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Don’t Allow Turkey to Extort Its Way to Visa-Free Travel

Erdogan. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Turkey continues to hold NATO hostage over Swedish accession. 

While U.S. President Joe Biden, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and various European leaders praised President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s supposed about-face during last month’s NATO summit in Vilnius, Erdogan’s concession was far less than met the eye. Rather than submit Sweden’s NATO membership for immediate ratification, Erdogan said Turkey’s parliament would consider the matter in the fall. 

This has nothing to do with Turkish law. Erdogan could have requested that parliament meet in a special session to consider the matter, but the delay sets the stage for another round of extortion by the Turkish president. After all, if Biden and Stoltenberg offer concessions every time Erdogan makes a new demand, why should he not demand more? Erdogan can promise one thing, but signal his rubber-stamp parliament to do the opposite if he hasn’t gotten what he wants. He can then cynically suggest that such is the result of democracy.

What might Turkey’s president demand as a sweetener? Chief among Erdogan’s demands ahead of any ratification vote is visa-free travel for Turks to Europe. This would make Europe’s visa regimen reciprocal. After all, most Europeans either do not need a visa to enter Turkey, or can get one on demand.

Rather than comply, Europe should slam the door closed on this idea.

Ankara must keep its regimen visa-free in order to attract the tourists that drive Turkey’s economy. For Western intelligence services this is a godsend, as it is easy to insert operatives into Turkey. This is one reason Western countries know so much about Turkey’s support for al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

If Europe seeks to equalize visa access, Erdogan can take advantage. Already, Germany fears how Turkish intelligence might activate terror cells among the Turkish diaspora in Germany. This tends to worry German leaders and security services far more than oblique Turkish threats to unleash refugees into Europe. Should France, the Netherlands, or Denmark make travel easier for Turks, they may soon find that Turkish intelligence activities proliferate throughout their countries.

They need look no further than the example of Kosovo, a country that allows visa-free travel for Turks. As Erdogan clamped down at home and sought to silence critics abroad, Kosovo experienced kidnapping and rendition operations launched by Turkish intelligence against residents or citizens. Nor was Kosovo alone. The State Department has noted more than a dozen countries from which Turkey has kidnapped dissidents. Most if not all of these countries had visa-free deals with Turkey. As Albania likely will become the next country to join the European Union, its visa-free status for Turks and Turkey’s intelligence operations in the country could make it a backdoor into the Schengen Area. It is one thing for Turkey to complain about Kurdish civil society in Sweden; it is another to facilitate the process by which Turkish “tourists” simply kidnap or kill them.

Visa requirements on Turks are not anti-Turk. They are a reflection of the reality of Turkey’s ruling regime. If Turkey were a democracy that upheld the rights of its citizens at home and respected democratic rights abroad, then two-way visa-free travel would be easy to establish, but Turkey’s intelligence service does not embrace such norms.

Let Turks enter Europe, but each should undergo a thorough background check prior to arrival in any European port, airport, or border crossing.

Author Expertise 

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).

Written By

Now a 1945 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).

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