As Russia bullies and blisters Ukraine, two small but pivotal Nordic nations are getting belligerent treatment from Turkey as they attempt to join the security alliance NATO in the quest for a safer world.
It should come as no surprise that Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is putting his own interests ahead of both human lives and the interests of the people of Turkey by thuggishly opposing Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership.
As someone at the top of Erdogan’s wanted list, I can’t stress enough that NATO should not agree to any such demands.
Prominent among them is that Sweden and Finland end their support for Kurdish groups in their territory with alleged ties to the PKK, the Turkish acronym for the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, a separatist group that has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984. Both Sweden and Finland recognize the PKK as a terrorist organization but this seems to be not enough.
Erdogan urges them to extradite at least 33 individuals he accuses of having ties either to the PKK or to Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric he claims was behind the failed coup attempt of 2016, which Gulen strongly denies. According to news reports, Erdogan’s targets include respected publishers, journalists, and activists. They are protected persons, and turning them over to Turkey would violate international law, subjecting them to torture.
Furthermore, Erdogan wants both NATO applicants to lift the arms ban on Ankara that they (and several other European nations) adopted in 2019 when Turkey invaded Syria—not to fight ISIS but to kill the Kurds who were fighting ISIS.
In his usual bullying style, the Turkish president warned diplomats from Sweden and Finland against coming to the capital to negotiate their membership applications.
These childish blows are aimed at rallying nationalism among Turks and deflecting attention from his own poor leadership. Erdogan faces close elections by mid-2023 and the country is in ruins: Human rights have been dismantled, the economy has crumbled, and people can no longer find jobs. He needs to direct the public’s attention elsewhere and claim once again that the downturn is caused by the “outside powers” who are attacking Turkish economy to punish his government for its patriotic stance.
There are real-life consequences to his posturing. Membership in NATO requires a unanimous “yes” vote by all 30 members. By throwing a wrench into the works, Erdogan risks the long-term security of millions. Yet if NATO offers concessions, lives will also be lost for years to come, as Erdogan is emboldened.
Turkey needs NATO more than NATO needs the headache that is Turkey. The country’s strategic importance should not be an excuse for appeasing its authoritarian leader. Doing so will allow him to continue to destroy what is left of Turkey’s democracy, help Russia and Iran circumvent Western sanctions, provide a safe haven to religious extremists, and otherwise undermine the principles of democratic security the alliance was formed to protect. The U.S. and the 29 other members need to stand firm against this bully.
One way to do so: Hold Erdogan and his loyalists to account for human rights violations under the Global Magnitsky Act, and require the State Department to provide a detailed account of Erdogan’s net worth and income—along with that of his family members. How’s that for a counteroffer?
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