Biden, Europe must deal with disruptive Turkey, Carnegie’s Pierini says

U.S. President Joe Biden has vowed to strengthen transatlantic relations to help heal the diplomatic wounds of the Trump era and reinvigorate Washington’s global role.

But NATO member Turkey presents a challenge for those ambitions, said Marco Pierini, a scholar at Carnegie Europe and a former EU ambassador to Ankara.

Turkey, located on the borders of Europe and the Middle East, was once an essential pillar of NATO during the Cold War and a promising European Union candidate country. But it is now a disruptive partner for the West, its rule of law has been dismantled and its economy is suffering from incongruous policies and years of cronyism, Pierini said on Thursday.

“Turkey’s deliberate disruption has major consequences for its relationships with its Western allies and NATO,” he said. “In response, the new U.S. administration and the EU should take a series of steps in early 2021 to protect their interests and those of the North Atlantic alliance while offering to maintain close relations with Turkey.”

Pierini said Biden and his peers in Europe will have to take into account several factors when dealing with Turkey. These include Turkey’s strategic importance, Russian pressure on the country to diverge from NATO and the EU, and a possible fresh wave of refugees from Syria due to Russian military action. There is also the aggravation of Turkey’s severe economic crisis and the political impossibility for European leaders to discuss Turkey’s EU accession due to degradation in the rule of law, he said.

“First, they should send coordinated signals that disruptive unilateral decisions and hostile narratives are no longer tolerated,” Pierini said. “This would at least avoid Ankara playing its allies off against one another.”

Secondly, Brussels and Washington should come up with a set of measures to minimise the impact of Turkey’s deployment of S-400 air defence missiles, which the country took delivery of and now plans to activate, he said.

Atlantic partners should also limit exports of military hardware to Turkey should it continue with its disruptive policies, which have included encroaching on Greek and Cypriot territory in the Mediterranean and military adventures into Syria, Pierini said.

“Such a move would send a powerful signal that critical Western supplies cannot be used to increase security risks for Western allies,” he said.

The EU and the United States should also sanction Turkish individuals most involved in dismantling the rule of law and interfering with the domestic politics of Western countries, Pierini said.

“This would be consistent with Turkey’s commitments under the NATO and Council of Europe charters,” he said.

Pierini said EU leaders should also delay any new cooperation framework with Turkey until its government makes measurable improvements to the rule of law that equate to its commitments as a member of the Council of Europe and as a partner of the EU.

“The union should also opt out of the idea of an eastern Mediterranean conference, which would give Turkey de facto recognition of Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus,” he said.

Finally, the EU should maintain tangible offers of negotiation on maritime boundaries and of support for Syrian refugees at the Turkish-Syrian border and in Turkey,” Pierini said.

“These offers, which should come with precise time frames and methodologies, would demonstrate that mutually beneficial cooperation is possible when hostile behaviour subsides,” he said.