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The Turkish Roadblock to an Expanded NATO
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The Turkish Roadblock to an Expanded NATO

Sweden and Finland still want to join the alliance, but Turkey stands squarely in the way.

Happy Thursday! Oreo has introduced a limited edition Oreo-flavored Oreo it’s calling The Most Oreo Oreo—with “real Oreo” bits in the filling—and we’re taking this opportunity to go for the record of most uses of the word “Oreo” in a single sentence: seven.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • President Joe Biden formally announced Wednesday the United States will send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine in an agreement reached with Germany to secure the release of its simpler Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. The U.S. will purchase the Abrams from manufacturers rather than releasing them from its stockpile, so the tanks will take months to reach the battlefield. Germany intends to deliver 14 Leopards from its stocks by the end of March and approve Leopard deliveries by other European countries.
  • GenBioPro—the pharmaceutical manufacturer of abortion drug mifepristone—filed suit Wednesday in a West Virginia federal court, arguing the Food and Drug Administration’s rules governing abortion pills should take precedence over the state’s tighter restrictions. The FDA allows telehealth prescriptions, retail pharmacy sales, and mail delivery of abortion pills containing mifepristone, but West Virginia’s abortion limitations restrict access to the drug. An obstetrician-gynecologist on Wednesday sued North Carolina officials on similar grounds, challenging the state’s requirements that abortion pills be prescribed in person, among other restrictions. The Alliance Defending Freedom last year filed suit in Texas arguing the FDA shouldn’t have approved mifepristone at all. All three cases could affect abortion restrictions in other states.
  • Pope Francis told the Associated Press Tuesday he believes laws criminalizing homosexuality are unjust and the Catholic Church should work to end them, his first such statement despite a history of urging the Church to boost inclusion of LGBTQ people. Nearly 70 countries have jurisdictions that at least nominally criminalize same-sex sexual activity, according to the Human Dignity Trust. Francis didn’t explicitly contradict the Church’s teaching on homosexual activity being sinful, but said it “isn’t a crime” and encouraged bishops supporting laws making it one to change their stances.
  • China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention claimed Wednesday severe COVID-19 cases have fallen 72 percent from their January 5 peak and fever clinic visits have dropped nearly 98 percent from their December 23 peak. The country has reported just shy of 73,000 COVID-related deaths since December 8, likely a large undercount since COVID-19 deaths have been narrowly defined and only counted in hospitals. Anecdotal evidence suggests many deaths in rural areas, where a lack of hospitals means COVID-19 deaths are less likely to be recorded.
  • Taliban spokesman Shafiullah Rahimi told CNN Tuesday that at least 157 Afghans have died amid low temperatures this winter, many during an early January cold snap. The United Nations said Sunday it’s delivering blankets, shelter, and other aid to more than 565,000 people, but several aid groups have halted operations in the country after the Taliban banned female aid workers. The cold has also killed about 70,000 livestock, according to Rahimi.
  • Meta Global Affairs President Nick Clegg announced Wednesday the company will reinstate former President Donald Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, ending a suspension imposed after he praised people participating in the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot. Given previous violations, Clegg wrote, Trump will be subject to higher penalties for further infractions such as posting content that “delegitimizes an upcoming election or is related to QAnon.” Penalties may include limiting the reach of his posts and/or additional suspensions.
  • Yelp reported this week that new business openings in the U.S. hit a record high of 637,590 last year—up 12 percent from 2019’s pre-pandemic tally despite economic challenges. Eighty-six percent of states saw more business openings than in 2019, though New York and California lagged pre-pandemic levels, as did openings of businesses like restaurants and clubs, which were hardest hit by the pandemic.

Erdogan Throws a Wrench in Nordic NATO Bids

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the parliament last October. (Photo by ADEM ALTAN/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s bad form not to dance with the one who brought you, but what if the one who brought you is being barred from the dance floor by the bouncer? So it is for Sweden and Finland, both of which applied last year for NATO membership, and only one of which seems likely to be accepted anytime soon. Now the question is: Do you leave your friend at the door, or wait in the cold together? 

