SCOTT RITTER: Turkey Rains on NATO’s Parade

In opposing the application of Finland and Sweden, Erdogan has disrupted the military alliance’s effort to further provoke Russia with even more expansion.  

Letters of application to NATO from Finland and Sweden, presented to Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on May 18. (NATO)

By Scott Ritter
Special to Consortium News

On May 18, the secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a Norwegian named Jen Stoltenberg, stood on a stage, flanked by the ambassadors to NATO of Finland and Sweden, Klaus Korhonen and Axel Wernhoff, respectively.

It was one of those made-for-television moments that politicians dream of — a time of high drama, where the ostensible forces of good are faced off against the relentless assault of evil, which necessitates the intervention of like-minded friends and allies to help tip the scales of geopolitical justice toward those who embrace liberty over tyranny.

“This is a good day,” Jen Stoltenberg announced, “at a critical moment for our security.”

Left unsaid was the harsh reality that hundreds of miles to the east the military forces of Russia and Ukraine were locked in deadly combat on Ukrainian soil. Also left unsaid was the role played by NATO in facilitating that conflict.

But the gathering had not been convened for the purpose of self-reflection on the part of the civilian head of NATO. Instead, it was to commemorate the furtherance of the very same policy of expansion of the alliance which had helped trigger the ongoing fighting between Ukraine and Russia.

“Thank you so much for handing over the applications for Finland’s and Sweden’s membership in NATO,” Stoltenberg continued. “Every nation has the right to choose its own path. You have both made your choice, after thorough democratic processes. And I warmly welcome the requests by Finland and Sweden to join NATO.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, center, after receiving letters of application from Klaus Korhonen, ambassador of Finland and Axel Wernhoff, ambassador of Sweden on May 18. (NATO)

The day prior, May 17, Finland’s parliament voted 188-8 to join NATO, breaking its multi-decade tenure as a neutral country. Finland’s actions followed a similar debate and vote on the part of the Swedish legislative body, the Riksdag.

Both nations cited Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as their respective motivation to transition from neutrality to membership in an alliance whose behavior has itself transitioned over the years. From an exclusively defensive identity, NATO has embraced expansion both in terms of its own size and in its scope — by undertaking military operations outside of the confines of Europe that were both offensive and designed to promote political change in the targeted countries.

Historical Ignorance

The historical ignorance captured in the actions of Finland and Sweden was astounding regarding the role played by NATO in triggering the very conflict political leaders cited as the reason to seek the protection of alliance membership. It was as if a family whose house had been set afire sought shelter in the home of the arsonist in order to shield itself from the services of the fire department.

There was also an absolute ignorance of their own respective histories. The idea that Finland would cite Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine as the trigger for breaking its decades-long pledge of neutrality is particularly troublesome. It is as if Finland forgot its own troubled past, in particular its role in the so-called War of Continuation in 1941-1944, where Finland allied itself with Nazi Germany in its war of subjugation against the Soviet Union, following the 1939 Soviet attack on Finland. 

Finnish troops participated in the siege of Leningrad, where over a million Soviet civilians lost their lives. Only by pledging to become neutral in perpetuity did Finland avoid the logical consequences of its actions, namely dismemberment and elimination as a sovereign state. The Soviet Union and later Russia both were adamant in making sure Finnish soil would never again be used as a launching pad for foreign aggression against Russian territory. Finland appears to have forgotten both the pledge it had made, and the reasons behind that pledge.

NATO ambassadors Klaus Korhonen of Finland and Axel Wernhoff of Sweden, with letters of application on May 18. (NATO)

Sweden, too, cites the Russian military invasion of Ukraine as the reason for ending centuries of neutrality. But the Swedish politicians behind this decision have yet to explain what exactly it is about the Russian action that sets it apart from, say, the behavior of Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

If the slaughter of tens of millions of civilians and the destruction of nations were not enough to push Sweden off its neutral perch between 1939-1945, it is hard to see how Russia’s actions, which did not take place in a vacuum, but rather in the context of eight years of conflict in the Donbass which killed over 14,000 people and the threat to Russian security posed by an expanding NATO, could be cited in good faith as a legitimate cause of action.

