The proposed “preemptive expansion” of NATO in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an action as guided by fear as the U.S. military attack on Iraq that spawned nearly 20 years of war. And enlarging NATO could turn out to be just as disastrous and destabilizing — the opposite of the stated goal to strengthen NATO members’ security capacity.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan strongly objected to the suggestion that Sweden and Finland be admitted to NATO. The source of Erdogan’s opposition is the two nations’ empathy toward the PKK and its affiliates in northern Syria. In justifying its potential veto, Turkey does not account for how bringing Sweden and Finland into the organization may affect — both positively and negatively — the European security architecture.
NATO’s other 29 member states asked no questions and immediately declared their approval of enlargement as the way forward. But a move like this deserves scrutiny, as it is based in fear and the certainty that Russia will go on an imperialist tear through Europe, with or without Vladimir Putin as its leader. It’s a hasty decision that clearly shows that unlike Turkey, the other member states do not perceive conflict in the Middle East as a threat to their territorial and border security. On the flip side, Turkey is unique and different than the rest of the NATO membership, as its identity straddles both Europe and the Middle East. That is to say, Turkey’s borders are NATO borders and the burden it has taken for the last two decades is not appropriately appreciated.
Another question: Is the goal of enlarging NATO remain weakening Russia in the medium and long term? If the post-Cold War NATO and Russia relationship could not advance “cooperation” and could not prevent the “security crisis,” what’s the point or admitting these countries? Is the way forward aims to weaken Russia at all cost – meaning complete devastation of Ukraine, or is it to find ways and means of cooperation to calm Moscow’s criminal anxiety?
The upcoming NATO summit in Madrid at the end of June faces the critical task of providing context for this expansion and taking into account the opinions of all of its member states.
It would have been smart for Turkey to note in its objection that the war in Ukraine has already crashed into the border of a NATO member country, framing its argument as one that focuses on the big picture of the alliance as a whole. Had that happened, it would no doubt have received a different reaction.
But Turkey narrowed its parameters and focused its objection on the Kurdish separatist terrorist organization PKK and its arm in Syria, acting as though NATO is an entity separate from itself. All member countries in the alliance are expected to behave as “full members,” and should position themselves as such. If they do not see themselves as part of the alliance, they need to take a hard look at why they’re there — it could well be an individual problem and not an alliance problem. Thus Turkey needs to carefully and clearly articulate the reasoning behind its objection, and recognize its role within NATO.
The government’s foreign policy could easily isolate Turkey. The problem is that the ruling party’s communication is fixated on victimization — which sells well at the polls but doesn’t serve the country’s best interests.
The leaders of the alliance members, especially the U.S. President Joe Biden, are confident that Turkey will be “convinced” to accept Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership — and their argument includes some humiliating statements, such as that the Turkish government will be “convinced at a cheap price.” At the strategic level, Ankara’s economic difficulties increase the likelihood that these statements are true.
As a NATO member, Turkey must make it clear it is not hostile to the proposed new members. But Turkey’s foreign policy seems unable to recognize its own worth and therefore devaluing itself. Which then leads to the cliché discourse — the notion that Turkey is not well-managed. There is an urgent need for this picture to change rapidly, otherwise it is highly likely that its permanence will create even more troubles to Turkey.