Tuesday, July 26, 2022

أزمة المياه في العراق: هل يمكن لسد بخمة المساعدة فيحلها؟ Iraq’s Water Crisis: Could the Bakhma Dam Help Solve It

The New Middle East is pleased to welcome Jabbar Jaafar, a strategic communications specialist, as co-author of this post , especially because he suggested the topic of the Bakhma Dam analyzed below
The Initial Construction on the Bakhma Dam
As authoritarian rulers in the Middle East continue to repress dissent and corrupt elites steal from the public purse, little is being done to address the region’s climate crisis. With widespread drought, extreme heat, desertification, and dust storms afflicting the region, the ability to access water resources looms ever larger. Iraq is one of the MENA region countries facing the most severe water resources problem. What can be done to mitigate this problem? 

Historically, Iraq has been blessed with waters from its two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, which gave it its ancient name, Mesopotamia – the land between the two rivers – as well as its appellation as the Fertile Crescent. Today, Iraq derives 98% of its water from the Tigris and Euphrates, and their tributaries.  However, their ability to supply Iraq with its necessary water is severely threatened. 

Iraq has suffered a severe drought since 2007.  


Water shortages have been exacerbated by Turkey’s building dams on the Upper Euphrates River and Iran building dams on the Zab and other rivers which feed into the Tigris.  Already tribes in southern Iraq have engaged in conflict over access to water and Iraq’s southern provinces have accused the northern provinces of taking more water from the Tigris and Euphrates beyond what they are officially allocated.  


Clearly, water shortages suggest a rise in domestic and international conflict if not seriously confronted.  Even more ominous, the lack of water may make certain areas of Iraq uninhabitable in the future.  With a 34 mile coastline, Iraq cannot hope to receive its water supply by desalination, using the Persian (arab) Gulf.


However, one area of possible water resources has yet to receive adequate attention. Iraq’s three northern provinces in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) have ample sources of water.  Although the KRG has also been adversely affected by drought conditions, e.g., a substantial number of its 10,000 wells have run dry over the past decade, it is blessed with considerable water.  The high mountains in the KRG produce significant water runoff each spring. This runoff has yet to be captured and used in a more efficient manner. 


To more efficiently use the water resources in Iraq's Kurdish region, this post discusses the Bakhma (Behme) Dam project near Erbil in the Duhok region.  While the dam is one of the largest infrastructure projects ever conceived for Iraq, it has yet to be completed. Were the dam constructed, it could provide a substantial amount of water,and hydropower, which could help address Iraq’s water and electricity shortage needs.

 

Iraq’s current rulers, both Arab and Kurdish, they have shown little interest in improving the lives of the Iraqi people. Their behavior has been characterized by extensive corruption and does not indicate a concern to develop Iraq and bring prosperity to their constituents.  An examination of their achievements over the last 20 years shows no tangible results in contributing to infrastructure development.  For example, Iraq's southern city of Basra still lacks adequate electricity and potable water.  Unfortunately, Iraq’s development has been lacking in all areas, including the water sector, which has been deliberately neglected with no dams or other water reservoirs having been built. 

 

Historical perspective 

In many respects, Iraq’s ancient rulers were more forward looking than the current political elite in maintaining the country’s water supply. During Emperor Hammurabi’s reign, Babylonia, witnessed his care in maintaining and expanding irrigation networks by constructing new canals and dams.  By 1760 BCE, when Hammurabi established control over all of Mesopotamia, and especially the city-states of Sumeria, he restored the irrigation canals there to their best condition and brought water back to areas of the south which had previously deprived of it.

 

Hammurabi’s unification of the entire south and the lands north of Babylon allowed him to construct lengthy canals to the various cities of the empire. These canal, which he named, "Hammurabi-is-the-abundance-of-the-people," ran to Nippur, Isin, Uruk, Larsa, Ur, and Eridu, and covered a stretch of land covering 160 kilometers. These irrigation works brought economic development and increased the wealth of the population to unprecedented levels. 


The idea of the Bakhma Dam 

Iraq’s Hashimite monarchy has often been vilified, given its repression of Iraq’s nationalist movement from 1921 until its overthrow in 1958 and lack of addressing the needs of the poor.  In the area of water resources, however, the monarchy implemented a number of projects, the most important of which was the Wadi Thathar Flood Control Project between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers north of Baghdad. The project, which began in 1952, and was completed in 1956, was designed to divert waters from the spring floods into Lake Tharthar to prevent flooding in Baghdad and other Iraqi towns and villages and to increase water for irrigation. 


