Disruptive maneuvers and US fighter jets: Why is Erdogan blocking NATO expansion?

All NATO members pledge support for Finland and Sweden in the accession process.

Disruptive maneuvers and US fighter jets: Why is Erdogan blocking NATO expansion?

All NATO members pledge support for Finland and Sweden in the accession process. All? No, a partner once again stands in the way. But what is Erdogan about? And what does that have to do with Syria and US fighter jets?

Recep Tayyip Erdogan's zigzag course on the issue of Finland and Sweden joining NATO is causing confusion. Not only Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin are already wondering what his country's attitude is now. At least Turkey can use a veto to stop the expansion that was already believed to be safe.

At the end of last week, Erdogan saw the first doubts about the expansion of the alliance. The accusation: Both countries, but above all Sweden, are "guesthouses for terrorist organizations" because they house members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is banned in Turkey and the EU, and supporters of the preacher Fethullah Gülen - who is blamed by Ankara for the attempted coup in Turkey 2015 held responsible. Interestingly, Russian security interests do not seem to play a role for Erdogan, who maintains an ambivalent relationship with Keml boss Vladimir Putin.

At the weekend, talks between the foreign ministers should calm things down. That succeeded at least partially. Although Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu repeated the allegations, he was willing to talk. His country is in favor of an "open door policy," he said. The statement raised hopes that the two northern European countries could soon join NATO.

On Monday evening, however, the head of state followed suit and said that one could not agree to the accession of countries that impose sanctions on Turkey. What's more, he snubbed both countries because, with regard to the visit of a Finnish and Swedish delegation, he said they shouldn't even bother.

The criticism of Erdogan is great, it goes as far as clichéd resentment, as in the case of Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, who attested to the Turkish head of state on Deutschlandfunk a "bazaar mentality". But what is Erdogan about? The fact is that many Turkish and Kurdish people live in Sweden in particular. It is primarily members of the opposition who have fled the increasing repression in Turkey. According to Turkish information, there are also extremists among them - but neither Sweden nor Helsinki are said to have reacted to dozens of Turkish extradition requests. It would also go against their liberal policies if they extradited individuals to Ankara unless there was solid evidence of their extremism.

However, there are doubts that Erdogan is even concerned with Kurdish extremist groups or that he fundamentally rejects NATO expansion. Asselborn, for example, said Erdogan simply wanted to drive up the price. "I think Erdogan wants to increase the price and wants to put pressure on that to happen." This is a dangerous game, he told ZDF.

NATO expert Markus Kaim from the German Science and Politics Foundation agrees. "I assume that Erdogan wants to get a price," he told ntv.de. Kaim points to "a long history of disruptive maneuvers in NATO" by Turkey. The country is a "bulky partner" and has problems with several members. The Turkish intervention in Syria, the offensive in the north of the neighboring country, was criticized - several states then put arms exports on hold, which Erdogan is now accusing them of. Including Germany.

The focus, however, is the dispute with the USA over deliveries of modern F-35 fighter jets. Washington halted deliveries because Turkey bought Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles in 2019, alienating the NATO ally. The result was US sanctions, which is why Ankara did not get the fighter jets it wanted. Washington also refused compensation or older F-16 aircraft.

Nevertheless, politicians are convinced that an agreement can still be reached. "In the end, it is an enrichment for NATO when two strong EU countries such as Finland and Sweden join," said Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht on the sidelines of a meeting of EU defense ministers in Brussels. "And I am firmly convinced that Turkey can also be convinced of this." Asselborn also assumes that Turkey will give in. Ankara cannot shoulder the responsibility of denying both countries membership, he said.

Erdogan should achieve at least one goal: concessions, for example on arms deliveries. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has already called for Turkey's demands to be taken seriously. "Turkey is a valued ally and all security concerns must be addressed," he said Monday. Lambrecht also emphasized that it was important to talk to Turkey and to take its arguments seriously - but did not address whether Germany could resume the arms deliveries it had stopped in 2019.

Despite all the criticism, NATO has no interest in scaring Turkey away. The country is a strategically important partner in the south-east of the alliance, particularly with regard to the Middle East. Last but not least, it is the second largest army in terms of numbers. And Ankara has never raised any doubts about its loyalty to the alliance.

So what could a compromise look like? "It could consist of the USA's obligation to reduce the arms restrictions and to sell Turkey the desired F35 fighter jets," said expert Kaim. Erdogan wants to be paid for his consent, "but he won't take it to extremes."


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