Türkiye’s Masterclass Lesson in Realpolitik

    On the eve of the historic NATO summit in Vilnius, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Türkiye, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson of Sweden, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg agreed to forward Sweden’s bid for alliance membership to the Turkish parliament. 

    During this tedious journey, many detractors waited to denigrate Ankara at every corner, hoping to make the argument that Türkiye is an unreliable partner within NATO. Ultimately, Türkiye’s president showed that Ankara remains a committed player within the alliance, but that Ankara’s foreign policy objectives must be considered in the process. Erdogan has, once again, proven his statecraft, engineering an extraordinary win-win outcome, yielding benefits for his nation, the alliance, and Sweden. 

    The outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine War represented a significant fracture in Europe’s security architecture not seen since World War II. This situation led many quarters, including French President Emmanuel Macron, to question NATO’s relevance. 

    Meanwhile, many countries bordering Russia sought membership in the transatlantic alliance. Finland went hand in hand with Sweden having a seat in NATO. However, Türkiye’s concerns about counterterrorism efforts stalled the process. The Nordic countries, which are often considered a safe haven by terror operatives linked to PKK, YPG, and FETO, initially gave lip service to Ankara’s demands without taking adequate measures. Türkiye’s expectations are that allies (or future allies) must develop mutual trust and a united stance against terrorism. These anticipations are deemed natural and reasonable given that NATO is essentially a collective security club and terrorism stands as one of the top asymmetric threat factors worldwide. 

    Finland’s admission into NATO was finally achieved when Türkiye approved it in April 2023. However, Stockholm’s played some sort of brinkmanship strategy, allowing provocative demonstrations by supporters of PKK and YPG on the streets, along with the alarming surge of Islamophobic incidents like the burning of the Qur’an under the pretext of freedom of expression. This strategy further angered Ankara. 

    However, given that Stockholm’s brinkmanship strategy was counterproductive, Swedish decision-makers started backpedalling in the lead-up to the NATO summit. The Swedish parliament significantly tightened the anti-terrorism legal framework, resulting in a collective compromise that satisfied all parties involved. The resulting positive outcome holds great significance for Sweden, as it alleviates security concerns and fosters positive bilateral trade relations with Türkiye, removing sanctions on defence industry trade and support from Stockholm regarding the country’s EU membership process. 

    Most significantly, this process has finally propelled the fight against terrorism into the global spotlight, receiving the long-overdue attention it deserves. An incident in France, where 11 people with ties to the PKK were brought before the court for amassing 2 million euros through extortion and funnelling it to the terrorist organisation, sheds light on the severity of the threat. Such tactics, commonly employed by those seeking “political” asylum in European capitals, involve intimidation and blackmail as means of operation. 

    These funding schemes transcend extortion tactics and operate as part of an organised and sophisticated crime syndicate that weaved a web involving money laundering and drug trade, making billions of dollars. Regrettably, Europe seems to have a tough time grasping the necessary stance against these self-proclaimed “asylum-seekers” who serve as mouthpieces and financiers for PKK terrorism. Some promising steps have been implemented, like when a Swedish court recently sentenced a person affiliated with PKK to four and a half years in prison on charges of terrorist financing. One can’t help but wonder: What would have happened if Türkiye hadn’t taken a proactive stance, urging Sweden to tighten its counterterrorism legislation? The answer is simple—more of the same, a continuation of the flow of resources into the hands of terrorists.

    In the context of Sweden’s membership bid, the crux lies not in short-term gains but in uniting on unwavering principles. This alliance, born to deter Soviet expansionism, now strives for relevance in a multipolar world, far removed from the binary Cold War era. New threats always loom for Western security—China, Russia, and even the fusion of climate change with our safety, making the Thucydides Trap an endless game for NATO. However, strengthening the alliance spirit and fostering mutual trust that sustains coherence is paramount. Comprehending the dimensions of terrorism as an existential threat is vital. Therefore, the alliance must transcend rhetorical support, translating shared resolve into concrete action. Ignoring the fight against terrorism in a multipolar world would render Europe both a haven for malevolent terrorists and their sympathisers. 

    The NATO summit in Vilnius once again showcased how the Turkish foreign policy crafts win-win scenarios instead of derailing progress for its allies. Ankara has proven its ability to deliver tangible evidence-based approaches, decreasing grey zones and avoiding legal and security loopholes. Adding a novel and relevant layer to the Western focus on the 9/11-centric understanding of counterterrorism by including PKK, YPG, and FETO actors makes the world safer and ultimately benefits all. 

    This article originally appeared in the opinion section of the Anadolu Agency.

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