NATO officials and many diplomats celebrated a deal by which Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lifted his de facto veto over Sweden’s NATO accession in exchange for a series of concessions. I had previously written about the dangers of lifting defense sanctions on Turkey that is much more likely to use F-16s against its neighbors, including NATO member Greece, than in pursuit of NATO aims.
I raised concerns about how the agreement’s apparent provisions to fast track Turkey’s European Union membership could, if successful, hobble the European Union and throw smaller pro-Western democracies like Cyprus under the bus.
Robert Ellis, an expert Turkey analyst and prolific columnist in Turkish papers, raises an additional issue. He points out this paragraph in the NATO press statement that followed the meeting between Erdoğan, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg:
“Sweden and Türkiye agree today to continue their cooperation under both the Trilateral Permanent Joint Mechanism established at the Madrid NATO Summit 2022, and under a new bilateral Security Compact that will meet annually at ministerial level and create working groups as appropriate. At the first meeting of this Security Compact, Sweden will present a roadmap as the basis of its continued fight against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations towards the full implementation of all elements of the Trilateral Memorandum, including article 4. Sweden reiterates that it will not provide support to YPG/PYD, and the organisation described as FETÖ in Türkiye.”
There are two problems with this:
First, it is not clear that Erdogan and other NATO members assess the Kurds similarly. The United States did not designate the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to be a terrorist entity until 1997, long after its insurgency had peaked, and only then added it to the terrorism list as a Turkish condition for Clinton to close a multibillion-dollar arms deal with Turkey.
Turkey today argues Syrian Kurds (YPG/PYD) are PKK affiliates. The NATO document ignores that the United States and many in Europe supported the Syrian Kurds (YPG/PYD) because they fought against the Islamic State at a time when Turkey was at least passively supporting the Islamic State.
More broadly, Erdoğan has a habit of labeling any Kurds not under his thumb as PKK: Bomb a Yezidi village and kill women and children? No problem, they were PKK operatives. Attack a Kurdish farm in Sinjar? The farmers were PKK.
It is a Turkish fiction in which neither Sweden nor any other NATO member should indulge, especially as Turkey continues to indulge, harbor, and arm real terrorists.
Second, FETÖ [Fethullahist Terrorist Organiation] is a chimera, a catch-all term used by Erdoğan to paint opposition as illegitimate and terroristic. When Erdogan demanded the United States extradite Fethullah Gülen, Erdoğan’s one-time ally, the Justice Department found the evidence Turkey handed over to be essentially little more than clippings from pro-Erdogan tabloids. In Sweden’s case, Erdoğan argues that liberal Turkish journalists who fled Erdoğan’s press crackdown are really FETÖ agents.
Kristersson, with Stoltenberg’s urging, is now willing to throw Swedish democracy under the bus. He transforms Sweden from a refuge for dissidents into a hunting ground for them. Allowing Erdoğan to define who is a terrorist and who is not seeds crises and Erdogan’s grievance posturing for years to come.
Sweden’s NATO accession does little to enhance NATO capabilities, but it does much to diminish Sweden and Europe. During World War II, Norwegian leader Vidkun Quisling betrayed his country and collaborated with Germany.
His reward was not only an eventual firing squad, but also the adoption of his last name into the English language as a word to describe someone who collaborates with an occupier.
Kristersson, of course, is no Quisling nor is Turkey equivalent to Nazi Germany.
Kristersson’s cowardice and willingness to betray core principles, however, raise the possibility that, at least in some quarters, his last name may soon enter the vocabulary to describe a person who betrays liberalism and human rights to appease a foreign dictator.
This article was originally published in the American Enterprise Institute.
The views and opinions expressed above are the author’s and do not reflect those of the Free Turkish Press.