Terrorism, Nordic Bids, and NATO’s Revolving Doors

With the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine War, NATO’s protective umbrella became much sought after in Europe. The Nordic bids to become NATO members only exemplifies these security dynamics. The requests were met positively by most alliance members. However, Hungary and Türkiye opposed these applications. Hungary’s Viktor Orbán stated that the Hungarian Parliament would ratify the membership protocols soon. Ankara is also supportive in principle but has long-standing legitimate demands for its national security that are yet to be met by Finland and Sweden.

The trilateral memorandum signed between Türkiye, Finland, and Sweden during the NATO Madrid Summit in June 2022 was a significant step towards reconciling views around terrorist actors, such as PKK and FETO. However, recent developments have shown that there is still a long way to go.

Underlining the necessity of concrete cooperation against terrorism, Ankara complains that the PKK, which is on the terrorist list of the US and EU, is allowed to fester and recruit freely via NGOs in Northern Europe. Similarly, FETO-affiliated individuals sought with a red notice in Türkiye easily found safe havens in Sweden and Finland. “Bloody murderers who transgressed the right to live, which is the most fundamental human right, are protected under the pretext of seeking political asylum and can live freely without being subjected to any legal investigation,” President Erdoğan stated

Two points regarding Türkiye’s foreign policy position can be made. First, the primary criticism is the selective interpretation of terrorism among some NATO allies and other countries. The PYD/YPG is a case in point. This terrorist group has been a major factor affecting the diplomatic tensions between Ankara and Washington since the Trump Administration. The PYD/YPG, whose ties with the PKK terrorist organisation are organic and entrenched, was long supported by Washington under the mantra of the fight against Daesh. But now that Daesh has been damaged beyond repair, the Pentagon still grooms this terrorist group. The same goes for several other European governments, which adopt a lax attitude towards the PKK and its offshoots, and some go to the extent of providing material support and a safe haven. Such ambiguous positions, unfortunately, hinder the effective fight against terrorism. Under the guise of the International Coalition Against Daesh, Western countries have turned a blind eye to the organic links and deep ideological connections between the PKK and YPG, making the latter a favoured Western ally in Northern Syria. 

The second factor is the Western selective use of human rights and freedoms as a pretext to shield terror-linked individuals and organisations. Terrorist organisations, such as the PKK, PYD/YPG, and FETO, carry on recruitment activities and ideological propaganda in many ways under the name of freedom of expression and assembly. Recently, during a demonstration in favour of the PKK/YPG terror group, terror supporters living in Sweden have publicly expressed their hatred of Türkiye and used insulting methods to offend President Erdoğan. Such activities, which repeatedly display the emblems of the PKK, are not limited to Sweden and Finland. How can a terrorist group enjoy such a latitude when the West has long used terrorism as a bandwagon to test loyalties, as per the Bush paradigm, “you are either with us or against us”? 

Therefore, the alliance members must avoid double standards to instil trust, as the safety of one is the safety of all. For Türkiye to trust its alliance co-members, the latter have to share its concerns and act along to fight terror actors that threaten the safety of its citizens. 

Considering the selective interpretation of terrorism and Machiavellian use of liberalism in the West, Ankara’s demands are not mere political bargaining actions. Indeed, they are clear articulations of cooperation against terrorism. The reluctance or indifference expressed by some today can turn out to be tomorrow’s grave concerns against the national security of other actors. This is simply because of the very changing and pervasive characteristics of terrorism. 

Two decades after 9/11, one would have thought that the debate on terrorism would be closed. How can one publically legitimise and romanticise terrorist actions by resorting to the lexicon of human rights and freedoms? How long should the world wait before taking a holistic approach against terrorism, whose nature is nothing but harming innocent civilians? While maintaining its open-door policy, NATO must revise its 9/11-centric understanding of the fight against terrorism as the latter morphs into new forms and progresses whenever it faces laissez-faire. Therefore, collective action is essential for a staunch security alliance like NATO, and mutual trust is the most important cement to keep allies together. In this context, it will be vital for a stable and peaceful North Atlantic alliance to re-evaluate counter-terrorism strategies in the case of Sweden and Finland, the latest aspirants of the open-door policy.

This article originally appeared in the opinion section of TRT World website.

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