Constructive ambiguity saves the day at NATO summit
The NATO summit in Madrid last week augurs well for the future, with a constructive ambiguity reached between Turkey, Sweden and Finland.
Weeks before the meeting, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan emphatically announced that, “As long as Tayyip Erdogan is at the head of the Republic of Turkey, we cannot say ‘yes’ to (Sweden and Finland) joining NATO.”
In Madrid, all sides made concessions and a mutually agreeable formulation was reached. The first concrete outcome of the meeting was that Turkey withdrew its veto of Sweden and Finland’s NATO accession.
The Economist reported: “As a young man, Recep Tayyip Erdogan played semi-professional football. As Turkey’s president, he has no qualms about committing professional fouls to get his way in international politics .”
At the end of a four-hour debate, a memorandum was adopted that contained several promises for Turkey, including: Sweden and Finland confirmed that the PKK was a proscribed terrorist organization; they will not support the Syrian Kurdish YPG party and the organization described as FETO in Turkey; they will take action in good faith to positively respond to Turkey’s extradition requests; they promised to lift their bans on the sales of arms to Turkey; and they promised to initiate public prosecutions of PKK activists involved in raising funds and recruiting militants, with their judicial authorities banning such activities.
Most of these commitments are merely statements of fact, but the constructive ambiguity incorporated in the text saved the day and Erdogan stated after the meeting that Turkey had obtained all that it wanted.
The agreement is only a memorandum that will not be ratified by the various parliaments, meaning it will be implemented to the extent that all sides show due diligence. But Turkey may again block Sweden and Finland’s accession at the stage of parliamentary approval.
In the past, Turkey used to refer to both the PKK and PYD/YPG as terrorist organizations. Apparently Sweden and Finland, while admitting that the PKK was a terrorist organization, both refrained from characterizing the PYD/YPG as such. Turkey had maintained for years that the PYD was an extension of the PKK in Syrian territory and was, therefore, by definition also a terrorist organization. By agreeing to put the PKK and the PYD/YPG in different categories, Ankara has given the impression that it now agrees they are not the same type of terrorist organization. This is a backslide in Ankara’s position.
The first concrete outcome of the meeting was that Turkey withdrew its veto of Sweden and Finland’s NATO accession.
Both Sweden and Finland promised to take action on Turkey’s request for extradition, but their eligibility criteria might not be the same. This could cause a disagreement in the implementation. Apart from the legal eligibility criteria, there are also political criteria. For example, after Iraqi Vice President Tariq Al-Hashimi sought asylum in Turkey in 2012, Ankara refused Baghdad’s request to extradite him on political grounds.
From the outset, many analysts thought that Turkey’s threatening statements on Sweden and Finland were mainly aimed at obtaining as many concessions as possible. It remains to be seen how all sides will implement this memorandum, but the best policy for Turkey would be to refrain from further raising expectations.
The aftermath of the deal is also very important. Erdogan and US President Joe Biden held a meeting on the sidelines of the summit for about 75 minutes. This was significant for Erdogan’s domestic audience ahead of the approaching national elections in Turkey.
Russia’s attitude will definitely change now that NATO has triggered the accession process for both Sweden and Finland. Moscow will, for the first time, have a long land border with a NATO member in the shape of Finland. Helsinki may not be pleased to be a neighbor of Russia but, since geography is destiny, Finns will feel more secure now that they are set to become a NATO country.
In Moscow’s eyes, Sweden and Finland joining the alliance is nothing less than an encroachment of NATO territory toward its zone of influence. This has to be seen as the first tangible change in the European defense architecture.
Turkey-Russia relations will also be negatively affected one way or another by this important decision. Russia will not sever its relations with Turkey because Ankara gave in to pressure from the Euro-Atlantic community, but their bilateral relations may now become less cordial.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced that Moscow will react if there is any expansion of military infrastructure close to its border. This would be the beginning of an escalation that would likely continue in the years to come. Russia was once considered a “strategic partner” following the dismemberment of the Soviet Union. However, NATO’s new strategic concept now considers it “the most significant and direct threat” from the security standpoint.
Independent from Turkey’s consent to Sweden and Finland’s accession, the alliance also decided to increase its NATO Response Force in Europe from 40,000 to 300,000 soldiers.
The tension has already started to rise between NATO and Russia and no date can be given as to when it may stop.
• Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party.