and unsatisfactory arguments were put forward. “It is unlikely that Erdogan had one specific policy goal in mind, but he will no doubt be expecting to be cajoled, persuaded, and eventually rewarded for his cooperation, as in the past.” wrote Aslı Aydıntaşbaş (2022), senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Aside from the reasons behind Turkey’s unexpected attitude are discussed by experts and in public opinion, the first impression is that Turkey is trying to turn the loss of reputation into bargaining diplomacy in such a warfare, and rightly presents itself as Russian Trojan horse within NATO. Another reason that led to this loss of credibility was President Erdogan's announcement that he would veto their membership, even though he gave a positive message in his phone call with his Finnish counterpart. As such, Erdogan calculated the trump cards that he could gain from his Western allies through covert or open diplomacy.

On the other hand, in the public statements made by Turkey, these two countries supported the PKK and its extension’s terrorist activities. “The KGB is said to have been instrumental in the creation of the PKK back in the 1970s, and its leader Abdullah Ocalan sought and won asylum in Russia. Even PKK sympathy within Sweden comes with a Russian calling card: Sweden’s The Left, the country’s most stridently pro-PKK party, stands accused of close Russian ties.” . In this process, it is very difficult to make sense of Turkey’s political maneuvers . Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said in a statement, "despite the support given to the PKK and its extensions, we are open to negotiations on the membership of Sweden and Finland to NATO, we do not close the door." “NATO is a union, not an international organization. As its name suggests, it is an alliance. What does this necessitate? Not only security but shoulder-to-shoulder solidarity. In all fields. Especially when there is a threat in terms of security,” he added. However, even though Turkey is rightful in its demands, this was not a satisfactory reason at all in such a period for the Western Allies. “The European Union does not accept Turkey’s definition of terror and instead is demanding a clear approach to terrorism that would be in line with democratic principles. Until that point, not only Sweden but all European countries should continue to ignore Turkish demands for the extradition of “terrorists”.(Çevik) Neither the argument itself nor the blockade strategy seems to have put Turkey in a good position.

President Erdogan and his security and foreign policy team wrote an article by invitation for The Economist magazine, explaining the reasons for Turkey's stance. In this article, while attaching particular importance to Turkey's 70-year NATO adventure and its meaning, he also evaluated Turkey's stance on vetoing Sweden and Finland. According to Director of Research at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) and Turkey analyst Aoron Stein, “Erdogan is one of the world’s most transparent leaders and uses clear, blunt language to describe his foreign policy goals. Despite this, his frequent criticisms of the United States and the international order are often dismissed as bluster, aimed only at a domestic audience to retain populist support. To be sure, all foreign crises involving Turkey have some link to domestic politics, but dismissing Erdogan’s rhetoric as unserious is a mistake.” (Stein, 2022)

As a result of this strategy, given Turkey’s already existing problems with its Western allies, it could suffer more in the long run and further lose credibility. If Turkey continues to be the country causing the most problems (or undermining the solution thereof) Turkey's importance in NATO will diminish in the near future and there will be no more issues such as the spirit of alliance. This highlights the importance of the near future elections which could be the turning point for Turkey.If Erdogan’s current authoritarian regime succeeds, Turkey will turn into a state where poverty, authoritarianism and unlawfulness are prevalent, taking great risks for the sake of keeping a group fed with problems in power. This brings with it the possibility that the paralysed democracy in Turkey after the upcoming elections will come to an end with the country's introversion.


Agencies, Daily. 2022. "Turkey Open To NATO Talks With Finland, Sweden Despite PKK Support". Daily Sabah. https://www.dailysabah.com/politics/diplomacy/turkey-open-to-nato-talks-with-finland-sweden-despite-pkk-support

Aydıntaşbaş, Asli. 2022. "Turkey, NATO, And The Ukraine War: Why Erdogan’S Grievances Are About More Than Sweden And Finland". ECFR. https://ecfr.eu/article/turkey-nato-and-the-ukraine-war-why-erdogans-grievances-are-about-more-than-sweden-and-finland/

Çandar, Cengiz. "Appease And Enable: The West’S Disastrous Russia And Turkey Policies". 2022. POLITICO. https://www.politico.eu/article/appease-enable-west-disastrous-russi-turkey-policies/

Çevik, Salim. “The EU and NATO have to counter Turkey's accusations regarding Sweden and Finland.” Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, 30 May 2022, https://www.swp-berlin.org/en/publication/the-eu-and-nato-have-to-counter-turkeys-accusations-regarding-sweden-and-finland

"Erdogan In NATO: Russia’S ‘Trojan Horse’?". 2019. Al-Monitor: The Pulse Of The Middle East. https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2019/12/turkey-united-states-russia-is-erdogan-trojan-horse-in-nato.html

Lenzu, Maria. 2022. "A Strategic Compass For A Stronger EU Security And Defence In The Next Decade". Consilium.Europa.Eu. https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2022/03/21/a-strategic-compass-for-a-stronger-eu-security-and-defence-in-the-next-decade/

Pierini, Marc. 2022."Turkey In NATO: Disruption As A Policy". Carnegie Europe. https://carnegieeurope.eu/strategiceurope/

"Russian Propagandists Feast On Turkey’S NATO Ire | CEPA". 2022. CEPA. https://cepa.org/russian-propagandists-feast-on-turkeys-nato-ire/

Stein, Aaron. 2022. "You Go To War With The Turkey You Have, Not The Turkey You Want - War On The Rocks". War On The Rocks. https://warontherocks.com/2022/05/you-go-to-war-with-the-turkey-you-have-not-the-turkey-you-want/

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