The Russian invasion of Ukraine united NATO in a way not seen since the Cold War. At the same time, he exposed cracks within NATO, particularly in relations between Europe and Turkey. While the current problem facing NATO and Turkey is the entry of Sweden and Finland into the NATO alliance, Europe’s reluctance to admit Turkey into the European Union, alongside Seville’s one-sided map detailing Greece’s exclusive economic zone which gave the Aegean Sea to Greece and denied Turkey the right to develop its share of the enormous riches of the Eastern Mediterranean.
The European Union dragged its feet to allow Turkey to join the European Union. The European Union, ever since Turkey filed an official application to join the European Union, has invoked one excuse after another as to why Turkey’s application was not processed. In 2016, the European Union officially froze Turkey’s candidacy under the pretext of democratic backsliding. One has to wonder whether the democratic backsliding also concerns the increasingly authoritarian governments of Hungary and Poland.
Turkey has the second largest army in the NATO alliance and anchors NATO’s southern borders. Turkey officially joined NATO in February 1952. Also, Turkey is a barrier between Europe and the Middle East, but Western Europe has treated Turkey as a pariah nation. Refusing to process Turkey’s application to join the European Union was a slap in the face for an ally that has guarded Europe’s southern border since 1952.
To add insult to injury, when Turkey attempted to assert its rights to develop mineral resources within a 12-mile limit of its shores, it was blocked by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Turkey is stuck in its home waters because of a large number of Greek islands, many of which are uninhabited. The dispute between Greece and Turkey is quite straightforward, with Greece claiming the Aegean Sea as its own. Such disputes should, according to UNCLOS, be resolved through diplomacy
…” The rules of international law which must be applied to the dispute are more or less clear. Articles 74 and 83 of the Convention on the Law of the Sea relating to the delimitation of the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf encourage the parties “to reach an equitable solution”, but are silent on the method of doing so. However, existing case law on the matter sheds light on this issue. The ICJ expressed the view in its Gulf of Maine judgment (1984) that delimitation is not a unilateral act. It requires the agreement of all interested parties. Without an agreement, unilateral acts or claims have no legal value. Similarly, bilateral agreements between Turkey and Libya or Greece and Egypt only have binding effect on the States that have signed them, but have no legal effect on other coastal States. “
Yet when Turkey sent a survey vessel to the eastern Mediterranean, France and Italy sent warships and aircraft to support Greece’s position in the Aegean Sea, and forced the Turkey to abandon its attempts to develop the rich natural gas fields that Turkey believes it has a right to.
The underlying reason Greece has claimed the Aegean Sea as part of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is the Seville map. Funded by the European Union, the Seville card in 2003 granted all mining rights to Greece and denies Turkey the right to exploit the mineral wealth of the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
The Kurdish problem
Since 1978, the PKK has been seeking an independent Kurdish state. It was in 1984 that the PKK launched an insurrection against the Turkish government. The ongoing conflict has claimed more than 40,000 lives. Although there have been numerous attempts to mitigate violence between the PKK and Turkey, following the 2016 coup attempt, President Ergodan suppressed and intensified airstrikes against the insurgent stronghold in southeastern Turkey.
Sweden has taken in and given refuge to members of the PKK, and a member of the PKK, Amineh Kakabaveh is actually a member of the Swedish Parliament.
Turkey wants Sweden to cut its ties with Kurdish groups and end the arms embargo that Sweden has imposed on Turkey. Swedish domestic politics have prevented Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson from getting the political support she needs to meet Turkey’s demands. The Kurdish member of the Swedish parliament is the decisive vote to keep Prime Minister Andersson’s government in the majority.
Turkey has made it clear that unless the issue of Sweden’s support for PKK refugees is settled, Turkey will never agree to allow Sweden to become a member of NATO.
Natural Resources of Turkey
Turkey has significant natural resources within its borders. The three main natural resources are chromite, bauxite and copper. Also, Turkey has natural resources of iron, manganese, lead, zinc, antimony, asbestos, pyrite, sulfur and mercury.
Turkey’s agricultural resources are ranked among the richest 10% of global agricultural production. Turkey grows wheat, sugar beets, milk, poultry, cotton, potatoes and tomatoes. Turkey is also the world’s leading producer of apricots and hazelnuts.
Turkey’s GDP for 2020 was $720.1 billion. Turkey’s GDP fell in 2021, but that was more the result of the Covid-19 virus than anything else.
Turkey has an army that has 355,000 active duty personnel with 380,000 army reservists. Its navy consists of 16 frigates, 10 corvettes, 35 patrol boats, 11 minesweepers and 12 submarines.
The Turkish Air Force consists of 206 fighter aircraft, 80 transport aircraft, 276 training aircraft and 497 helicopters.
Turkey’s National Security Needs
Over the past five years, Turkey has faced significant and serious national security challenges. Due to international changes and the slow but steady decline of US interests in the Middle East, Turkey has significantly strengthened its security. Turkey has had to deal with growing threats from regional conflicts in Iraq and Syria that have spilled over into Turkey’s political borders. There have been more and more terrorist attacks by the PKK, Daesh and the Gülenist terrorist group.
In a statement by President Ergodan in May 2022, President Ergodan expressed his dissatisfaction with NATO’s failure to support Turkey’s national security needs.
In a speech on May 23rd, 2022, President Ergodan expressed Turkey’s frustration with Sweden’s continued support of the PKK. In his remarks… “At a time when alliance solidarity must be maintained at the highest level, the policy of making up excuses must be abandoned and Turkey’s legitimate expectations, especially with regard to sanctions and the support in the fight against terrorism, must be met”.
As Turkey is now at odds with several NATO members, Greece, France and Italy, one has to wonder whether or not NATO is meeting Turkey’s national security needs. Turkey has other options…
A possible Russian-Turkish alliance?
As mentioned earlier, Turkey faces terrorist threats from Syria, where the PKK has established bases where terrorist training is conducted and where terrorist activities originate. There were reports that a branch of the PKK, the YPG, was forcing children to join their ranks.
The PKK launches the majority of its terrorist attacks against Turkey. Turkey is also threatened by Iran. While Turkey’s relations with Iran have been calm and correct, there has been no adversarial relationship until recently.
As Turkey is embroiled in a bushfire war in northern Syria, Turkish and Iranian forces have clashed. Indeed, Turkey recently warned against Iran’s attempt to create Shia states near the Turkish border. And with Turkey seeking a rapprochement with Israel, relations between the two sides will only deteriorate.
Russia is in a unique position to help Turkey with its army in Syria. Russia could put pressure on the PKK and eliminate the threat of the PKK against Turkey.
Turkey could help Russia facilitate the transit of Russian ships through the Dardanelles Strait, allowing Russian grain and oil to be exported to countries that have not condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The Russian Navy would once again have access to the Mediterranean Sea and could support Turkey in its claim to much of the minerals and natural resources of the Eastern Mediterranean.
NATO and the European Union must reassess their
Treatment of Turkey
If NATO wants to retain Turkey as an effective member of NATO and help protect Europe’s southern flank, Europe must reassess the way Turkey is treated.
The continuation of Turkey’s process of accession to the European Union would be a step in the right direction.
Allowing Turkey access to the rich natural gas deposits of the eastern Mediterranean would be another step that should also be taken.
Ultimately, NATO and Europe must reconsider how they have treated Turkey. If they don’t, they risk losing the security of their southern border, with Turkish resources and the military aligned with Russian interests.