Turkey should use its NATO leverage positively

Turkey should use its NATO leverage positively

Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the MAKS 2019 International Aviation and Space Salon, Zhukovsky, August 27, 2019. (AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday he was sure Turkey’s objection to Finland and Sweden joining NATO would be resolved at the summit this month. To overcome its objection, Turkey will seek concessions not only from Stockholm and Helsinki, but also from the United States regarding another planned incursion into northeast Syria. However, Turkey can better use its influence on this issue.
To begin with, NATO is perceived by Russians in general and not only by the Putin camp as the enemy of Russia. While during the Cold War the world was divided between NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries, the collapse of the Soviet Union led to the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. But NATO continued to expand. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly said he will not leave NATO at his doorstep, which is why the 2008 candidacies of Ukraine and Georgia raised alarm bells in Russia.
The whole war in Ukraine was fought because Moscow could not allow its neighbor to join an enemy camp; at least that was the declared reason for the war. But Russia’s belligerent behavior created a backlash. Sweden and Finland, countries that had chosen to remain neutral after the Cold War, now want to join NATO to ensure that they are not targets of possible Russian aggression in the future.
This is where Turkey fits in. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been very adept at taking advantage of opportunities whenever they arise. Today, Turkey opposes the entry of these two countries into the alliance because of their alleged support for the PKK and their restrictions on the sale of arms to Ankara. In addition, Turkey is negotiating a concession from the United States regarding an incursion into Syria to keep the YPG group away from the Turkish border. However, such an incursion would not really make Turkey any safer. Only a comprehensive solution in Syria involving the return of refugees can provide Ankara with the security it needs. Prior to its previous incursions, Turkey had struck a deal with either the Russians or the United States. Today, Turkey is seeking a deal with the United States, but it should talk to Russia.
The entry of Finland and Sweden into NATO will only make Putin more nervous and therefore more aggressive. It will certainly increase the pressure on him, but not in a way that will push him to make concessions on Ukraine and end the war. On the contrary, he will become more defiant. The entry of these two countries would allow him to reinforce his populist narrative that NATO is trying to destroy Russia.
Here Turkey can use its objection positively and use its influence to end the war in Syria. Turkey can instead propose a non-aggression treaty between Russia and Finland and Sweden. Such a treaty could offer guarantees to all parties. While this would offer a face-saving exit for Putin, it probably wouldn’t go over so well with the Swedes or Finns. Russia had agreed, along with the United States and the United Kingdom, to protect Ukraine in return for Kyiv giving up its nuclear arsenal in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances – and they can see how it finally worked out.
The Finns have already had a particularly bad experience with Moscow. In 1932, Finland and the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression treaty, only to have it unilaterally revoked by the latter in 1939, when Joseph Stalin ordered an invasion. Therefore, any new treaty should contain a clause under which, if Russia breaks the terms, Finland and Sweden’s entry into NATO becomes automatic.
The signature of all NATO countries would be required to ensure that in the event of an attack by Finland or Sweden, no member country could oppose their entry into the alliance and the triggering of the collective defense principle of Article 5.

Instead of asking the United States for a concession regarding an incursion into Syria, Ankara could ask Russia to remove Assad.

Dr Dania Koleilat Khatib

Meanwhile, instead of asking the US for a concession over an incursion into Syria, Turkey could ask Russia to remove Bashar Assad and replace him with a military council representing the different factions in Syria. The council could then lead the political transition as outlined in UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
Assad has not been a very loyal customer to Russia. Moscow’s disengagement from Syria since the invasion of Ukraine was quickly met by the Iranians, with Assad’s blessing. A military council could at least guarantee Russia’s interests. The Kremlin might even actually get a seat on the council by appointing some of the generals it trusts.
The military council could also provide guarantees to Turkey, as it would have some sort of jurisdiction over the Kurdish faction. Today, the YPG operates autonomously, with little oversight from the United States, which keeps Ankara on its toes.
This is a golden opportunity to end the war in Syria and achieve detente with Russia, which could pave the way for an end to the war in Ukraine. It would be much better than raising the stakes and prolonging the confrontation, which is in no one’s interest.

  • Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She is co-founder of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peacebuilding, a Lebanese NGO focused on Track II.

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