As we reported last year, Finland and Sweden abandoned their long-held neutrality after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, formally kickstarting the NATO accession process in May 2022. (That old edition of TMD is particularly worth re-reading, if only for the definitely true anecdote about a Finnish soldier, some meth, and a high-speed ski chase.)

The moves were met with cheers throughout the West, not just because they represented a Putin own-goal, but because the two Nordic countries’ presence in the alliance would be a genuine boon for NATO. “Finland and Sweden are stable democracies with good track records there, but also, they are militarily fairly capable,” Rasmus Hindrén, a former Finnish defense ministry official, told The Dispatch. “They won’t be consumers of security.” Plus, Finland’s massive land border with Russia would present an opportunity, if the need arises, to bring NATO military assets closer to Putin’s doorstep. So what’s the hold-up? 

Turkey and Hungary, mostly. Joining the club requires unanimous agreement among the alliance’s 30 members, and 28 countries have formally voted to accept the new applicants. Ankara and Budapest are the last two holdouts—though Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán said in November ratification would be on the agenda when the country’s parliament is back in session come February. Turkey’s reluctance, however, doesn’t seem to be going anywhere fast.

From the day the two Nordic countries announced their plans, winning Turkey’s approval was always going to be the biggest obstacle. Sweden has opened its borders to tens of thousands of Kurdish migrants and asylum seekers over the years, with some going on to become members of the country’s parliament. But also present are militants from what Turkey considers a terrorist organization, the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). The PKK—which is also designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States and European Union—has fought a separatist battle against the Turkish state for decades.

A trilateral memorandum between Turkey, Sweden, and Finland—signed last June—laid out a roadmap for quelling Ankara’s fears and getting Turkey to “yes” on the NATO bids. Finland and Sweden promised to cut any institutional ties with the PKK, tighten their counter-terrorism laws, and “address” Turkey’s outstanding extradition requests for supporters of the PKK and opponents of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. There are 130 people whom Turkey is demanding Sweden extradite, and many are political dissidents who have committed no crime in Sweden. 

The extraditions remain a major sticking point—but one all parties involved knew would be difficult to resolve. Sweden and Finland “came short of realizing the extraditions Turkey demanded,” Özgür Ünlühisarcıklı, the director of the Ankara office of the German Marshall Fund, told The Dispatch. “[But] all concerned parties were aware [back in July] that this was within the realm of the judiciary, and there wasn’t much that the governments could do.”

Finland and Sweden have so far linked their NATO fates by attempting to accede together, but protests in Stockholm over the weekend made the latter’s path much thornier, raising for the first time the possibility one application would be accepted without the other. Days after Kurdish protesters hung an effigy of Erdogan from a lamppost in what Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson described as a “sabotage” of the country’s NATO application, police-permitted demonstrations saw a Danish far-right politician burn a Quran in front of the Turkish embassy. After a Swedish prosecutor decided not to press charges against those hoisting the effigy—and additional demonstrations in Sweden on Saturday in support of the Kurds and against NATO accession—Erdogan pulled the plug on the whole project. “It is clear that those who allowed such vileness to take place in front of our embassy can no longer expect any charity from us regarding their NATO membership application,” he announced at a press conference on Monday.

Turkey hasn’t expressed similar complaints about Helsinki in recent weeks, putting Finnish officials in an awkward position vis-a-vis their neighbors to the west. “A joint path to NATO is still possible,” Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told reporters Tuesday. “Somewhere in the back of our minds we are considering options in case a country were to face permanent resistance.”

That possibility remains unlikely and unfavorable, from NATO’s perspective. “When you think about the defense of the Baltic Sea region,” Hindrén told The Dispatch, “it’s not ideal if one piece of the puzzle is missing [from NATO membership].”

With competitive Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections set for May 14, domestic pressures are also fueling Erdogan’s staunch opposition to Swedish membership. 

