No-one wants to have to choose between having Turkey in Nato or Finland and Sweden, but it is up to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to ensure that that doesn’t have to happen.
That’s the view of ex-supreme allied commander of Nato James Stavridis, who, writing for Bloomberg on January 22, looks at how Turkey is taking the “counterproductive stance” of standing in the way of the Nordic nations joining the military alliance over what Ankara sees as their “support for terrorist groups among Turkey’s Kurdish minority, in particular, their refusal to extradite dozens of Kurds wanted by the government”.
Stavridis, asserting that “the great challenge to the alliance isn't terrorism: It is the unconscionable invasion of Ukraine by Russia”, writes: “At some point soon, some NATO members are going to begin asking, ‘If it is a choice between Sweden/Finland and Turkey, maybe we should look at our options.’ That would be a mistake. Turkey boasts the second-largest army in NATO, has important facilities including Incirlik Air Base, and hosts NATO's overall land-warfare command in Izmir.
“NATO needs Turkey to continue being an active and positive member. It also needs to add Finland and Sweden. No one wants to have to choose between them.”
The prospect of Turkey relenting and moving to ratify the Swedish and Finnish applications to join the defence bloc grew even more remote over the weekend when a far-right politician, Rasmus Paludan, gave an hour-long speech against Islam and immigration outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm before setting fire to a copy of the Qur’an.
The previous day, Turkey’s foreign ministry summoned Sweden’s ambassador over the permission granted to Paludan’s protest. It was the second time Sweden’s ambassador to Ankara has been summoned this month. Previously, the envoy had to offer explanations when on January 12 a Kurdish group was able to hang an effigy of Erdogan, outside Stockholm city hall.
On January 21, ahead of Paludan’s stunt, Ankara cancelled a January 27 visit by Sweden’s defence minister, Pal Jonson, intended to be a discussion about Turkey’s refusal to ratify Sweden’s Nato accession. Turkey’s defence minister, Hulusi Akar, said the meeting was cancelled because it “has lost its significance and meaning”.
“The burning of the Holy Qur’an in Stockholm is a clear crime of hatred and humanity,” Ibrahim Kalin, chief adviser to Erdogan, tweeted. “We vehemently condemn this. Allowing this action despite all our warnings is encouraging hate crimes and Islamophobia. The attack on sacred values is not freedom but modern barbarism.”
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said that Islamophobic provocations were appalling. "Sweden has a far-reaching freedom of expression, but it does not imply that the Swedish Government, or myself, support the opinions expressed," Billstrom said on Twitter.
Another factor that makes it unlikely that Erdogan will back down over his blocking of Finland and Sweden’s accession into Nato is the Turkish national elections set for May 14. Erdogan’s core vote will expect him to keep up a tough line in this foreign policy matter.