“You are our closest partners,” Stoltenberg continued. “And your membership in NATO would increase our shared security.” That he said this with no apparent recognition of the irony contained in those words, and that the ambassadors of Finland and Sweden were able to avoid shuffling in embarrassment, is a testimony to either hubris-driven self-delusion, collective ignorance of historical context, or both.

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Stoltenberg moved on to the final scene in this one-act drama.

“The applications you have made today are an historic step,” he told the Nordic ambassadors.

“Allies will now consider the next steps on your path to NATO. The security interests of all Allies have to be taken into account. And we are determined to work through all issues and reach rapid conclusions. Over the past few days, we have seen numerous statements by Allies committing to Finland’s and Sweden’s security. NATO is already vigilant in the Baltic Sea region, and NATO and Allies’ forces will continue to adapt as necessary.”

Stoltenberg closed the made-for-television family special with words that would soon come back to haunt him. “All Allies agree on the importance of NATO enlargement. We all agree that we must stand together. And we all agree that this is an historic moment, which we must seize.”

Enter Erdogan

Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan addressing a North Atlantic Council meeting in 2019. (NATO)

A happy ending? Not so fast. Enter Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who decided he would crash Stoltenberg’s scripted moment. Not all NATO members were in accordance with the bid by Finland and Sweden to join the alliance. Since NATO is a consensus-driven organization, all it takes to ruin this made-for-TV moment was one disaffected member. That member was Turkey.

“As all NATO allies accept Turkey’s critical importance to the alliance,” Erdogan wrote in a guest essay he penned for The Economist on May 30,

“it is unfortunate that some members fail fully to appreciate certain threats to our country. Turkey maintains that the admission of Sweden and Finland entails risks for its own security and the organization’s future. We have every right to expect those countries, which will expect NATO’s second-largest army to come to their defense under Article 5, to prevent the recruitment, fundraising and propaganda activities of the PKK [the Kurdish People’s Party], which the European Union and America consider a terrorist entity.”

Erdogan called for the extradition from Sweden of “members of terrorist organizations” as a pre-condition for Turkey considering its application for NATO membership. Erdogan also demanded that both Sweden and Finland end their respective arms embargoes against Turkey, imposed in 2019 in response to Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria that targeted Kurdish groups affiliated with the PKK.

“Turkey stresses that all forms of arms embargoes — such as the one Sweden has imposed on my country — are incompatible with the spirit of military partnership under the NATO umbrella. Such restrictions not only undermine our national security but also damage NATO’s own identity.”

Kurdish PKK guerillas in Kirkuk, Iraq, April 24,2016. (Kurdishstruggle via Flickr)

As things stand, neither Finland nor Sweden appears prepared to accede to Erdogan’s demands. Despite high-level meetings between delegations from both Finland and Sweden with Turkish officials, no headway appears to have been made.

According to Fahrettin Altun, an adviser to Erdogan, neither Finland nor Sweden have put anything discernable on the table. Turkey, Altun told a Swedish newspaper, needs more than just words. “It is not right that Finland and Sweden waste NATO’s time at this critical moment,” Altun declared.

Complicating matters further is the fact that Turkey appears to be on the cusp of launching a major military operation into northern Syria specifically targeting the very Kurdish group — the People’s Protection Units, or YPG — that Erdogan accuses both Finland and Sweden of supporting.

