Turkey’s Erdogan plays within and with NATO

James M Dorsey

Amid speculation about a reduced US military commitment to security in the Middle East, Turkey has highlighted the region’s ability to act as a disruptive force if its interests are neglected.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sounded alarm bells this week, declaring that he was “unsure” about possible Finnish and Swedish applications to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the wake of the Russian invasion. from Ukraine.

Membership in NATO depends on the unanimous vote in favor of the 30 members of the organization. Turkey has the second largest standing army in NATO. The vast majority of NATO members seem to support the membership of Finland and Sweden. NATO members hope to approve the requests at a summit next month.

A possible Turkish veto would complicate efforts to maintain transatlantic unity in the face of Russian invasion. Erdogan’s pressure tactics mirror the maneuvering of his colleague, Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban. Orban threatens the unity of the European Union by resisting a bloc-wide boycott of Russian energy.

Previously, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have rejected US requests to increase oil production in an effort to lower prices and help Europe reduce its reliance on Russian energy. Since then, the two Gulf states appear to have tried to quietly back down on their denial.

In late April, France’s TotalEnergies chartered a tanker to load crude from Abu Dhabi in early May for Europe, the first such shipment in two years.

Saudi Arabia has quietly used its regional pricing mechanisms to redirect from Asia to Europe the Arab “middle”, Saudi crude that is the closest substitute for Russia’s main export mix, the Urals, for which the European refineries.

Erdogan linked his objection to NATO to alleged Finnish and Swedish support for the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU.

The PKK has waged a decades-long insurgency in southeastern Turkey in support of the national, ethnic and cultural rights of Kurds. Kurds make up 20 percent of the country’s 84 million people. Turkey has recently hit PKK positions in northern Iraq in a military operation called Operation Claw Lock.

Turkey is at odds with the United States over US support for the Syrian Kurds in the fight against the Islamic State. Turkey claims that the US’s Syrian Kurdish allies are aligned with the PKK. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has warned that Turkey opposes the US decision this week to exempt regions of Syria controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from sanctions.

“This is a selective and discriminatory move,” Cavusoglu said, noting that the exemption did not include Kurdish areas of Syria controlled by Turkey and its Syrian proxies.

Referring to NATO membership applications, Erdogan denounced that “Scandinavian countries are like a kind of guest house for terrorist organizations. They are even in parliament.” Erdogan’s objections relate mainly to Sweden, with Finland at risk of becoming collateral damage.

Sweden is home to a significant Kurdish community and is home to the best Kurdish soccer team in Europe that is sympathetic to the PKK and Turkish Kurdish aspirations. In addition, six members of the Swedish parliament are ethnic Kurds.

Turkey scholar Howard Eissenstat suggested that Turkey’s objection to NATO may be a turning point. “Much of Turkey’s strategic flexibility comes from the fact that its priorities are seen as peripheral issues for its most important Western allies. The entry of Finland and Sweden into NATO, in the current context, is not absolutely peripheral,” Eissenstat tweeted.

The Turkish objection demonstrates the potential for the Middle East to derail US and European policy in other parts of the world. Middle Eastern states walk a fine line when using their disruptive potential to further their own political goals. The cautious pullback in Ukraine-related oil supplies demonstrates the limits and/or risks of brinksmanship in the Middle East.

The same goes for the fact that Ukraine has moved NATO’s center of gravity north of Europe and away from its southern flank, which anchors Turkey. Furthermore, Turkey risks jeopardizing significant improvements in its long-standing relations with the United States.

Turkish mediation in the Ukraine crisis and military support for Ukraine prompted US President Joe Biden to press ahead with plans to upgrade Turkey’s fleet of F-16 fighter jets and discuss the sale of newer and more advanced F-16 models, even though Turkey has not condemned Russia or imposed sanctions.

Some analysts suggest that Turkey may use its objection to regain access to the US F-35 fighter jet program. The United States canceled the sale of the plane to Turkey in 2019 after the NATO member acquired the S-400 missile defense system from Russia.

Erdogan has “done this kind of tactic before. He will use it as leverage to get a good deal for Turkey,” said retired US Navy Adm. James Foggo, dean of the Center for Maritime Strategy.

A top Erdogan adviser, Ibrahim Kalin, appeared to confirm Foggo’s analysis. “We are not closing the door. But basically we are raising this issue as a national security issue for Turkey,” Kalin said, referring to the Turkish leader’s NATO comments. “Of course, we want to have a discussion, a negotiation with the Swedish counterparts.”

Explaining the Turkish demands, Kalin went on to say that “what needs to be done is clear: they have to stop allowing PKK outlets, activities, organizations, people and other types of presence… to exist in those countries. ”.

Erdogan’s brinkmanship may have its limits, but it illustrates that one ignores the Middle East at one’s peril. However, engaging Middle Eastern autocrats does not necessarily mean ignoring their rampant violations of human rights and repression of freedoms.

For the United States and Europe, the trick will be to develop a policy that balances the accommodative demands of autocrats, sometimes disruptive, often aimed at ensuring the survival of the regime, with the need to remain loyal to democratic values ​​in the midst of a fight over what values ​​will underpin a 21st century world order.

However, that would require a degree of creative policymaking and diplomacy that seems to be a rare commodity. (IPA Service)

By agreement with the Arabian Post

Turkey’s Erdogan Plays Within and With NATO first appeared on IPA Newspack.

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