Why we can’t let Turkey’s authoritarian leader bully NATO

As Russia is bullying and intimidating Ukraine, two small but essential Nordic nations who are receiving bellicose treatment from Turkey as they try to join the NATO security alliance in the quest for a world safer.

It is no surprise that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is putting his own interests ahead of human lives and the interests of the Turkish people by bluntly opposing Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership.

As the person at the top of Erdogan’s wanted list, I cannot stress enough that NATO should not agree to such requests.

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Among these, Sweden and Finland are ending their support for Kurdish groups on their territory with alleged links to the PKK, the Turkish acronym for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a separatist group which is waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984. Both Sweden and Finland recognize the PKK as a terrorist organization, but this does not seem sufficient.

Erdogan is urging them to extradite at least 33 people whom he accuses of having links either to the PKK or to Fethullah Gulen, the US-based cleric who he says was behind the attempted failed coup in 2016, which Gulen strongly denies. According to media reports, Erdogan’s targets include respected publishers, journalists and activists. They are protected persons and handing them over to Turkey would violate international law by subjecting them to torture.

Furthermore, Erdogan wants the two NATO candidates to lift the arms ban on Ankara that they (and several other European countries) adopted in 2019 when Turkey invaded Syria – not to fight ISIS but to kill the Kurds who were fighting ISIS.

In his usual bullying style, the Turkish president warned Swedish and Finnish diplomats against coming to the capital to negotiate their membership demands.

These childish moves are aimed at rallying nationalism among the Turks and distracting attention from its own mediocre leadership. Erdogan faces a close election by mid-2023 and the country is in shambles: human rights have been dismantled, the economy has collapsed and people can no longer find jobs. He needs to direct the public’s attention elsewhere and assert once again that the downturn is caused by “external powers” attacking the Turkish economy to punish his government for its patriotic stance.

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There are real consequences to his posture. Joining NATO requires a unanimous β€œyes” vote from all 30 members. By throwing a wrench in the works, Erdogan is risking the long-term security of millions of people. Yet if NATO offers concessions, lives will also be lost for years to come as Erdogan is emboldened.

Turkey needs NATO more than NATO needs the puzzle that is Turkey. The strategic importance of the country should not be an excuse to appease its authoritarian ruler. This will allow him to continue destroying what is left of Turkish democracy, helping Russia and Iran circumvent Western sanctions, providing a safe haven for religious extremists and undermining the principles of democratic security that the alliance was formed to protect. The United States and the other 29 members must stand firm against this tyrant.

One way to do it: hold Erdogan and his loyalists accountable for human rights abuses under the global Magnitsky Act, and demand that the State Department provide a detailed account of his net worth and income. Erdogan, as well as those of his family members. How’s that for a counter offer?

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