OPINION - Türkiye’s support for NATO expansion and revitalizing EU-Türkiye accession process
Türkiye’s ability to play facilitator, mediator roles between Russia, Ukraine and contribute to regional, global stability by helping defuse tensions will be positively affected by boosting its strong attachment to West
The author is the dean of the Faculty of Science and Literature at Istanbul Aydin University.
There has been a realist and pragmatic turnabout in Turkish foreign policy over the last few years. The latest manifestation of this trend appeared on the margins of the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania on July 11–12.
Erdogan uses DNA of diplomacy
What struck international observers most is that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan raised the issue of Ankara’s eventual accession to the EU as part of a compromise, paving the way for Sweden’s accession to NATO. Let me first underline that such diplomatic efforts lie in the DNA of diplomacy and international politics. States try to make use of their membership in international organizations to score geopolitical goals vis-a-vis each other. International organizations exist to serve the interests of their members.
Türkiye lifts veto on Sweden’s NATO accession
Following the trilateral meeting between Erdogan, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Türkiye has decided to lift its veto on Sweden’s accession to NATO provided that Sweden lends its support to the free movement of Turkish people across the EU area and updates the Customs Union Agreement between Türkiye and the EU. Sweden also agreed to fully support Türkiye’s efforts to deal with terrorism as well as meet Ankara’s demand that Sweden no longer serve as a safe haven for anti-Turkish terrorist activities.
NATO’s decision to appoint a high-level coordinator in charge of its efforts to deal with terrorism and US President Joe Biden’s support for Türkiye’s eventual membership in the EU, as well as Erdogan’s mentioning of this issue in his talks with other NATO officials, can all be seen as part of the final deal easing Sweden’s path to NATO.
Türkiye’s consent to Sweden’s NATO membership should not be seen as a surprise. Türkiye has been a long-time advocate of NATO’s open-door policy. In the past, Türkiye supported NATO’s enlargement to former communist and socialist countries in Central and Eastern Europe as well as the Balkans. Türkiye has never acted as an outlier in the history of NATO expansion.
Türkiye's relations with the West
Despite some conjectural crises in the Türkiye-EU relations, due to reasons emanating from both sides, Türkiye's ruling elites have never given up on the decades-long EU membership process. Türkiye has persistently valued its membership in key Western international organizations, such as the EU and NATO, due to a myriad of economic, political, and security reasons. Yet, the key Turkish concern has always been that, in parallel to tumultuous changes in the structure of the international system, Türkiye’s Western and European allies recognize its emerging middle power identity and accommodate themselves to Türkiye’s aspirations to pursue an “Ankara-centric” and “strategic autonomy-oriented multi-dimensional and multi-directional foreign policy” in the emerging post-Western and multi-polar international environment.
The determination of Türkiye’s ruling elites to help reenergize and reactivate the dormant EU accession process could be seen as the logical continuation of Türkiye’s ongoing efforts to improve its relations with many countries in the wider Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean, Caucasus, and Black Sea regions in recent years and therefore should be welcomed by Western and European actors. Turkish authorities are well aware of the fact that dealing with current economic and political problems at home would be more likely if the revitalization of the EU accession process contributes to stability at home and abroad.
Türkiye's geopolitical maneuver
Türkiye’s insistence on rejuvenating the EU accession process can also be read as a geopolitical maneuver in the context of the emerging Cold War-like geopolitical confrontations between rival power blocks. Türkiye is a middle power and global swing state, suggesting that its geopolitical preferences play a vital role in global power games. The strengthening of Türkiye’s place in the so-called Western family of nations will be not only in Türkiye’s interests but also in Western interests in the ongoing great power competition.
However, a pragmatic and transactional relationship devoid of common norms and values between Türkiye and the West will likely fall short of producing the expected outcomes. Such a transactional interaction will not only engender conjectural crises but also feed uncertainties and suspicions about the geopolitical intentions of the parties concerned. Therefore, anchoring Türkiye to the West through reenergizing the accession process and rebuilding bilateral interactions on a solid normative framework will be a win-win outcome. Türkiye’s ability to play the role of facilitator and mediator between Russia and Ukraine, and contribute to regional and global stability by helping defuse tensions worldwide will be positively affected by boosting its strong attachment to the West.
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