Erdogan addresses UN

The Turkish Question on NATO: A larger strategic opportunity in the Black Sea

Swedish and Finnish NATO membership would be a strategic gain for the Atlantic Alliance and the United States, both to counter Russian aggression and to ensure a united front on Eurasian policy. However, there is dissent within NATO about whether Sweden and Finland should be accepted, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan opposing both states’ participation in the alliance.

President Biden must act swiftly, recognize Erdogan’s incentives, and court Turkey properly to strengthen NATO’s long-term position. His response should involve inducements and concessions — Erdogan receiving desired Western military technology, and in return giving NATO warships access to the Black Sea.

Sweden and Finland’s NATO bids break with both states’ long-standing foreign policies. Each has retained connections with the Atlantic Alliance through the Partnership for Peace and peacekeeping deployments; each deployed forces under International Security Assistance Force auspices in Afghanistan. Sweden has a relatively independent defense-industrial base; Finland, by contrast, has increasingly committed to using NATO technology and is now an F-35 purchaser. Nevertheless, both are formally neutral between NATO and Russia, a policy that served them reasonably well throughout the Cold War, primarily because high-end ground combat would be concentrated in Germany, not northern Europe or Scandinavia.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine overturned this situation and demonstrated the Atlantic Alliance’s value. Moreover, the geography of the Russia-NATO military rivalry has changed: The Baltic States’ membership in NATO makes a Russia-NATO conflict likely to involve Finland and Sweden, or at least to occur within their territorial waters.

Both states would benefit the Atlantic Alliance. Both retain effective militaries focused upon great-power war; neither would need overwhelming American logistical support. Unlike nearly all of NATO’s current members apart from the U.S., Sweden and Finland can pull their own combat weight.

Hungarian President Viktor Orban’s positive disposition towards the Kremlin made Hungary a more likely candidate to oppose any NATO expansion. Orban has been restrained, however, focusing instead on opposing EU sanctions on Russian energy exports. Instead, it is Turkey that opposes Swedish and Finnish NATO membership.

A single country’s opposition can derail a NATO bid. Greece, for example, kept Macedonia out of NATO until 2019 because it deemed the country’s name to be an affront to Greek culture: it only relented when Macedonia added “North” to its name. Cyprus remains out of NATO primarily because of Turkey’s opposition, based on Turkish-Greek rivalry.

However, Turkish opposition to Swedish and Finnish NATO membership is neither strategic nor ideological. It is, instead, a diplomatic signal to the Biden administration.

Read the full article at The Hill.

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