A similar incursion in 2019 triggered the arms embargo against Turkey that Erdogan now demands be lifted. And the hue and cry that can be anticipated from human rights groups if Turkey follows through with its threat to invade northern Syria will not only make it virtually impossible for either Sweden or Finland to give Erdogan the concessions he is demanding, but also further strain Turkish relations with other NATO members, such as the United States, France and Great Britain, all of whom view Turkey’s presence in northern Syria as complicating their ongoing operations inside Syria targeting the Islamic State (IS). The fact that the U.S., France and the U.K. have allied themselves with the YPG in this effort only muddies the waters.

Stoltenberg will convene the annual NATO summit in Madrid on June 29. NATO has much on its plate, with trying to craft a viable response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine topping the list.

Stoltenberg had hoped that he could use the applications of Finland and Sweden as a foundation from which he could project an atmosphere of strength and optimism around which NATO could plot a path forward.

Instead, the NATO secretary general will preside over an organization at war with itself, unsure of its future and unable to provide a cohesive answer to the problems with Russia which originated from the very policies of expansion Stoltenberg was trying to continue through the now abortive membership applications of Finland and Sweden.

Scott Ritter is a former U.S. Marine Corps intelligence officer who served in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control treaties, in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm and in Iraq overseeing the disarmament of WMD.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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30 comments for “SCOTT RITTER: Turkey Rains on NATO’s Parade

  1. RayRandy
    June 15, 2022 at 20:35

    Hasn’t anyone heard of the CSTO? Isn’t this a type of UN Security Force, or rather a Peacekeeping force? I rarely hear much from the media about the CSTO It was a kind of banding together of a few of the -stan countries and Russia, and maybe why there’s no information about it. It’s beeing hidden?

  2. Asgard2208
    June 15, 2022 at 19:42

    Not sure what to make of the “complicating their ongoing operations inside Syria targeting the Islamic State (IS)” statement. The US/UK/NATO owned and controlled IS: they were their little p(r)oxy army deployed to destroy Syria / topple Assad.

    As far as I can see the US and the Kurds are quite happy illegally stealing Syria’s oil, burning its wheat fields, and illegally occupying one third of its territory. Not much fighting IS, but maybe a lot of training at its little al Tanf enclave….

    Seems to me that the US/UK/NATO has become a mafia-like organization, a one trick pony, whose power and belligerence is aimed solely at those whom it can dominate / decimate. Truly, a thugocracy!

  3. June 15, 2022 at 11:30

    Excellent, Scott. If the U.S. had experienced diplomats, it could have figured this out and solved it before it came to a head. And so, for once, incompetence seems to be paying off! — at least so far. Money speaks, of course, and there are two weeks left before the NATO summit. Never can tell, but it does not seem likely that either the Nordic nerds nor the proud Turks can be offered enough to successfully bribe them at this point. Ray

  4. Ed Williams
    June 15, 2022 at 07:58

    ” as Europe ambles like sheep to shambles ,sighs Mr Dooley,olooly,olooly,oh” James Joyce.1911. Some things never change.
    Erdogan is a master puppeteer. He certainly keeps everyone on their toes.Keep an eye on Erdogen with the elections due next year and Turkey experiencing 70% inflation .Who knows which way he will jump.He seems like NATO’s worst nightmare.Anyway he seems to believe in the old boxers adage ” keen em’ guessing”.He is not someone you want to upset & he represents a formidable opponent.

  5. Humwawa
    June 14, 2022 at 17:01

    Since the Finns and the Swedes haven’t made any substantial offer to address Turkish objections, I wonder if they are secretly grateful for not having to join Nato. After all, the exploitation of the current war hysteria to fundamentally change their policy of neutrality isn’t in the best interest of Finland and Sweden. Nobody knows the concrete pressure that were put on their respective government to make them take such a hasty and unwise decision.

  6. Rob Roy
    June 14, 2022 at 15:32

    What Sweden and Finland aren’t considering is that if ANY NATO country goes to war, ALL NATO countries are obligated to go to war with them. They also don’t seem to realize that NATO is aggressive, not defensive. Stoltenberg is a liar for the US.
    Another insightful article by Scott Ritter. Thanks.

    • onno37
      June 15, 2022 at 10:33

      Couldn’t have said it better Add to this the incompetent & US blowhorn Stoltenberg we have a FULL CYCLE of INCOMPETENCE targeting for WW III!

  7. June 14, 2022 at 11:17

    Turkey hostility to the PKK is understood. Getting them out of Syria is laudable. Removing itself from Syria and taking the US with them would be even better. If their objection to Finland and Sweden NATO membership is their stance on the PKK, hard to pat them on the back other than to provide the value of delay.

  8. torture this
    June 14, 2022 at 09:11

    I get the feeling that a few Swedes and Finns have a nice payday coming if they can pull it off. I have no idea what the folks who work for a living are being sold.

    • Ed Williams
      June 15, 2022 at 08:12

      You sound a bit cynical my friend..But on reflection you may very well have hit the proverbial nail.Everyone seems to talk through their pockets these days.Sad.

  9. mgr
    June 14, 2022 at 06:00

    Thank you for an excellent article and in particular the historical background. So the Finns were Nazi supporters too. Good to know. How sordid. As of late, the Western alliance seems ever more dependent on the “immaculate conception” view of history (everything just happens; no cause, no effect) in order to hold off the intense cognitive dissonance that comes when “inventing reality” encounter real reality.

    Moonofalabama has forecast that the special military operation in Ukraine by Russia and the West’s response will inevitably be a fatal blow to NATO; things may appear superficially sturdy in calm times but fatal cracks show up when pressure is added. He also forecasts upheavals throughout the EU; well deserved considering the feckless leadership that is now in charge, perhaps not for long. And even, hopefully, a fatal blow to American influence and manipulation in Europe in general. How wonderful if Europe can free itself from that malignant burden.

    So far, Moon’s predictions over the course of the war, offered with a liberal dose of common sense and a lack of ideological blinders, have proven to be accurate both in detail and in broad scope since even before the assault began. We’ll see if it continues.

    It seems that the odious American empire may have reached its zenith and we are now watching the tide waning. Whether it is still in time for humanity to muster cooperation in mitigating the existential effects of global warming and climate catastrophe is still to be seen. But considering that America has and continues to wage a do or die struggle against exactly the kind of world-wide cooperation that is necessary for us to survive, without American “leadership” ruling the world, perhaps there is still a chance.

    • Alan
      June 14, 2022 at 15:08

      Back in the 1920s and 1930s, members of both the Finnish and Swedish elites were very tight with Hitler’s German Nazi cabal. Finland fought with Germany against the Soviet Union in WW-II. The Finnish Air Force, such as it is, sported the swastika emblem on its airplanes until 2017. It had originally adopted the swastika in pre-Nazi 1918 but saw no reason to drop it after the end of the war in 1945.

      • mgr
        June 16, 2022 at 06:23

        Alan: Thank you for that. Apparently, either consciously or not, Finland and Sweden’s Nazi sympathies continue. In any case, they are now, as well as the EU and the Western alliance in general, arming white supremacist, neo-Nazis who were poised to start a bloodbath against the ethnic Russians of the Donbas region.

        America has lived for a while already in a post-truth era but for the rest of the world, and especially outside the Western alliance, I think the efforts to arm Nazis will not be so easily forgotten or overlooked. Nor should it. The miserable truth is that for the US “intelligence services,” this is just more of the same.

      • Tobysgirl
        June 16, 2022 at 16:24

        Nice touch, the swastikas on the Finnish planes. For a long time, Sweden had good PR, making many people believe it was some sort of liberal utopia. I thank Stieg Larsson for showing that up for the lie it was. What sort of country remained “neutral” during WWII?

