Turkey’s inability to work with its allies once again puts the entire NATO alliance at risk.
Author's note: While writing this, a devastating earthquake took place in southern Turkey and Northern Syria. While this article criticizes the government of Turkey, I want to voice my deepest sympathies to all victims and emergency workers. I wish them the best of health in this horrible situation.
When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th, 2022, it was immediately apparent that Europe's entire post-Cold War geopolitical makeup would be forever altered. Nations that had long traditions of noninvolvement began to rethink their positions on the global stage. Notably, Sweden and Finland announced in May that they would be joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in a shocking reversal of both nations’ historically strict neutrality.
However, the two nations would not join the alliance so easily. Turkey is notorious for causing issues within the NATO alliance and continued to follow this pattern of hostility between allies when President Tayyip Erdoğan announced in May that he would not support the bid for Finland and Sweden to join the alliance. Much of Erdoğan’s concerns focused on the issue of Swedish and Finnish amnesty for known People’s Defense Units (YPG) and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Kurdish militia members, the first being recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey but not by its Western allies. Turkey’s relationship with these groups has been a historical strain in Kurdish-Turkish relations and is consistently at threat of escalating to more violence.
The issue between Turkey and the two aspiring NATO countries was finally thought to be resolved in late June at the Madrid Summit, during which Turkey signed an agreement with Finland and Sweden supporting their bid to NATO, provided certain conditions were met. These conditions, of course, were the extradition of Turkish citizens with ties to the YPG and PKK.
The hard part was over, all that was left to do was for all thirty parliaments to ratify the accession of Sweden and Finland into NATO. Over the summer, one by one, all nations ratified the accession treaty by the end of September. That is, all but two – Turkey and Hungary, NATO’s problem children.
Hungary is still expected to ratify the treaty, but the nation is playing a dangerous game. Under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Hungary has grown increasingly authoritarian and Pro-Russia. Hungary's wait to ratify was the result of ongoing negotiations with the European Union, which previously cut 7.8 Billion Euros worth of COVID relief funding for Hungary over its increasingly undemocratic political landscape. Orbán decided to use the issue with Turkey as an opportunity to demand funding be continued, which the EU agreed to in December. The Hungarian government has announced they would be moving forward with ratifying the accession treaty.
This leaves only Turkey left to ratify, but that will happen soon because a deal was made, right? Well, characteristically of Turkish behavior, no. A few weeks ago, several protests erupted in Sweden. One of these protests occurred outside the Turkish embassy, during which a copy of the Qur'an was burned. Pro-Kurdish protests supporting the YPG also occurred around the same time. These protests, mainly the Qur’an burning, infuriated Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan, who declared that should Sweden allow the burning of the holy book without prosecution, they should “(not) even bother” with an application to NATO. While the Swedish foreign minister condemned the Qur’an burning, that is not enough for Erdoğan, who is demanding the act be outlawed altogether. These tense debates culminated in Erdoğan declaring that he would support Finland’s bid to join NATO but not Sweden’s.
Although most rational and respectful thinkers would most likely agree that burning or otherwise destroying another religion's sacred book, such as the Qur’an, is an inappropriate and hateful act that should always be discouraged and condemned. However, Erdagon’s demand that Sweden outlaws the act directly threatens the values of freedom of speech that all democratic countries, especially NATO members, should adhere to. Turkey’s petty and dictatorial demands are outrageous and undermine the united front that NATO wants to put on in defiance of Russia.
It is important to understand that however frustrating this situation is, Turkey is (unfortunately) a member of NATO, and compromises must be made. However, any compromise that undermines the fundamental values that NATO hopes to promote is absolutely unacceptable and must never be agreed to.
Caden Umansky is a second year International Studies Major with a planned minor in history. He is a Staff Writer for the Agora.
Image courtesy: Creative Commons/NATO