European Union National Security NATO Politics & Diplomacy Security & Defense Turkey
Fast Thinking June 28, 2022

What Turkey won with its NATO leverage

By Atlantic Council


The door is back open. After weeks of tension, Turkey finally dropped its objection to Finland and Sweden’s bids to join NATO as the Alliance kicked off its summit in Madrid on Tuesday. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan scored a face-to-face meeting with US President Joe Biden and spurred Stockholm and Helsinki to address his concerns about the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its Syrian affiliate, the People’s Defense Units (YPG), while NATO moved toward securing two new members. Our experts, weighing in from the summit in Spain and around the globe, dissect the deal.


  • Chris Skaluba: Director of the Scowcroft Center’s Transatlantic Security Initiative and former principal director for European & NATO Policy at the US Defense Department
  • Rich Outzen (@RichOutzen): Nonresident senior fellow at Atlantic Council in Turkey, former US State Department official, and former US Army Foreign Area Officer
  • Fred Kempe (@FredKempe): Atlantic Council president and CEO
  • Defne Arslan (@defnesadiklar): Senior director of Atlantic Council in Turkey and former senior economist in the US embassy in Ankara


  • Chris tells us Erdogan’s one-on-one with Biden is “a major concession” by the White House—especially considering the US administration’s stance on not engaging autocratic leaders. Coupled with Biden’s coming meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, “it seems the White House is prioritizing practical process over pure principle.”
  • Another big win for Ankara is moving its “terror concerns up on the Alliance agenda,” Rich adds, referring to the Nordic nations’ pledge to crack down on members of the PKK and YPG. “It validates Erdogan’s insistence over the past two months, deflating the narrative that implied the PKK concerns were overblown,” he says, referring to the Turkish leader’s repeated calls to act against the groups.
  • All told, Fred says, it was a masterful play by Erdogan, who “deftly seized this moment of maximum leverage to get the most possible for his Turkish security interests and domestic politics.”

Subscribe to Fast Thinking email alerts

Sign up to receive rapid insight in your inbox from Atlantic Council experts on global events as they unfold.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.


  • Rich also spotlights a lesser-noticed upshot of the agreement for Turkey: broad cooperation on defense-industry deals. “Not just lifting the Swedes’ arms embargo [against Turkey], but the two Nordic countries committing to pull Turkey into EU common security initiatives” such as the PESCO military-transport project. (The embargo was imposed after Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria.)
  • While there was speculation that Turkey’s resistance to Sweden and Finland joining NATO was designed to get F-16 fighter jets from the United States or merely Biden’s attention, Rich said such considerations were not “the central motive” for Erdogan, whose security concerns about the PKK are “sincerely felt, long-held, and central to Turkish statecraft.”


  • Now, Defne says, all eyes are on the Biden-Erdogan meeting on Wednesday to see whether the United States follows Finland and Sweden in taking new measures to squeeze the YPG as well.
  • Despite the windfall for Ankara, Defne reminds us that all sides benefit from this deal, with Turkey both supporting NATO expansion and garnering recognition for its security concerns.
  • Chris agrees, noting that ultimately NATO has achieved a major victory toward “adding two vibrant democracies” and thus “shoring up NATO’s democratic bona fides and the overall security of the Alliance.”

Further reading

Related Experts: Christopher Skaluba, Rich Outzen, Frederick Kempe, and Defne Arslan

Image: Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan shakes hands with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of a NATO summit in Madrid, Spain, on June 28, 2022. Photo by Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Turkish Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS