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Foreign Policy

Turkey’s Drawback Isn’t Sweden. It’s the US. – International Coverage



On Jan. 23, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lambasted Sweden, whose bid to affix NATO has been blocked by Ankara, saying that the nation mustn’t count on any goodwill from Turkey so long as it fails to “present respect for the spiritual beliefs of Muslims and Turkish folks,” permits the burning of the Quran, and lets “terrorist organizations run amok.” On Jan. 21, Turkish Protection Minister Hulusi Akar canceled the deliberate go to of his Swedish counterpart, Pal Jonson, on Jan. 27. The go to had turn out to be “meaningless” after “ugly actions” in Sweden, Akar stated.

He was referring to occasions earlier in January, when left-wing activists from the Rojava Committee of Sweden hanged an effigy of Erdogan in entrance of town corridor within the Swedish capital of Stockholm. Then, on Jan. 21, Swedish authorities granted a far-right activist permission to carry a protest outdoors the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm, the place he burned a duplicate of the Quran. In the meantime, on the identical day, left-wing activists mounted a protest towards Turkey and Sweden’s bid to affix NATO and expressed their assist for the Kurdistan Employees’ Occasion (PKK), which is outlawed in Turkey. The protesters, who carried PKK flags, rolled out a banner that said: “We’re all PKK.”

The PKK is listed as a terrorist group by the European Union and international locations similar to the US and Sweden. Nonetheless, Sweden has been a sanctuary for the PKK, and its trigger has been endorsed by main Swedish politicians. Earlier than he grew to become Sweden’s protection minister, Peter Hultqvist, who left workplace final October following nationwide elections, participated in a “birthday celebration” of the PKK in 2011.

On Jan. 23, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lambasted Sweden, whose bid to affix NATO has been blocked by Ankara, saying that the nation mustn’t count on any goodwill from Turkey so long as it fails to “present respect for the spiritual beliefs of Muslims and Turkish folks,” permits the burning of the Quran, and lets “terrorist organizations run amok.” On Jan. 21, Turkish Protection Minister Hulusi Akar canceled the deliberate go to of his Swedish counterpart, Pal Jonson, on Jan. 27. The go to had turn out to be “meaningless” after “ugly actions” in Sweden, Akar stated.

He was referring to occasions earlier in January, when left-wing activists from the Rojava Committee of Sweden hanged an effigy of Erdogan in entrance of town corridor within the Swedish capital of Stockholm. Then, on Jan. 21, Swedish authorities granted a far-right activist permission to carry a protest outdoors the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm, the place he burned a duplicate of the Quran. In the meantime, on the identical day, left-wing activists mounted a protest towards Turkey and Sweden’s bid to affix NATO and expressed their assist for the Kurdistan Employees’ Occasion (PKK), which is outlawed in Turkey. The protesters, who carried PKK flags, rolled out a banner that said: “We’re all PKK.”

The PKK is listed as a terrorist group by the European Union and international locations similar to the US and Sweden. Nonetheless, Sweden has been a sanctuary for the PKK, and its trigger has been endorsed by main Swedish politicians. Earlier than he grew to become Sweden’s protection minister, Peter Hultqvist, who left workplace final October following nationwide elections, participated in a “birthday celebration” of the PKK in 2011.

A number of different Swedish politicians, principally however not solely from the left, have equally taken half in public occasions organized by PKK sympathizers. The previous Social Democratic authorities of Sweden supplied political and monetary assist to PKK-linked Kurdish teams in northern Syria—the Democratic Union Occasion (PYD) and its army wing, the Individuals’s Safety Items (YPG).

To affix NATO, Sweden has pledged to sever these ties and amend its legal guidelines to make PKK actions on its soil unlawful. Certainly, the brand new conservative Swedish authorities has been keen to achieve Turkey’s belief. It has publicly distanced itself from the PYD and YPG. Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson condemned the hanging of the Erdogan effigy as an “act of sabotage” towards Sweden’s NATO bid. He additionally said that the burning of the Quran was, though authorized, “deeply disrespectful.”

But, as Erdogan’s assertion makes clear, no Turkish authorities will ask the Turkish parliament to ratify Sweden’s NATO membership so long as anti-Turkish and anti-Muslim feelings run excessive in Sweden. Whereas the Swedish authorities has lived as much as its pledges to Turkey within the tripartite agreement that Sweden, Finland, and Turkey signed on the NATO summit in Madrid final June, it now must persuade the Swedish public that assembly Turkey’s calls for doesn’t quantity to surrendering to “fascism,” as leftists and liberals in Sweden protest, and to stem the rise of anti-Turkish opinion.

This, nevertheless, is not going to be straightforward, as different Western international locations, particularly the US, stay dedicated to the Kurdish militants with whom Sweden has severed ties. As Turkey sees it, the continued U.S. assist for the PYD and YPG undermines the argument—which the Swedish authorities must make—that Sweden, by assembly Turkey’s calls for, is becoming a member of different Western democracies in a united entrance towards terrorism.

Turkey was certain to have points with Sweden and its pro-Kurdish stance and singled out Sweden (not Finland, with which Turkey has no challenge and would ratify have been it to pursue the NATO course of with out Sweden) due to its long-standing dedication to Kurdish aspirations—however it’s the continued U.S. assist for Kurds in Syria that’s Turkey’s important concern.


