After much wrangling, Turkey has secured everything it could from its agreement to Sweden’s accession to NATO membership. In Foreign Policy, Reuben Silverman discusses Turkey’s long history of transactional behavior toward NATO. He writes:
This week, Turkey’s parliament finally approved Sweden’s bid for NATO membership, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan swiftly ratified the measure.
Sweden’s NATO accession has dragged on for more than a year. While every other NATO member aside from Hungary supported Stockholm’s accession, Turkish leaders accused the Scandinavian country of harboring Kurdish terrorists. They demanded that Sweden tighten its anti-terrorism laws, extradite people accused of terrorist activities in Turkey, and resume arms sales to Turkey. The United States seems to have linked approval of Sweden’s NATO membership to future U.S. sales of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.
As Sweden’s membership process stalled, analysts warned of the alliance’s decline and offered a range of proposed carrots and sticks to rein in Ankara. Some went so far as to suggest that Turkey be expelled from NATO, despite such an action being nearly impossible under its charter.
These concerns and threats come at a time when it has become common for U.S. experts to describe Turkish foreign policy as “transactional”—meaning that Turkish national interests override NATO’s common values. Once a reliable, Western-oriented U.S. ally, they argue, Turkey is now pursuing its own interests, which often run counter to those of the United States and European countries.
It is worth looking to history to understand Turkey’s posture. The country waited nearly four years before it was finally allowed join NATO in 1952. The experience convinced Turkish policymakers that relations with the United States, NATO, and Western countries always involve a degree of bargaining. Turkish-NATO relations in the seven decades that followed have often reinforced this view, sometimes in Turkey’s favor and sometimes to its detriment.
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