NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced that, just hours before NATO’s Vilnius Summit, he had finally done the impossible: Convinced Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to lift his veto on Sweden’s NATO accession.
President Biden’s team, working assiduously in the background, may want to share Stoltenberg’s supposed triumph.
They should not.
What NATO officials bill as a diplomatic masterstroke is actually a disaster in the making.
Put aside Turkey’s humiliation of Sweden and the erosion, at Erdogan’s behest, of free speech and democracy in that country. And put aside the hypocrisy of treating Kurds in Sweden as terrorists when Islamic State sympathizers in Turkey not only roam free but also populate Erdogan’s administration and Turkey’s intelligence service.
Rather, the problem appears to be a new quid pro quo.
Not only does Turkey now expect the lifting of most defense-related sanctions, but a Turkish official also said that Turkey now expects Europe to fast track its long moribund European Union accession process.
Put another way, Turkey used its presence inside NATO to paralyze the institution and profit off its de facto veto. To lift that veto, Stoltenberg and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan now want to empower Turkey to paralyze the European Union and erode its democratic orientation from inside. It is no secret, for example, that Germany often caves to Turkish blackmail because it fears not only that Erdogan will unleash the floodgates of refugees into the heart of Europe but also because German intelligence officers believe that Erdogan controls terror cells among the Turkish diaspora in the heart of Germany.
Nor is the problem only terror cells. Less than a week ago, Devlet Bahceli, Erdogan’s chief coalition partner, declared, “Allah is one and his army is Turkish.”
The reality is that Stoltenberg’s deal kicks the can down the road but does nothing to dissuade Turkey from repeating its behavior on future NATO missions. If Erdogan walks away from his high-stakes poker with new concessions and chits to show his public, Stoltenberg guarantees that every future important NATO decision will be an opportunity for Turkish extortion.
The tragedy is greater, though. Ukraine is not the only European country that today faces foreign occupation. For almost half a century, Turkey has occupied one-third of Cyprus, a country that, for nearly three decades, has been a European Union member in good standing. Stoltenberg and Sullivan essentially appear now willing to trade a vibrant democracy for an action that is more symbolic than essential. After all, NATO loses little if Sweden remains outside but acts in close coordination until Erdogan’s demise.
Cyprus should not be a victim for European and American officials’ belief that statesmanship requires sacrifice. It increasingly is a key American security partner in the Eastern Mediterranean and its importance only grows. One Cyprus today is probably worth five Swedens, regardless of the still small size of the island nation’s army.
NATO leaders may back-slap each other in Vilnius, but they will soon rue the day. Giving Turkey any path to European Union membership absent an end to occupation and a change in political culture sets both a precedent of appeasement and an empowerment of a fundamentally anti-European regime for which Europe, NATO, and the United States will pay a far higher price than they imagine.
Now a 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).