“The truth is, no matter what they did, Erdogan would never have been satisfied with it before the election because this is really driven by domestic political politics in Turkey rather than genuine grievance,” said Eric Edelman, who served as U.S. ambassador to both Finland and Turkey in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, respectively. “He knows completely that [the protests are] not something the Swedish government did, that they can control.”

“This is all an excuse” to avoid the political ramifications of a vote that might seem like he’s being soft on terrorism or caving to international pressure, Edelman added.

A top advisor to Erdogan, İbrahim Kalın, said the quiet part out loud last week.“​​We don’t have the numbers,” he told reporters. “The opposition will ask all kinds of questions, and we cannot risk our political capital as we go into elections in the next three or four months.”

On the other hand, the PKK is, in fact, a significant terrorist actor in Turkey. The International Crisis Group, an international think tank, estimates that 6,366 people, more than 600 of whom were civilians, have been killed in Turkey in skirmishes with the PKK since 2015. As vice president in 2016, Joe Biden compared the PKK to ISIS, saying both posed existential threats to Turkey. The PKK is a terrorist organization, “plain and simple.”

“One thing that may be underappreciated outside of Turkey is the deep emotions of Turkish citizens about the PKK, and the frustration they have when they see the PKK having presence in, if not support from, Turkey’s allied countries,” said Ünlühisarcıklı.  

So what ends the stalemate? The spring election, for one thing. A December Al-Monitor poll found Erdogan’s ruling coalition trailing four points to the six-party opposition coalition. But Edelman said it’s still very possible the incumbent hangs on, either because he cheats or because his opponent is so feckless. “They seem hell-bent on nominating the least attractive candidate,” he told The Dispatch. 

If Erdogan wins, he can devote the beginning of his five-year term to lofty foreign policy concerns, rather than politically expedient domestic ones. Even if he loses, with Hungary likely to ratify the accession soon, overwhelming international pressure to green-light Sweden and Finland’s membership will be quickly applied to the sole roadblock and the new president, trying to make a name for him- or herself on the global stage. 

The U.S. could also have a role to play, though it’s thus far avoided getting too publicly involved in the NATO squabble. Turkey wants to purchase F-16 fighter jets from the U.S., a sale the Biden administration is informally in favor of, but which Congress—including many Democrats—is against. One thing Congress is for: Finnish and Swedish NATO membership. An eventual desire to secure the sale of the planes could influence Turkey’s behavior in NATO, especially when it becomes entirely isolated.

“There’s not a direct link, but I think there’s an inescapable indirect link,” said Ünlühisarcıklı. 

There are no real indications Finland or Sweden are getting cold feet, and most remain bullish Finland and Sweden will eventually be let into the club, even if some of the momentum of their historic about-face on membership has petered out. “I think there’s every reason to believe, ultimately, that Turkey will give way and allow Finland and Sweden to come into the alliance,” Edelman said. It might just not be on the West’s preferred timeline.

