Home World Why Turkey’s Erdogan Is Spoiling NATO’s Welcome Party for Finland and Sweden

Why Turkey’s Erdogan Is Spoiling NATO’s Welcome Party for Finland and Sweden

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Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, looking at Turkey’s opposition to NATO’s Nordic expansion, U.S. troops return to Somalia, and more news worth following from around the world.

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Erdogan Rains on NATO’s Parade

With Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO accession within touching distance, Turkey has thrown a wrench into proceedings.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that Swedish and Finnish delegations “should not bother” coming to Ankara for negotiations, reiterating his position from Friday when he said that the Swedes and Finns were harboring terrorists.

Considering the 30 current NATO members must agree unanimously on any new entries, Turkey’s opposition is significant.

It’s a fact Erdogan appears to know all too well, as analysts fear the Turkish leader seeks to wring all he can out of a process most leaders in the alliance would like to see concluded as soon as possible.

On the surface, Erdogan’s demands sit perfectly well with his government’s position. He has criticized Sweden and Finland for refusing to extradite some individuals affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK—a Kurdish group deemed terrorists by Turkey as well as the United States and European Union.

Sweden in particular is home to others Erdogan sees as enemies, including some followers of Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan blames for orchestrating a failed 2016 coup.

But to single out Sweden and Finland for hosting Turkish opposition elements belies the fact that they are present in many NATO countries. (Gulen himself lives in Pennsylvania.)

Steven A. Cook, an FP columnist and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that although Turkey’s anger at opposition groups is rational, the logic from there falls apart.

“What doesn’t follow to me is the argument that Foreign Minister [Mevlut] Cavusoglu is going to make when he gets here, which is that there’s some sort of security threat to Turkey as a result. It doesn’t make any sense.”

As Cook explains, though the targets of the Turkish diplomatic tantrum may be Nordic, the audience is likely in Washington.

“It suggests that there’s really something else going on, and what’s really going on, is that there seems to be more opposition in Congress to Turkey’s F-16s.”

Turkey’s pending acquisition of the fighter jets is seen as a consolation prize for being kicked out of the more advanced F-35 program and a reward for its actions in the war in Ukraine, where it has played a role as a diplomatic interlocutor as well as a provider of crucial TB-2 combat drones to Kyiv.

For U.S. President Joe Biden, it would mean taking on Sen. Robert Menendez, the influential chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a frequent critic of Erdogan.

“It basically presents the Biden administration with a choice: either confront more of a mess in Congress—especially when you’re dealing with a powerful member of your own party, who can make your life miserable—or you have more of a mess in NATO,” Cook said.

Ever the agile politician, Erdogan has a chance to play to the home crowd with the flap over Sweden and Finland.

Erdogan has already said he would not repeat the “mistake” the Turkish military government made in 1980 when it allowed Greece back into NATO’s military wing, a position that has allowed Athens “to take an attitude against Turkey” since.

Greece’s standing on Capitol Hill relative to Turkey’s is underscored by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis being afforded the rare honor of addressing a joint session of Congress later today.

Though he is confident that the Turks, Swedes, and Finns will come to an agreement, the fact Erdogan is standing up at all helps add to his mythmaking as a unique leader in Turkey’s history, Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, the director of the Ankara office at the German Marshall Fund, told Foreign Policy.

“He can say in the past Turkish governments would unconditionally approve this application, well, as a strong leader, I’m not doing that,” Unluhisarcikli said.

Unluhisarcikli said Erdogan’s position is best understood as a two-level game, where his image at home, roughly a year out from an election, ranks higher than Western perceptions: “Will his reputation internationally be tarnished? Yes. But is it important? Not as important as his reputation domestically.”


What We’re Following Today

Yellen in Belgium. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is in Brussels today, where she is expected to meet with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Yellen heads to Germany the next day for a meeting of G-7 finance ministers and central bank governors in Bonn.

Finland and Sweden’s united front. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto visits Sweden today for a two-day visit as the two countries present a united front in their quest to join the NATO alliance. Niinisto will first address the Swedish parliament and then meets with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson. The two leaders are expected to give a joint press conference later in the day.


Keep an Eye On

Sri Lanka’s crisis. Sri Lanka’s new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe warned on Monday that the country only has a day’s stock of gasoline remaining and warned that “next couple of months will be the most difficult ones of our lives.” Wickremesinghe, who was appointed last week by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has yet to choose a finance minister but has attracted criticism for appointing four ministers from the Rajapaksa clan’s political party.

France’s new prime minister. French President Emmanuel Macron appointed Élisabeth Borne as his prime minister on Monday, making her only the second woman to hold the office. The choice of the left-leaning Borne, who has held positions as labor, environment, and transport minister, is seen as a way to attract left-wing voters ahead of June’s legislative elections.

Yemen’s skies open. The Yemeni capital, Sanaa, saw its first commercial flight leave the airport in six years as a Yemen Airways plane made its way to the Jordanian capital, Amman. The flight is part of a 60-day truce agreed between Yemen’s government and the Houthis which calls for two flights per week from Sanaa to Jordan and Egypt.

Erin Hutchinson, Yemen director at the Norwegian Refugee Council, called the flight a “stepping stone towards a lasting peace for Yemen.”

U.S. troops back to Somalia. The Biden administration is to return hundreds of U.S. troops to Somalia, reversing a Trump administration decision that largely removed U.S. forces from the country.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, a senior administration official said that “under 500” troops would be involved in the new operation, which is expected to help secure diplomatic and aid missions as well as combat the terrorist group al-Shabab.

The news comes a day after Somali lawmakers selected a new president: Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

Kenya’s election. Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga on Monday chose Martha Karua, a former justice minister, as his running mate for August’s presidential election, making her the first woman to appear on a major presidential ticket in the country’s history.

The decision means both Odinga and his likely opponent William Ruto have chosen ethnic Kikuyus as running mates in a bid to broaden their appeal.


Controversy over the academic credentials of Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the presumptive next president of the Philippines, bubbled up once again after an opposition activist lodged a freedom of information request with the University of Oxford, his apparent alma mater.

The university confirmed that Marcos did not complete his degree but did achieve a special diploma, a fact that contravenes his own campaign narrative that his undergraduate studies were “completed” at Oxford.

The activist in question, who supported Leni Robredo’s candidacy in the election earlier this month, said the omission fits “a pattern of disinformation that a lot of researchers have pointed out recently.”

Marcos’s academic travails have been unearthed in the past, including reports that his dictator father had arranged for his son to be moved to a different track to avoid his dropping out over bad grades. In a worrying portent for the Philippines, Marcos failed his politics exam not once, but twice.

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