NATO chief: Turkey's concerns over PKK terrorism are totally legit

(AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)

Are Sweden and Finland any closer to being approved for NATO membership yet? Not really. But that doesn’t mean that the NATO Secretary-General isn’t going to keep trying to make this happen. During a press conference held with the President of Finland this weekend, Jens Stoltenberg sounded for all the world as if he was trying to find a way to placate Turkey and take Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s side, saying that Turkey’s concerns over the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) were “legitimate concerns.” He also suggested that Finland and Sweden would need to address those concerns if they wanted to join the alliance, though he was rather vague about what precise steps those nations could take to placate Erdogan. (Associated Press)

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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Sunday that Turkey has “legitimate concerns” over terrorism and other issues that need to be taken seriously.

Turkey has accused Finland and Sweden of supporting Kurdish militants and says it will not back the two Nordic nations joining NATO until they change their policies.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Stoltenberg stressed that “no other NATO ally has suffered more terrorist attacks than Turkey” and pointed to its strategic geographic location with neighbors like Iraq and Syria.

Stoltenberg was almost doing backflips in his effort to make it look as if Turkey’s concerns were being taken very seriously. He went so far as to describe the group in question as “the terrorist group PKK.” This is something of a change in focus for NATO, to put it mildly since you rarely heard the PKK mentioned all that much by anyone except Turkey in previous years.

Unfortunately for the NATO chief, Turkey has more than a few grievances to air and Erdogan has increased his demands. Both Finland and Sweden have sanctions in place against Turkey for its invasion of Northern Syria and its persecution of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Erdogan wants those sanctions lifted. He also wants them to extradite certain Kurds to Turkey, despite the fact that at least some of them have no record of being associated with the PKK.

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Those demands are likely to be several bridges too far for both Sweden and Finland. Any Kurds they send to Turkey will be immediately tossed in a dungeon or worse. And they will be reluctant to do anything that would further undermine the YPG, who have been a great help to the allies in fighting ISIS in Syria.

Of course, Erdogan already knows all of this and is likely betting on the proposal falling apart. It’s probably a win-win for him at this point. If they somehow assent to his demands, he gets economic relief and strikes a perceived blow against the Kurds in his country who oppose his regime. If they refuse, he has the justification he seeks to block their entry to NATO so he can show Vladimir Putin that he’s still looking out for his Russian comrades.

We’ve discussed this here before but it bears repeating. Yes, losing Turkey as a NATO member would be a significant blow to the alliance because of Turkey’s crucial location in a region rife with conflicts. But they really haven’t been acting like an ally for years now. Gaining Finland and Sweden as NATO members would be a significant win for NATO and might offset the logistical damage of losing Turkey. It’s something NATO should be seriously considering now, even if they have to completely disband NATO and reform it without Turkey to do it.

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Jazz Shaw 1:00 PM | July 14, 2024
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