At the NATO summit in Vilnius, on September 11-12 July, the main State player was Turkey, and not so much Ukraine. The Turkish president was reinforced by his fresh electoral victory, and he was prolonging the suspense as to whether he would admit Sweden to the Atlantic Club.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan managed to define terrorism: any group of insurgents are terrorists. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is terrorist, the people who support PKK are terrorists, the hated Fethullah Gülen was terrorist, at several points the Israeli government was terrorist. Or more precisely, he is throwing this word around, and no NATO leader is contradicting him publicly. NATO shuns public displays of defiance.
Mr Erdoğan’s acceptance of Swedish membership was also a high-flying affair. Even before the official opening of the North Atlantic Council, the deal with Sweden was struck in Vilnius. In it, the Swedish PM promised to curtail all support for Kurdish opponents to Turkish sovereignty in East Turkey which for them is Kurdistan. The Swedish parliament even altered its Constitution in November, voting by a two-thirds majority, to introduce new laws to “limit freedom of association when it comes to associations that engage in or support terrorism.” Moreover, the Swedish government even promised to resume arms exports to Turkey.
The Middle East is still a concern, but NATO countries are unclear about what they are aiming for. Of course, no one mentioned Afghanistan in Vilnius, it was simply forgotten. Also, the migratory crisis is not being presented as a military problem and is only mentioned once in the final communiqué. So it is Ukraine, of course, and now Erdoğan himself, that draw all the attention.
In order to keep Erdoğan within NATO goals concerning the Russian war against Ukraine, almost anything non-essential is sacrificed. This is too lax: someone burns a Quran somewhere and all of NATO is blocked, waiting for the Turkish “Sultan” to pronounce the punishment. NATO’s big players should learn to negotiate from strength: Erdoğan does not impose its definition of “terrorism” on the Alliance. NATO should not seem so sheepish on this point, because it is good to have some pride — let us say at least half as much as Erdoğan has.
Let us remember that the whole world watches NATO’s decisions. Not only NATO does not do any public introspection into failures, it does not bother to show-off its relative successes, in Bosnia and Kosovo. Its biggest success is making Putin hesitate, without triggering a panicked response. This is much more difficult than dealing with Erdoğan. So there is no reason to dither, knowing that getting the Türkiye’s President in line would impress the master of the Kremlin himself.
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