Turkey’s Still Got Beef With NATO Aspirants
Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep! If you are a former president or vice president, we kindly ask you to check your house and make sure you don’t have any classified documents lying around. It seems to be a problem these days, and we wanted to give you a heads up.
Alright, here’s what’s on tap for the day: Turkey’s blockade of NATO expansion efforts continues, more insights on China’s global supply chain dominance, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepares for a visit to the Middle East.
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There was so much hope. When Finland and Sweden officially applied for NATO membership last May, abandoning decades of neutrality in Helsinki and more than a century of nonalignment in Stockholm, U.S. and European officials celebrated the historic step as a major strategic defeat for Russia, stemming from its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The only thing NATO leaders needed to do to lock this in was get their house in order to admit them.
Turns out, that was easier said than done.
Cut to eight months later, and 29 of NATO’s 30 members have signed off on expanding the alliance, but there’s still one holdout blocking the whole thing: Turkey. (Hungary, the other holdout, has said it will ratify Sweden and Finland’s bids in February.)
Sweden and Finland, backed by NATO powers, have carefully tried to court Turkey to agree to greenlight NATO expansion through a painstaking, monthslong diplomatic campaign that appears to have run aground. Turkey, Finland, and Sweden signed a memorandum at the NATO summit in Madrid last June signaling there’d be an end to the impasse, but no one spoils otherwise routine NATO business better than Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan has dug his heels in—amid a critical election season in Turkey—over claims that Sweden harbors militants from a separatist Kurdish group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group designated as terrorists by the United States and European Union that Turkey has been fighting for more than 30 years.
In the early months of the NATO expansion process, Finland and Sweden vowed to move in lockstep with each other and coordinate entering NATO at the same time. Now, after eight months of impasse, Finland is reportedly considering going for a membership bid alone. And the prospect of expanding the alliance to 32 members—once seen as a foregone conclusion—now appears more remote than ever.
Turkey’s beef. Turkey had already been stalling on a parliamentary vote needed to ratify Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership for months by the time the clock rolled around to 2023, looking for a variety of concessions—such as deportations of people from Nordic countries viewed by Erdogan as terrorists—that seemed like nonstarters.
But the prospect of Swedish membership, which was first jeopardized by the past government’s ties to Kurdish parties (which their successors distanced themselves from), now appears much more remote after a far-right politician in Sweden burned a Quran at a protest early in January, a move that directly angered Erdogan. That led to Turkey canceling a meeting to hunker down with Swedish and Finnish officials to talk about their NATO membership—indefinitely.
On Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said it was “meaningless” to hold a trilateral meeting to clear the air this month in Stockholm.
Cutting bait. Finland is now considering moving ahead with a solo effort for NATO membership if Turkey continues to balk at Sweden’s bid, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said on Tuesday.
But on the other hand, Turkey’s gambit may be time sensitive. Turkey’s elections are set for May 14, and Erdogan, who has been in power for two decades, faces his toughest test yet, with critics calling out the 68-year-old leader for presiding over a severe economic downturn and the erosion of democratic freedoms. (The six-party opposition group opposing Erdogan has yet to put forward a candidate.)
Geography matters. Months ago, when your trusty SitRep writer was in Finland reporting on NATO issues and asking how Sweden and Finland were preparing for a new era of showdowns against Russia, a Finnish official joked to him that “the Swedes are prepared to fight to the last Finn.”
A good natured joke between two neighbors, but the underlying point stands. Finland shares one of the longest borders with Russia in Europe, and friend or not, it acts as a giant, country-sized buffer between Sweden and Russia. So while many U.S. and NATO officials are quietly fuming over what they see as Turkey’s intransigence, they also concede that from a purely geopolitical or defense planning perspective, it may be better to get Finland—the “front-line” country—into NATO as soon as possible and sort out Sweden later as a backup plan.
That way, NATO and at least one new member can start all the nuts and bolts of defense planning and tight-knit military cooperation that can only begin once a country is admitted to the alliance.
It’s not like Russia is readying any military action in the Nordic-Baltic region—indeed, it has disarmed a lot of its military assets in that region to feed the war machine in Ukraine, as FP reported. But getting Finland in first and Sweden later may be the least bad option available to them at this point.
Could Finland and Sweden wait out this political rough patch in Turkey before joining the alliance? Or will Erdogan keep playing spoiler even after election season? Stay tuned.
The Wilson Center think tank named scholar Oge Onubogu as the new director of its Africa program.
The White House announced Elizabeth Allen as its nominee for undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. That role hasn’t been filled in almost five years, since former U.S. President Donald Trump sacked his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and a handful of other senior appointees at the department in 2018.
U.S. President Joe Biden nominated Julie Turner, a veteran career diplomat, to be the new special envoy for North Korean human rights issues.
He also announced three ambassador nominations: Cynthia Kierscht for Djibouti, Jennifer Johnson for Micronesia, and David Kostelancik for Albania.
Meanwhile, Biden’s pick for the State Department’s top human rights job, Sarah Margon, has withdrawn, Politico reports, after almost a year of impasse amid Republican opponents who questioned her support for Israel. FP first reported that Margon was being considered for the job way back at the beginning of the Biden administration.
What should be high on your radar, if it isn’t already.
Tough industry. The U.S. military-industrial complex (which SitRep’s editor, Keith, will remember, is the one that then-outgoing U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned about in 1961), is not ready for a long-term conflict with China.
That’s according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, which conducted a series of wargames showing that the U.S. military could run out of weapons, such as long-range, precision-guided munitions, in less than a week of fighting with China. The think tank is recommending the United States begin to reassess its total munitions requirements needed for a full-scale war.
Power play. The next big geopolitical competition may be over green technology as business booms and the Earth keeps warming. But China has a big advantage in supply chains on rare earth minerals, materials processing, and other important elements of new energy demands, as our colleagues Christina Lu and Liam Scott report, in a story complete with fascinating infographics on Beijing’s supply chain dominance.
Pump the brakes. U.S. diplomats who are nursing have been blocked from bringing electric breast pumps into American Embassies around the world, prompting frustration in the rank and file as well as concern that the State Department is falling behind the times to meet the needs of working parents, Robbie reports in an exclusive.
There are apparently security concerns about electric breast pumps inside controlled government facilities with sensitive documents, but U.S. military branches, such as the Air Force, have already sorted this out for its working parents. The State Department says it is working on a fix to the problem.
Sunday, Jan. 29: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg begins a four-day swing through South Korea and Japan.
Sunday, Jan. 29, to Tuesday, Jan. 31: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits Egypt, Israel, and the West Bank.
We’ve got two this week. Indulge us.
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