Worth Your Time

  • A few years ago, a tattooed Marine Corps veteran showed up at an Indiana mosque, fists clenched and face flushed. Bibi Bahraini writes in the Washington Post about what happened next. “I sat alone with him in our mosque library—to share a smile and ask his name,” Bahraini writes. “[Richard McKinney] began making regular visits to the mosque, joining us for meals and sharing stories about his family and his time in the military.” Months later, after McKinney joined the mosque, Bahraini heard rumors that he had planned to bomb it—so she invited him for dinner and asked if it was true. “He explained that in the military, he had been at war with Muslims for years, and that he had developed a deep hatred in his heart,” she writes. “[But] the way we had treated him, with compassion and kindness, had changed his mind. He said we had given him a place to belong.”
  • Should Christians support making birth free in the U.S.? Christianity Today invited Christians with policy and political backgrounds to consider the question, and Lyman Stone—research fellow at the Institute for Family Studies—argued the idea is praiseworthy but the policy mechanism needs work. “If the proposal on offer became law tomorrow, we would have fewer abortions, more healthy babies, and a stronger culture of life in our society,” he writes. “However, we would also be overpaying for this, as the proposal calls to essentially cover all birth costs in the United States—at a level not even covered by many private insurance plans currently (such as by covering doulas)—and also to provide an allowance for the child’s first two years of life. This is all well and good, but to effect serious change, it would be more helpful to advance concrete policy proposals that are attainable in the short run and at a reasonable cost.” Stone goes on to suggest alternative policy changes he finds more cost-effective.
  • In a column for the Washington Post, George Will explores Rep. Mike Gallagher’s plans and priorities for the House committee on China. “Gallagher believes that China’s recklessness might increase as its dynamism wanes,” Will writes. “Hence his questions. … Why the seeming retreat from the long-standing goal of a 355-ship Navy? Why is China purchasing U.S. agricultural land? Why has Congress not funded improved air and missile defense systems on Guam, just 1,700 miles from Taiwan? Why is Saudi Arabia ahead of Taiwan in the line to receive Harpoon missiles?” Gallagher, Will notes, finds himself arguing against defense cuts floated by both the left and the right. “Deterrence failed regarding Ukraine, with a huge cost in blood and treasure; a comparable failure regarding Taiwan would be immeasurably more catastrophic,” Will writes. “To both factions, Gallagher cites another Marine who does not mince words, former defense secretary Jim Mattis: ‘America can afford survival.’”
  • One more just for fun: Underwater Photography Guide has announced the winners of its 2022 photography contest and the images—an octopus carrying its eggs, a swarm of rays reminiscent of bats taking off, a haloed newt, and many more—are worth a look.

Presented Without Comment

(Correction from yesterday’s TMD: Rep. Massie is not actually a member of the House Freedom Caucus.)

Also Presented Without Comment

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • On today’s episode of Advisory Opinions, Sarah and David discuss the latest on classified documents—another one bites the dust!—plus an egregious case of corruption, a Georgia grand jury debate, and a head-scratcher case of wrongful arrest. 
  • Jonah returns to the studio for an in-person Remnant, recording with beloved egghead and Princeton political scientist Keith Whittington. They discuss America’s preoccupation with free speech, misconceptions about academic freedom, and what it means for college campuses and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recent policy moves. How concerned should we be about the state of free speech on college campuses? What are some common misconceptions about academic freedom? And what should we make of DeSantis’ approach to these issues?
  • You don’t have to be a card-carrying libertarian to worry about regulators reaching too quickly for blanket bans, Scott writes in Wednesday’s Capitolism (🔒). He offers a list of questions to ask before backing such prohibitions, and suggests policymakers exhibit a bit of humility. Plus: a chart eggsplaining those high egg prices.
  • Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green is reportedly still jockeying to become Donald Trump’s 2024 running mate, to which Nick replies in Wednesday’s Boiling Frogs (🔒): LOL, and furthermore, YOLO. “The core of hardcore partisanship is the belief that the worst member of your party is preferable to whatever the other party is offering,” he writes. “Trump/Greene would test that faith like few other things could.”
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has squashed a proposal to add an Advanced Placement course in African American studies to the state’s schools. In Wednesday’s G-File (🔒), Jonah argues the governor might have a point. Since black history is already in the standard curriculum, should schools be adding another advanced course while many kids struggle with basic reading and math?
  • And on the site today, Harvest dives into why eggs are so expensive, Audrey reports on the political implications of the makeup of the powerful House Rules Committee, Robert Tyler argues we shouldn’t heap praise on German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for finally sending tanks to Ukraine, and Kevin Carroll explores how the arrest for former FBI agent Charles McGonigal reveals wider failures of the federal government.

Let Us Know

Okay, okay—we hear you. If—hypothetically—we were to expand the offerings in The Dispatch store, what kinds of merch would you want to see? A thick hoodie? An adult onesie? Jonah dog swag? Dispatch-branded Spanish wine? What else?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.