opinion Turkey’s bloc should end on Sweden’s NATO bid.

Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan cherishes his country’s role as the swing state of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a bridge not between one faction within the Western alliance and another, but between the alliance itself and its main adversary, Russia. is the axis. His bartering and gamesmanship, therefore, are designed to enhance his role as a power broker – and to extract concessions – even as he destroys his NATO allies.

He has defied analysts’ confident predictions that he would lift Ankara’s bloc by joining Sweden’s coalition after Turkey’s presidential election, which it won in May, or, of course, NATO’s annual After the summit, which took place in July. At the meeting, he pledged that Turkey would allow Sweden to join later this year. Two days later he changed his tune, saying the Turkish parliament, where he rules, would need to sign off.

Mr. Erdogan’s obstructionism is contagious. This has apparently encouraged another problem child in NATO, Hungary. Having previously pledged to support Sweden’s accession, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has threatened to block it, angered by Stockholm’s criticism of his authoritarian ways.

As is often the case, given Mr. Erdogan’s transactional approach to international politics, a concession is needed before Sweden will agree to open NATO’s doors. He wants to finalize a deal to buy $20 billion worth of US-made F-16 fighter jets, along with modernization kits for the country’s aging fleet.

President Biden has supported the F-16 sale but has made it clear to Mr. Erdogan that Congress must sign off. And Mr. Biden’s influence in Congress is more limited than Mr. Erdogan’s in Turkey’s parliament. Members of Congress, who know how Mr. Erdogan works, want Turkey’s stranglehold on Sweden’s NATO membership to be definitively removed before they approve the full F-16 deal. Many of them hesitate because Turkey’s backsliding on democratic principles has accelerated. After meeting with Mr. Biden at the Group of 20 summit of major industrialized nations this month, Mr. Erdogan expressed, apparently without irony, his dismay that Mr. Biden was tying the F-16 package to Sweden.

The standoff is a boon for Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom Mr Erdogan has declared he has a “special relationship”. Turkish leaders must reassess where their interests lie — with their NATO allies, whose combined economic output is about 10 times that of Russia, or with warlords in the Kremlin, who want their economy to weigh on the West. Struggling to keep up with the competition. Restrictions

Sweden’s entry would significantly strengthen the Western alliance, and Stockholm is understandably frustrated at the delay. It set aside decades of formal neutrality to apply for NATO membership shortly after Russian troops invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Mindful of Mr. Erdogan’s stated objections to joining the coalition, Stockholm allayed Ankara’s concerns that it had failed to move aggressively against the Kurds. in Sweden, who are considered terrorists by Turkey. To that end, it has extradited several Kurds at Turkey’s request, and has also amended its laws and constitution to allow for tougher dealings with alleged terrorists. Last year, Stockholm also lifted the arms embargo on Turkey.

Meanwhile, Sweden and NATO have tightened longstanding bonds even without formal membership. And in preparation for joining, Sweden has sharply increased military spending to meet NATO’s goal of spending 2 percent of annual gross domestic product on defense.

Mr. Erdogan risks overplaying his hand. His horse-trading efforts have included demanding progress towards Turkey’s EU accession in exchange for Sweden’s recognition of NATO and threatening Stockholm to legislate a formal ban on Koran burning – A protest action that has become more common recently. . The former is a non-starter. The latter is an affront to Stockholm’s tradition of free speech.

His best option, and NATO’s, is to go ahead with the deal that Mr. Biden and key members of Congress have indicated they are willing to offer — the F-16 package when Turkey joins Sweden’s NATO alliance. Officially confirmed membership.

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