The truth that Sweden and Finland are the primary Western nations to say the Kurdish teams which have carved out a self-governing territory in northern Syria are linked to the PKK and pose a safety risk to Turkey represents a diplomatic acquire for Ankara. However that was by no means going to be sufficient for Turkey. The difficulty just isn’t what Sweden says or does however what the US does or fails to do on the bottom in Syria that’s consequential for Turkey’s nationwide safety pursuits—and which is able to resolve its place on the Nordic enlargement of NATO that the U.S. authorities is pushing for.

The USA arms and funds the PKK-linked Kurdish militants in Syria who’ve fought towards the Islamic State. Their success towards the Islamic State at a time when Turkey was not doing a lot to battle the terrorist group is one purpose why the U.S. authorities depends on them. Nonetheless, what represents a nationwide safety asset for the US is one thing that Turkey considers an existential risk. The institution of a Kurdish statelet adjoining to its lengthy border with Syria has alerted the safety forms in Ankara to the chance that Turkey may lose management over its personal Kurdish area. U.S. backing of the Kurdish statelet has undermined Turkey’s religion in the US, which has come to be seen by many Turks as a hostile energy. It’s partly in response to this perceived U.S. hostility that Turkey has developed its ties with Russia as a defensive measure.

Turkish democracy has additionally suffered. In 2015, Erdogan rescinded the peace deal that the Turkish authorities had reached with the Kurdish motion after two years of negotiations. Confronted with the specter of an emboldened PKK, backed by the US in Syria, Erdogan selected to embrace the hard-line insurance policies that the army had been calling for and aligned with far-right nationalists.

Washington deems it essential to protect the alliance with the Kurdish teams in Syria. This alliance supplies the U.S. army with a territorial foothold in Syria, a ahead base that will show helpful in a future battle with Iran. Because of this, the US is unlikely to budge and accommodate Turkey.

The Biden administration might wager that Turkey will likely be swayed by the sale of F-16 fighter jets that Turkey badly wants to keep up its air power. But not solely is the sale assembly stiff resistance within the U.S. Congress, however its realization would—at most—save the U.S.-Turkish relationship from collapse. For one, being allowed to purchase the soon-outdated F-16 wouldn’t compensate for Turkey’s ejection from the F-35 fight plane venture after its ill-advised buy of the Russian S-400 missile system.

The Biden administration may additionally entertain the notion that it is going to be capable of both strain or cajole Turkey into accepting Sweden and Finland into NATO after the Turkish presidential election in Could. It might hope that Erdogan, if he’s reelected, will yield as he not might want to seem robust towards the US for electoral wants or, if he loses, {that a} new Turkish president will likely be keen to revive the connection with Washington and do America’s bidding.

But that is an excessively optimistic view. It’s a mistake to underestimate Turkey’s dedication to take advantage of this chance to neutralize what it sees because the principal risk to its nationwide safety: the PKK and Kurdish teams with hyperlinks to the PKK. It could even be a mistake to not admire that Turkey’s stance displays the long-term strategic pursuits of the Turkish state, which is a broad, nonpartisan view unrelated to electoral considerations. Therefore, it is not going to be affected, come what may, by the result of the upcoming presidential election.

Alternatively, the US might decide to play Turkey, by holding forth the prospect of a modified U.S. coverage towards the Syrian Kurds with no intention to honor such a pledge. This labored in 1980, when the US succeeded in securing Turkey’s unconditional acquiescence to Greece’s return to NATO’s built-in army construction (which it had left in 1974). Then, NATO’s supreme allied commander, U.S. Gen. Bernard Rogers, gave the top of the Turkish army junta, Gen. Ahmet Kenan Evren, his phrase that Turkish army considerations within the Aegean Sea can be accommodated, a promise that was promptly disregarded by the socialist authorities that got here to energy in Greece in 1981, which refused to abide by the deal. Turkey just isn’t going to repeat that mistake, Erdogan has assured voters.

Turkey will proceed to veto Swedish accession (Finnish accession is just blocked in the mean time as a result of the appliance was made collectively) so long as its important concern has not been addressed—and pro-Kurdish left-wing and anti-Muslim right-wing activists in Sweden will preserve offering Turkey with excuses for doing so. However Erdogan’s outrage about these incidents is a sideshow.

Fairly merely, for Sweden to affix NATO, the US must stop financing and arming the PYD and YPG in Syria.

Sadly for Washington, U.S. strategic pursuits in Northern Europe and the Center East can’t be reconciled. Washington must resolve what it cares most about: the survival of the PKK-linked Syrian Kurdish statelet or a strengthened NATO with Sweden as a member. The Biden administration should acknowledge that it’s the U.S. refusal to accommodate Turkey’s reputable safety pursuits that’s jeopardizing the unity and power of NATO.

However the Turkish authorities wants to acknowledge that the US faces a strategic risk, too, and be ready to assist handle it. For Washington to rethink its assist for the PYD and YPG, Turkey ought to reveal that it’s prepared to work with the US in countering the Iran risk.

Regrettably, U.S. coverage towards Turkey is coloured by private antipathies towards its president, which has put such a compromise out of attain. But the arduous strategic pursuits of the US and Turkey coincide to a a lot bigger extent than appearances recommend. Turkey should be absolutely embraced as a Western ally if NATO is to face robust and united from the Baltic to the Black Sea.



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