This op-ed was written by Seimer1234, former Foreign Secretary, Defence Secretary and International Trade Secretary.
We need to talk about Turkey.
It’s a conversation that has long been an uncomfortable one for the West, particularly since the ascension of Recyp Erdogan to the Presidency. Erdogan has shown himself to be fundamentally anti-democratic, a problem for NATO and keen on flexing power over weaker neighbours, however vital security and economic interests have been put first and foremost.
While previous efforts and statements of condemnation have happened, such as the motion I proposed a year ago condemning the arrest of Canan Kaftiancoglu which received cross party support, little real action has been taken on the matter.
This all has emboldened Turkey, and it has come to a head this year.
Erdogan inserted Turkey into the conflict in the Caucasus, prolonging the conflict, increasing the loss of life and setting the peace process in the region back decades.
In the Mediterranean, Turkey has pursued an expansionist policy, sending naval vessels into Greek and Cypriot water and is now planning further military exercises close to Greek islands to send a message to a growingly exasperated EU considering sanctions.
In Libya Turkey has failed to meet its Berlin Conference promises to stop arming Libyan military groups, pushing its influence in the country to stretch further control over the Mediterranean.
Turkey’s previous defence of the Uighur minority has given way to subservience to the Chinese government, sending thousands of Uighur refugees back to China, assisting in the Chinese government’s ethnic cleansing campaign.
Erdogan has also ratcheted up tensions with France, a NATO ally, making derogatory comments about President Macron’s mental capacity and attempting to organise boycotts of French goods.
The West’s continued self imposed blindness to Erdogan’s neo-ottoman foreign policy is simply untenable. While Turkey has previously been a vital ally in the fight against terrorism, accusations from France and others that Turkey has sent Syrian jihadists to Nagorno-Karabakh to fight on their behalf clearly shows Turkey’s previous utility as a regional fighter against terrorism is decreasing.
Turkey’s behaviour is a serious threat to NATO, and leaves the dark possibility that, if Turkey continues unchecked, the nuclear option of NATO expulsion under the Vienna Convention may be left as the only possible remedy.
This option is far from ideal, and is not inevitable. Action can, and in my view must, be taken immediately to push Turkey to de-escalate, particularly in the Mediterranean.
So, what can the government do?
There are a few key steps the government should take to try and moderate Tukey’s extreme behaviour. The EU Council is meeting this week to discuss sanctions on Turkey. The UK should do the same and review the implementation of sanctions and new blocks on arms sales to Turkey. We must also step up dialogue with regional partners, particularly Italy, Greece, France, Cyprus and other members of the “Med7”. Diplomatic pressure campaigns should be applied, with the publication of joint statements similar to the one published during my time as Foreign Secretary being a potential option. The PM and Foreign Secretary should also raise the issue at the D12 with relevant allies such as the EU, Italy, France, Germany and the United States.
The government must take action. A continued reluctance to properly put a check on Turkey’s behaviour will result in serious problems for the strength and stability of NATO.