  10. Francis Lee
    June 14, 2022 at 04:39

    The Americans snap their fingers and Stoltenberg jumps to attention – as does the pathetic ‘leadership’ of the EU/NATO. Europe as such is a military, economic, political and ideological occupied zone and has been since 1945. Whatever happened to sovereignty! The pathetic kow-towing of the EU to the US is an object lesson in the blank stupidity and timidity vis-a-vis the newly arrived Nordic/Scandinavian ‘warriors’ (sic!) into the American fold. The (NATO) ‘Alliance’ basically consists of the United States and its client states in Europe (and Japan).

    What have usually been called ‘allies’ are in essence these same client states. US global policy has, since 1945, slowly undermining the social, political and economic institutions of the countries and societies of inside of the Euro-Atlantic zone. This has been predicated upon the security structures of the vassal states have become more and more integrated with that of the US. Their criminal and airport bases are being networked to those in the US; their security platforms and policies are being transformed to mimic those of the US; and US domination over their security structures is manifest. The elites of various fields, from politics to academia to finance and security, in the Euro-Atlantic zone are all more and more prone to visit and train in the US or through US programmes in some or other manner.

    • Carolyn L Zaremba
      June 14, 2022 at 14:33

      “Suh-vern-tee? What’s that?” — Somebody at NATO

  11. Vesa
    June 14, 2022 at 03:40

    The world is really crazy. My only hope now as a finnish citizen depends on Erdogan. Lets hope, he stays firm. I have my doubts but still there is some hope, if he sees the light and tightens Turkeys relatioship with Russia and China.
    My opinion is that the process of applying NATOstan membership was far from democratic. The rational discussion was non-existent, this was a process conducted jointly by our political elite and mainstream media. Our left-green government is lead by young women participating to WEF youn global leaders brainwashing. Our WEF-prime minister Sanna Marin participated also to Bilderberg meeting in Washington. Oh all of this is so democratic and transparent.

    • Theo
      June 14, 2022 at 14:23

      I remember well just before Spain joined NATO. I lived in Spain at that time and could well follow the propaganda of both sides (pro and contra) before the referendum. Especially in the big cities the two parties distributed leaflets. The pro-accession parties had money, because their flyers were elaborate in four-color printing on glossy paper, while the brochures of the opponents of accession were simple. Printed in black without elaborate pictures on cheap paper.

  12. Jörgen Hassler
    June 14, 2022 at 01:53

    Good post. Just one point: the Swedish application isn’t about security, there’s no threat of a Russian invasion (they have a hard time crossing rivers in Ukraine, imagine crossing the Baltic Sea).
    The reason our government applies is that our arms industry wants to sell weapons on equal terms with other NATO countries.
    They will soon find out that the reason NATO exists is to create a market for the US, not for Sweden.

    • Jorge
      June 15, 2022 at 12:33

      Yes, instead of crossing Ukrainian rivers the Russians find it much easier to just fire long-range missiles and drop cluster bombs on thousands of civilian targets in Ukraine. Why that would make any Swede nervous is beyond me.

  13. Deniz
    June 14, 2022 at 01:03

    Turkey finally earns a world leader spot in the Ukraine crisis. Outside of Russia, they have shown more depth and savvy in the handling of this crisis than any other country in the world. Defying NATO was a very big gamble that could have had catastrophic consequences for Turkey if US / NATO won this war, but Erdogan’s gamble paid off.

  14. Highlander
    June 13, 2022 at 23:38

    Turkey will exceed to NATOs enlargement what ever statement Erdogan makes, today or tomorrow.
    And America will support the 30k buffer zone it previously stated in 2014 which includes the Syrian oil and gas fields which it also state Turkey should steal!

