What Turkey gained with its leverage from NATO

quick thinking

June 28, 2022

What Turkey gained with its leverage from NATO

Atlantic Council


The door is open again. After weeks of tension, Turkey finally dropped its objection to Finland’s and Sweden’s bids to join NATO as the alliance kicked off its summit in Madrid on Tuesday. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met one-on-one with US President Joe Biden and urged Stockholm and Helsinki to address his concerns about the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its Syrian affiliate, the Kurdistan Defense Units. people (YPG), while NATO moved towards securing two new members. Our experts, weighed from the top in Spain and around the world, dissect the case.


  • Chris Skaluba: Director of the Scowcroft Center’s Transatlantic Security Initiative and former Senior Director of European and NATO Policy at the U.S. Department of Defense
  • Rich Outzen (@RichOutzen): Nonresident Senior Researcher at the Atlantic Council in Turkey, former U.S. State Department official, and former U.S. Army foreign area officer
  • Fred Kemp (@FredKempe): President and CEO of the Atlantic Council
  • Defne Arslan (@defnesadiklar): Senior Director of the Atlantic Council in Turkey and former Senior Economist at the US Embassy in Ankara


  • Chris tells us that Erdogan’s tete-a-tete with Biden is “a major concession” from the White House, especially given the US administration’s stance on not engaging autocratic leaders. Coupled with Biden’s upcoming meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, “It appears the White House is prioritizing practical process over pure principle.”
  • Another big win for Ankara is to put its “terrorism concerns on the Alliance’s agenda”. Rich adds, referring to the commitment of the Nordic nations to repress members of the PKK and YPG. “This validates Erdogan’s insistence over the past two months, deflating the narrative that implied the PKK’s concerns were exaggerated,” he said, referring to the Turkish leader’s repeated calls for action against the groups.
  • In all, Fred said, it was a masterful piece by Erdogan, which “skillfully seized this moment of maximum leverage to make the most of its Turkish security and domestic political interests.”

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  • Rich also highlights a less-noticed outcome of the deal for Turkey: broad cooperation on defense industry deals. “Not just the lifting of the Swedish arms embargo [against Turkey]but the two Nordic countries are committed to involving Turkey in EU common security initiatives” such as the PESCO military transport project. (The embargo was imposed after Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria.)
  • While there was speculation that Turkey’s resistance to Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO membership was designed to attract US F-16 fighter jets or simply attention of Biden, Rich said such considerations were not “the central motive” of Erdogan, whose security concerns about the PKK are “sincerely felt, long-standing and central to the art of the Turkish state“.


  • Now, Defined said, all eyes are on Wednesday’s Biden-Erdogan meeting to see if the US follows Finland and Sweden in taking further steps to tighten the YPG as well.
  • Despite the windfall for Ankara, Defined reminds us that all parties benefit from this agreement, with Turkey supporting both NATO enlargement and recognition of its security concerns.
  • Chris agrees, noting that ultimately NATO has won a major victory toward “adding two vibrant democracies” and thereby “strengthening NATO’s democratic good faith and the overall security of the Alliance”.

Further reading

Associate specialists:
Christophe Skaluba,
Rich Outzen,
Frederick Kempeand
Defne Arslan

Image: Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan shakes hands with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg before a NATO summit in Madrid, Spain, June 28, 2022. Photo by Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Turkish Presidential Press Office /Handout via REUTERS

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