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As Finland and Sweden move to join NATO, Turkey still holds the cards

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 7/1/2022 Daniel DePetris
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After a month and a half of deadlock, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan finally relented this week on Sweden's and Finland’s bids to become NATO’s newest member states.

President Joe Biden, who encouraged and reportedly spent months behind the scenes trying to push through the Nordic nations’ accession, was beaming at the Turkish-Finnish-Swedish compromise. "I want to particularly thank you for what you did putting together the situation with regard to Finland and Sweden," Biden told Erdogan at the start of their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of this week's NATO summit. "You’re doing a great job."

At its core, the Trilateral Memorandum seeks to address Turkey’s security concerns in exchange for Ankara allowing Finland's and Sweden’s NATO applications to move forward. The Finnish and Swedish foreign ministers sought to placate Erdogan’s complaints about the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or the PKK, which Turkey and the U.S. categorize as a terrorist group, pledging to "prevent activities of the PKK and all other terrorist organizations and their extensions," as well as disrupt PKK fundraising activities. The Finns and Swedes also agreed "to address" Turkey’s extradition requests against individuals the Turkish government alleges are engaged in terrorist activity. At first glance, it would appear that Erdogan used his leverage to extract significant concessions.

But no agreement is worth the paper it’s written on if the parties don’t live up to the bargain. Negotiating, drafting, and signing an accord is only half the battle. Just as important is the implementation. And that’s where this memorandum will likely get into trouble.

There is already a dispute between Turkey, Finland, and Sweden about expectations. Erdogan appears to be under the impression that a specific list of 73 people will be extradited to Turkey for prosecution. But the memorandum makes no mention whatsoever about specific people, only a vague promise that Turkey’s extradition requests will be considered as expeditiously as possible. Finland says that no discussions about people occurred during the negotiations. The memorandum is also vague enough for Sweden and Finland to argue they are in fact complying with the terms when, in fact, Turkey could just as credibly argue the opposite.

And that’s why the entire document is a bit fuzzy. It’s written in such a way that all of the parties can walk away thinking they accomplished their main objectives. But the different interpretations can cause trouble and potentially doom the document to irrelevance. While keeping terms somewhat general may help clinch a deal, it can also prove to be poison when it comes time for the parties to abide by it.

Why does any of this matter?

Well, because if Finland and Sweden hope to join NATO as members, then both countries may have to cater to Erdogan’s wishes on the extradition issue. The NATO accession process is a lengthy one, and it normally takes up to a year before all of the steps are completed. Turkey only agreed to allow Finland's and Sweden’s applications to be processed; they haven't accepted those applications. In other words, Erdogan can still utilize his veto power to stall the accession process in its tracks if he doesn’t believe Helsinki or Stockholm are living up to their commitments. Indeed, Erdogan has already telegraphed that this is exactly the tact he intends to take if his demands aren’t met.

Given Erdogan's behavior, NATO should take his words to heart. The Turkish president isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers or stand in as the black sheep of the NATO family. Turkey’s decision to purchase and operate the Russian S-400 missile defense system and the multiple Turkish military operations that have occurred in Syria since 2016 (often targeting the very Kurdish militants the U.S. and NATO rely on to keep tabs on ISIS), illustrate a highly independent power more than willing to frustrate the alliance for the sake of the national interest. None of us should expect anything different with the Trilateral Memorandum.

Daniel DePetris (@DanDePetris) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. His opinions are his own.


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Tags: Opinion, Beltway Confidential, Blog Contributors, Turkey, NATO

Original Author: Daniel DePetris

Original Location: As Finland and Sweden move to join NATO, Turkey still holds the cards


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