  15. pasha
    June 13, 2022 at 22:27

    This is just a regurgitation of facts and discussion that’s been in the public domain for days. In point of fact Erdogan has many more reasons for dissatisfaction with NATO and America than Syria and the Kurds. He bought the superior Russian S-400 defensive system, only to find that America has refused to supply the F-35s that he contracted for–although it’s another question why anybody would want that vastly overpriced flying heap of junk anyway. NATO and America and Europe have consistently ignored the problem of Cyprus, of which nearly half is occupied by Turkey and inhabited by Turkish Cypriots; it’s an issue that refuses to go away. Perhaps even more important from Erdogan’s viewpoint is the illegal fortification by Greece of Greek islands that are only a few miles off the Turkish coast. It’s therefore hardly surprising that Erdogan’s feeling hard done by. As he points out, Turkey has the second biggest army in NATO and if NATO keeps slighting him, sooner or later he’ll be tempted to use it in Europe.

  16. Malcolm Powell
    June 13, 2022 at 22:05

    Stoltenberg and Van Der Lehan are mini-Feurers, the primary emphasis being on the mini bit.

  17. Jeff Harrison
    June 13, 2022 at 20:35

    Good post, Scott. Only one complaint. NATOs operations in Syria have nothing to do with IS and everything to do with a continuation of the US’s effort at regime change in Damascus.

    • torture this
      June 14, 2022 at 08:57

      I’m so glad to hear that the US/NATO has stopped using IS to change the regime in Syria!

    • Eric
      June 14, 2022 at 20:46

      NATOs operations in Syria must also support the illegal American seizure
      of significant oil fields for American fossil fuel corporations, probably
      at the expense of Europen corporations as well as Syrian sovereignty.

  18. michael888
    June 13, 2022 at 20:29

    The Kurds are a convenient excuse, and both Sweden and Finland have supported them against Turkey.
    However Erdogan has other personal reasons. As with the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2005 where the CIA installed puppet Yushchenko (conveniently married to an American, a State Dept/ CIA agent) and booted out Yanukovych, and with the US-directed Maidan Coup in 2014, where again Yanukovych, democraticly elected under UN monitoring, was forced out by VP Biden’s NAZIs, and more compliant puppets were installed by the US, Erdogan has also had to deal with a US Coup. Over 200 people were killed in 2016 when Obama’s CIA tried to boot out Erdogan, who claimed the US was working with Fethullah Gülen, living in the US. Erdogan combined both President and Prime minister offices and was democratically re-elected in 2018. Erdogan has a score to settle with Joe Biden and the US.

    • Thirdeye
      June 15, 2022 at 13:33

      Things looked really bad between Russia and Turkey in the aftermath of the Su-24 shootdown by Turkey in 2015, but cooler heads prevailed and it paid off. Russian intelligence tipped off Erdogan about Obama’s impending coup about a year after the shootdown. The US sponsorship of the YPG and occupation of northeastern Syria provided Russia with another huge opportunity in their relationship with Turkey, developing deconfliction procedures and even implementing co-operative patrols to ensure separation between Syrian- and Turkish- aligned forces. I’m pretty sure Turkey’s more assertive stance in northern Syria got greenlighted by Russia as part of a deal for more co-operation on issues related to the Ukraine war, with a more confrontational stance from Turkey vis-a-vis the US and their allies in Syria as an added benefit. One big thing happening with very little notice in international politics is the unexpected distancing of key players – Turkey, India, Saudi Arabia – from the anti-Russian measures of the Atlantic-imperial powers. That’s been a real diplomatic coup for Russia and I suspect that they have more big cards to play over Turkey. Commerce with Russia is vitally important for Turkey now more than ever, especially with Turkey’s economic problems that they can expect no help from the Atlantic-imperialists over, and there’s been a growing realization within Turkey that they will always be regarded as a not-fully-enfranchised partner by the Atlantic-imperialists.

  19. Mikael Andersson
    June 13, 2022 at 20:29

    Scott, I’m very happy that the impasse concerning the PKK has produced the “now abortive membership applications of Finland and Sweden.” The decision of Finland in particular must be some form of collective insanity. Russia will have neutral regimes along its western border. If the current regimes do not agree to neutrality then new regimes will be found. Finland can be an example for all, and I hope that sanity returns, but feel that is some way off.

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