IF ERDOGAN BLOCKS FINLAND AND SWEDEN FROM JOINING NATO, EXPEL TURKEY
Europe’s security environment has changed since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Neutrality no longer guarantees security from Russian aggression. In a historic turning point for Finland and Sweden, both Nordic countries have applied to join NATO. Even though their joint accession would strengthen NATO’s security architecture, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is threatening to veto their applications. Unfortunately, Turkey continues to destabilize the Alliance at a time when NATO needs unity most. If President Erdogan blocks Finland and Sweden from joining NATO, the free world should expel Turkey from the Alliance.
Article 2 of the North Atlantic Treaty states that members must strengthen their democratic institutions, promote conditions of stability and well-being, and eliminate conflict in their international economic policies. During his last term in office, President Erdogan has done the exact opposite: He has weakened Turkey’s democratic institutions, implemented conflicting international economic policies, and destabilized the Alliance. There is no shortage of examples to demonstrate that Turkey has breached this provision of the North Atlantic Treaty.
Turkey has blackmailed Sweden and Finland, jailed more journalists than Russia, harbored members of terrorist organizations like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, endangered US soldiers in Syria, threatened to invade NATO partner Greece, violated the United Nations Security Council arms embargo against Libya, purchased Russian military equipment and compromised the F-35 stealth fighter program, assisted ISIS militants crossing Turkey’s border into Syria, sponsored Azerbaijan’s violence against Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, and helped Russia and Iran evade sanctions. The list goes on and on, but one thing is certain: Turkey has violated Article 2 of the North Atlantic Treaty.
For most countries, NATO membership has served as a tool for democratization and a stepping stone for accession to the European Union. That is not the case for Turkey. Despite being a member of NATO since 1952 and an EU candidate since 1999, Turkey has failed to fulfill the criteria for accession. Given Turkey’s financial crisis, democratic erosion, continued occupation of Cyprus, and consistent threats against Greece, Turkey is unlikely to ever join the EU. Ankara is aware of this reality and has accounted for it in its strategic calculations. For Turkey, NATO membership is not a tool for democratization or a stepping stone to join the EU but an instrument to increase its leverage. This enables Ankara to pursue Turkish national interests by being a bad partner to its allies instead of a direct opponent to the Alliance.
Evidently, expelling Turkey from NATO for breaching Article 2 of the North Atlantic Treaty would have grave consequences for the Alliance. For example, it would reduce NATO’s ability to project power in the Black Sea, the Caucasus and the Middle East. The Alliance would lose its second biggest army “on paper.” Access to the Turkish straits and the Black Sea would be restricted. Invaluable intelligence sharing between the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) would most probably cease. Finally, Washington’s reduced leverage over Ankara would also increase the likelihood that Turkey would invade Greece.
Nevertheless, there are short, medium and long-term solutions to most of these problems. The Alliance maintains access to the Black Sea through Romania and Bulgaria. Cargo could circumvent the Turkish straits by transiting to the Romanian port of Constanta or the Bulgarian port of Burgas, and then transferring by rail to the Greek port of Alexandroupoli for export to international markets. Basing agreements with Nicosia could replace the airbase in Incirlik and enable the Alliance to project power across the Middle East. Further down the road, potential Ukrainian, Georgian or Armenian membership – all signatories of NATO’s Partnership for Peace – could provide the Alliance with a presence deeper in the Black Sea and the Caucasus once more.
Despite the consequences Turkish expulsion would have for NATO, it would do far more to weaken Turkey’s international standing. After all, Turkey’s ambition for the 21st century is to be a global power at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, and NATO membership gives Ankara the leverage required to achieve this objective at the expense of its allies. In contrast to Turkey’s hegemonic designs, Finland and Sweden are full-fledged liberal democracies that share NATO’s common interests and democratic values. Helsinki and Stockholm have made the difficult albeit necessary decision to abandon neutrality in favor of NATO membership. This represents a critical juncture in both Finnish and Swedish history.
On the one hand, Finland has been neutral since the end of World War II. Despite legitimate grievances related to territories ceded to the Soviet Union in the post-war period, Finland maintained its neutrality throughout the Cold War.
Today, Finland shares a 1,340-kilometer-long border with Russia. This increases Helsinki’s risk of being invaded by Moscow. To deter Russian aggression, Finnish accession would put Saint Petersburg – Russia’s second largest city – within 200 kilometers of NATO’s borders from a second vantage point. What’s more, Finland has a sophisticated defense industry, boasts the largest artillery arsenal in Europe, maintains a conscription system, and can have up to 1 million reservists ready for combat within a few weeks.
On the other hand, Sweden’s neutrality dates to the Napoleonic Wars. For centuries, Stockholm relied on Finland to serve as a buffer state between Russia and Sweden.
This enabled Sweden to pursue a more neutral foreign policy, and even avoided entering World War II because of it. Sweden maintains a conscription system, has a sophisticated defense industry, and boasts the world’s fifth strongest navy. What’s more, Sweden’s accession would provide NATO with a permanent presence on the island of Gotland. Gotland’s strategic location in the middle of the Baltic Sea is crucial for regional underwater communication cables, monitoring maritime transportation, installing air defense systems, and projecting power into the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. This would turn the Baltic Sea into another NATO lake in Europe.
To be clear: NATO is more than just a military alliance. It is a community of liberal democracies with common interests and shared democratic values. Unfortunately, President Erdogan has repeatedly demonstrated that Turkey does not share those interests or democratic values. To make matters worse, Turkey continues to destabilize NATO at a time when the Alliance needs unity most.
Nevertheless, Finland and Sweden refuse to compromise the rule of law in their respective countries to appease President Erdogan. Stockholm and Helsinki will not be extorted by an autocrat, even if it means sacrificing their NATO membership bids. For that reason alone, Finland and Sweden deserve to be members of the Alliance. If President Erdogan blocks their applications to join NATO, the free world should expel Turkey from the Alliance. Enough is enough.