[OPINION] Why is Erdoğan against Sweden and Finland joining NATO?
Every time Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan triggers a foreign policy crisis and challenges NATO, the EU or the US, his outbursts have domestic political ulterior motives. Erdoğan is now announcing loud and clear that he will veto Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO membership applications. Anyone who knows Erdoğan believes that the main reason for this outburst is an effort to prolong his political life. Why is Erdoğan blackmailing NATO and the US this time?
The new era that began with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine brought about a radical change in the perception of security on the European continent. Sweden, which has maintained its neutrality since the Napoleonic Wars, and Finland, which has preferred to remain neutral since World War II, have applied for NATO membership. Claiming that both countries support the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and what Turkey sees as its Syrian branch, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which threaten Turkey’s security, Erdoğan announced that it would veto membership applications. Turkey has rejected the two countries’ request to the North Atlantic Council, halting detailed membership negotiations for the time being. Erdoğan’s position was greeted with astonishment by Finnish President Sauli Niinistö.
This came as no surprise to those who witnessed Erdoğan’s harsh foreign policy rhetoric and subsequent reversals. A Russian spokeswoman interrupted a live broadcast and relayed Erdoğan’s speech as breaking news: “I think the tourist season is coming and Erdoğan needs Russian tourists,” she commented. Erdoğan said in 2009 that Turkey would veto Danish President Rasmussen’s candidacy for NATO Secretary General, but later relented in exchange for Turkey being given two top NATO posts. Before the NATO intervention in Libya was highlighted, he said, “What is NATO doing in Libya? then made one of the most important military contributions to the operation in Libya. Erdoğan, who vetoed NATO’s Baltic defense plan in 2019, later lifted his veto after Poland and Lithuania announced they would procure TB-2 Bayraktar UCAVs.
Those familiar with Erdogan’s previous U-turns and blackmail tactics interpret Erdogan’s rejection of Sweden’s and Finland’s membership applications to mean that Erdoğan is negotiating something that serves his hidden agenda and will withdraw his veto if he gets what he wants.
The most crucial point in military operational planning is the correct determination of the enemy’s center of gravity, that is, where the enemy draws its power from. Success depends on protecting one’s center of gravity and influencing that of the enemy. In an interview with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the question was asked why Ukraine is not in NATO. “Democracy is not yet fully established in Ukraine,” he replied. When the reporter asked, “Is Turkey a democratic country?” Stoltenberg said: “Elections are taking place in Turkey.
The source of Erdoğan’s power, namely the public support behind his center of gravity and the holding of elections, gives the international public the impression that “democracy works in Turkey”. This point must always be taken into account when analyzing Erdoğan’s political maneuverings. If Erdoğan thinks that a measure he is taking inside and outside Turkey will bring him votes and help him win elections, he will pursue it.
The presidential election in Turkey is scheduled for 2023. Creating the conditions for Erdoğan to win the election is a top priority. Opinion polls show that public support for Erdoğan has declined due to an economic crisis. Rising oil and food prices due to the war in Ukraine will soon mean that the economic crisis will be even more acute. At the moment, Erdoğan does not have the financial resources to create a false economic spring before the elections. Therefore, Erdoğan must do something to overshadow the economic situation and unite around a national cause, depriving opposition parties of an environment to criticize him.
Erdoğan found himself in a similar situation during the June 7, 2015 elections, when he lost the majority in parliament that would have allowed him to rise to power alone. After the elections, the country descended into a spiral of terror, and the security policies pursued thereafter convinced people to vote again for its Justice and Development Party (AKP). Likewise, before a constitutional referendum in 2017 and the presidential election in 2018, cross-border military operations in northern Syria and the anti-terrorism atmosphere convinced people to support Erdoğan politically.
The terrorist organization PKK and the YPG and their activities in northern Syria are at the center of Erdoğan’s rhetoric towards Sweden and Finland. Russia is currently engaged in Ukraine and is withdrawing its troops from Syria. Iranian soldiers settle in areas evacuated by Russian soldiers. A current campaign by psychological warfare expert and Victory Party (ZP) leader Ümit Özdağ against Syrian refugees is currently creating a negative atmosphere in Turkish society for refugees. For Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, it is not desirable for Iran to extend its influence in Syria. If Erdoğan launches a military operation in northern Syria that will break Iran’s influence, these countries and Israel will support Turkey. Of course, Erdoğan will demand the support of the Gulf countries to build residences in the security zone in northern Syria to house the Syrians who will leave Turkey. The houses will be built by Turkish contractors close to Erdoğan.
Erdoğan may be planning a military operation in northern Syria under the guise of fighting terrorism, establishing a safe zone and resettling some of the Syrian refugees in Turkey to the houses Turkey is building there. For this plan to be implemented, Turkey must have the support of the United States.
The reason for Erdoğan’s veto on Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership is to get the US to green light the military operation in northern Syria and to support diplomatically Turkey. After receiving the Finnish President and the Swedish Prime Minister at the White House, US President Joe Biden announced that the two countries would have no problem becoming members of NATO. Biden is confident that Erdoğan will withdraw his veto.
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shows, heads of state, as well as countries whose undemocratic practices and blackmail policies are ignored by Western nations in the name of economic interests, cause security problems long-term issues more important to Western civilization and rule. founded world order. If Europe had turned to alternative sources of oil and gas after Putin annexed Crimea in 2014, today’s sanctions against Russia would have been more effective.
NATO will adopt in June a new strategic concept for the next 10 years. For the restoration of a rules-based international system and for NATO to assume the protective role of the liberal, democratic and human rights-based world order as a global security organization, it must first reach a consensus on these values and present it to the world with a strong message. The fact that the United States, as the de facto leader of NATO, does not give in to the blackmail of the autocratic leader Erdoğan this time will be an essential step in this regard. If Erdoğan gets what he wants today and his blackmail is tolerated, he will soon cause bigger security problems, like Putin did in Ukraine.
* Fatih Yurtsever is a former naval officer in the Turkish Armed Forces. He uses a pseudonym for security reasons.