Current Affairs Europe Politics

NATO vs Turkey?

NATO has appointed a new Secretary-General, Denmark’s Anders Fogh Rasmussen. But he wasn’t “rubber-stamped” into the job, as Turkey attempted to block his appointment. As a NATO member, Turkey has the right to be heard in matters as important as the appointment of a new Secretary-General. Did Turkey have concerns about the Dane’s capability? His suitability for the role?

In a sense, yes. And also, no.

Turkey’s PM, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, apparently disliked how Rasmussen handled the furore over the cartoons of Mohammed which took place 3 years ago. So NATO’s advancement was held up because one member state disliked how the head of another had handled a religious issue. Is NATO really the place for these arguments?

From this morning’s Observer:

As the single big Muslim country within Nato, Turkey had refused to yield on the appointment of Rasmussen because of his defence of free speech during the Danish cartoons crisis three years ago and because Denmark is host to a Kurdish rebel TV station broadcasting to Turkey.

“…his defence of free speech”. How can a supposed democratic government complain about that? Because the speech that was being defended wasn’t something that Erdogan’s government could be seen to ignore, let alone agree with. But there’s the rub – free speech includes ideas and arguments that we don’t like. In a country with free speech, you get to express your ideas and can critique the ideas of others. Nothing should be above this, least of all religious belief.

Turkey yielded at the very end after the summit was extended by two hours and heads of state and government met alone to try to strike a deal. A European foreign minister told the Observer that Turkey backed down when it was promised membership of the European Defence Agency, increasing Ankara’s clout in the EU’s defence affairs.

So Turkey was bought off. I have to question the wisdom of offering EDA membership to Turkey, especially when the NATO/EU memberships are not the same i.e. some EU members are not NATO members. Doesn’t this simply provide Turkey with another international platform in which they can block progress and agreement?

This episode adds to the list of gaffes and mis-steps performed by the present Turkish government. Turkey espouses a desire to become an EU member-state, but are seemingly incredulous when they are regularly rebuffed by their EU neighbours. Behaviour like this is not doing them any favours.

Olli Rehn, the top EU official in charge of negotiating Turkey’s accession to the union, said Erdogan had blundered and that Ankara’s threatened veto threw into greater doubt Turkey’s commitment to freedom of expression.

Turkey is supposed to be a secular republic – Erdogan’s recent behaviour, bringing religious issues “into work”, would have Ataturk spinning in his grave.

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