Opinion | Erodgan's approval of Sweden and Finland was always in the script
By Tom Fowdy
On Tuesday it was announced that Turkey had agreed a memorandum of understanding with Finland and Sweden to allow the two Nordic countries to join NATO, a decision they had made in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, with President Recep Erdogan having threatened to veto their applications to the bloc unless a number of conditions were met. The two had agreed with Ankara to cooperate on issues related to the Kurdish minority in the country's east, refraining from supporting their insurgency and handing over suspected fugitives. Stockholm and Helsinki also agreed to lift an arms embargo on Turkey. Not surprisingly, western leaders hailed the agreement and the BBC framed it as "increasing Russia's isolation".
Anyone who carefully follows Turkey's foreign policy should not be surprised at this outcome. It is not of course, representative as much of Ankara's perceived loyalty to the NATO alliance in as much as it is demonstrative of the fact Erdogan conducts a foreign policy based on having no true friends, but only interests, and in turn is willing to flip-flop and betray every single partner the country has according to his own advantages, making it in effect a "loose cannon" and a "NATO member in name only". Whilst Ankara is paradoxically more amicable to Russia than European countries are, it is of course no ally either and apart from gaining for itself, Turkey had no justifiable reason to veto Sweden and Finland's membership bids in a long-term perspective.
Contemporary Turkey is a maverick state which has effectively abandoned a longstanding pretence to try and integrate with the west, in favor of an increasingly authoritarian nationalism. The rule of Recep Erdogan has seen Ankara dismantle the foundations of the country's guiding ideology, "Kemalism" (derived from Mustafa Kemal or Ataturk) which committed to secular liberalism and democracy, towards a more centralized rule and asserting of geopolitical clout which has touched upon Pan-Turkic and Pan-Islamist themes. In doing so, Erdogan has utilized Turkey's strategic location as a land-bridge between Europe and Asia, an effective gateway to the Middle East, to his own advantage, pursuing an explicit effort at "hedging" between multiple great powers as opposed to any ideological loyalty, as seen in the West.
It would be the period of 2015-2016 wherein these changes became explicit, which saw the war in Syria, the refugee crisis and an attempted coup with mass political purges, all ushering in a reset in Turkey's relationship with the west. Ankara would hedge closer to Moscow and ignite a deterioration in ties with the United States, which opposed its purchase of a Russian S-400 Missile Defence System. These developments have seen Turkey effectively become a "NATO state in name only"- a member of the alliance, but one which evidently does not subscribe to its rules or ideals. Indeed, Turkey has to some extent despite the war in Ukraine, not followed NATO's lead in a number of areas. It has been weaker in its condemnation of the war, and did not agree to implement any sanctions against Moscow.
However, it would be naïve to think that Turkey would contemplate leaving the alliance altogether, of which remains, despite its own actions, an enormous strategic leverage for itself of which it would be far weaker without. Membership in NATO continues to allow Ankara to aggressively procure its own interests and to use its geostrategic position to manipulate the bloc for its own gain as it pleases, and concerning the membership of Sweden and Finland that is precisely what it has done. Ankara was never seriously going to veto their applications, because it has no strategic reasons not to do so. However, it was always going to manipulate and stall the process in the bid to more forcefully assert its own domestic political interests. This is of course textbook Erdogan, who emulated similar behaviors in handling the refugee crisis on behalf of the European Union, as well as manipulating the war in Syria too.
Given this, Turkey has no real friends, only interests. Russia of course knows this and expects nothing less, yet western politicians who are praising Ankara should be readily aware that when the time suits it, Erdogan will undoubtedly betray them again and throw more spanners in the works. In pursuit of a de-facto independent foreign policy, Turkey will continue to abuse and manipulate NATO members in pursuit of its own goals. Thus, this saga ends with no surprises, it was always in the script that Finland and Sweden would eventually be approved in exchange for mercantile-like concessions.
The author is a well-seasoned writer and analyst with a large portfolio related to China topics, especially in the field of politics, international relations and more. He graduated with an Msc. in Chinese Studies from Oxford University in 2018.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of DotDotNews.
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