Last updated on July 17, 2022
On the 28th of June 2022, Madrid hosted the NATO summit. This event was of great importance due to the fact that Sweden and Finland, two countries that until recently were neutral, had applied to join the Western alliance.
In Europe, the war in Ukraine is accelerating the polarization of the world. International organizations, and multilateral treaties, automatically assign a state to one side in the new geopolitical landscape where the clash between authoritarian governments and liberal ones has already begun.
However, amidst this clash, there is an undecided country: Turkey. Ankara, the capital of Turkey, has a stance in the polarized modern geopolitical climate that is hard to figure out. It is the only country of NATO that has threatened to veto Sweden and Finland’s application to join the organization at the summit held in Madrid on the 28th of June, 2022. It is the only country in NATO that didn’t announce a clear stance on the Ukraine war. Over the past years, it has imprisoned (Osman Kavala) or allegedly assassinated (Jamal Khashoggi) journalists or activists, raising doubts on whether it respects the very values of NATO.
However, Turkey is, at the same time, a valuable ally. It is the only NATO country that can stop Russia from having access to the Mediterranean sea as well as monopolizing the Black sea. It is strategically placed at the now only way in (from land) from Asia to Europe. If NATO were to expel Turkey, it is fair to assume Ankara will immediately turn to Russia, leaving Europe completely landlocked.
It is in NATO’s interest that Turkey stays. Thus, the war in Ukraine has made Turkey untouchable and free to do whatever it wants.
But what does Erdogan want?
The first answer lies in its change of opinion in accepting the two Nordic countries into NATO. Turkey agreed to the prospective members joining under this condition: if it extradites the so-called 73 Kurds extremists.
The Kurds are a racial minority in the Middle East, with nationalist tendencies. A big part of the population lives in Turkey, and this case demonstrates that Erdogan views the minority as an imposing threat. Indeed, these sometimes radical nationalists threaten Turkish unity, a value that Erdogan and his AKP party uphold. More precisely, it wants to have the power that the great Ottoman Empire once had. Erdogan dreams of a great Turkey under his sovereignty. He even stated in his reelection speech in 2018 his ambition to make Turkey one of the top 10 world powers by 2023.
The other part of the answer, very much in line with the first, is to become the most powerful Islamic country in the world. However, this point is a unique characteristic of Erdogan’s Turkey.
Until the rise of The Justice and Development Party(also known as AKP, which was founded by Erdogan himself) to power in 2002, Turkey was one of the most secularized countries in the world. At the end of the Ottoman Empire, in 1922 with the abolition of the sultan -the political and religious leader of all Muslims- by the Young Turks, led by Antatürk Mustafa Kemal, Turkey’s laical policies had been the backbone of the country’s government. Erdogan now wants to destroy most of what Kemal did. Since the Republican way of Antatürk caused Turkey roughly 80 years of humiliation, Erdogan has risen and taken it upon himself to make Turkey great again. The end of secularization is the symbol of a new Turkey, an Islamic Turkey where there no longer is a separation of the state and church.
Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey aimed to rise back to the spot it once held when it controlled the entire Balkan Peninsula. The liberal ideals of Kemal did not prove to be fruitful, so Erdogan wants to try the opposite. Severe repression of all potential threats to the political power of his party, journalists, philanthropists, or ethnic minorities. He announced recently his wish to run for a third presidential term: his behavior has authoritarianism written all over it.
The Turkey of Erdoghan is cleverly navigating through alliances, making the most out of the unforeseen advantages the Ukraine war offered them. As upsetting as it may seem for Western powers, Turkey can get away with being a closet authoritarian country, stay in NATO, and thus benefit from all the financial aid without adhering to liberal ideals.
It seems we are witnessing the birth of another authoritarian regime, but this time in NATO. The derive of Turkey is perhaps also a good moment to question the usefulness of international organizations. Ukrainian president Zelensky called the UN useless, and we may now be entering an era in which international organizations have become obsolete.