The Wadi Tharthar Flood Prevention Project
The idea of the Bakhma Dam in Dohuk Governorate dates back 90 years when an American journalist published an article in the al-Awqat al-Baghdadia newspaper (August 18, 1932) suggesting using Iraq’s rivers to generate electric power and equip industrial plants.  The article proposed and the constructing an 800-foot-high dam whose turbines would be able to generate 1500 kilowatts of electricity.  

In 1937, a British advisory council conducted the first geological study of the project area in Iraqi Kurdistan.  Experts issued a report on its explorations and recommended the construction of a high dam at a site near the village of Bakhma at the entrance to the Klei Bekhmael Gorge.  In 1939, British geologists indicated the most suitable site of a dam would be at the entrance to the gorge, the product of the Zab River, the largest river within Iraqi Kurdistan, with a watershed extending well into southern Turkey and with many smaller tributaries, such as the Rawanduz River.  Finally, in 1941, a report developed by a British irrigation engineer proposed constructing a dam at the height of 470 meters high, with capacity storage of about 1.25 billion cubic meters of water. 


After World War 2, the Hashimite monarchy formed by the Supreme Council for the Study of Water Resources and Development in Iraq to conduct geological surveys and produce academic studies between 1946 and 1949. The goal was to obtain greater technical information about the Bakhma Dam site and its facilities.  The dam’s key objective was to control the waters of the Upper Zab River and reduce the floods threatening Baghdad.  In 1950, the Supreme Council approved a study for constructing a high dam in the Bekhmal Gorge for flood control and using the dam as a strategic reservoir for irrigation and farming in fertile areas below the dam. 

 

The Bakhma Dam project is still considered one of the vast and promising infrastructure projects designed to address Iraq's water shortage. The dam is located near the district of Aqrah in the Behdinan region of the KRG and 45 miles from its capital, Erbil. It is considered the most expensive of Iraq's dams, and it faces many technical obstacles. Cost estimates indicate that it would require $7 billion to complete.  In light of Iraq’s current revenues from oil sales, this amount does not seem prohibitive, especially if foreign funding, e.g., from the United State and EU, could cover part of the dam’s construction costs. 

Bakhma Dam water diversion tunnel
As international political and economic influence shifted away from Great Britain after WWII, the United States assumed a central role in Iraq’s development project.  In the early 1950s, the Reconstruction Council referred the dam design to the Harza Engineering Company in Chicago, which conducted a study and issued its planning report in December 1952.  

The Bakhma Dam’s cost was calculated according to the amount of water being stored which is measured in billions of cubic meters. The Harza Company report, which indicated that the higher the dam, the lower the cost per billion cubic meters of storage, recommended that the most economical cost for the construction of the dam would be a height of 550 meters.  

 

The company’s report estimated that the Bakhma Dam’s reservoir could hold 8.6 billion cubic meters of water which could irrigate 2 million plots of agricultural land.  Further it would increase the water supply of the Tigris River, reduce flooding in Baghdad, and generate 2-3 billion kilowatt-hours of electrical energy.  


In 1975, given the high oil prices at the time, the Iraqi Ministry of Irrigation asked Harza to re-evaluate its proposal for the Bakhma Dam project. The company was asked to present several alternatives so the Ministry could choose the optimal proposal, according to Iraq's need for water for irrigation, agriculture, and electricity generation at the lowest cost. The company submitted its report in 1976, which offered indicated three alternative placements for the dam, with the confluence of the Rawanduz River with the Greater Zab tributary at the entrance to the gorge being chosen as the most suitable site. 


In 1978, the Ministry of Irrigation requested seven foreign consulting companies from Japan, France, the United States, and communist bloc countries to submit offers and conduct detailed geological and hydrological examinations, preparing final designs and directing the implementation work of the dam. Studies to build the dam began in March 1979. 

 

Bakhma Dam Description 

 

In 1987, the first phase of the Bakhma Dam’s construction was begun.  The dam’s height was to be 750 ft, its length 2000 ft, and it was to have a storage capacity of 17 cubic kilometers and surface area of 100 kilometers (39 square miles)—with a total estimated cost was about $1.5 billion. 

The Bakhma Dam Project and its Reservoir
The objective in building the dam was to store water, irrigate the Erbil plains, produce hydroelectric power, and reduce floods that threaten Iraqi cities. Experts estimated that if the dam was built, it would be able to store 14,4 billion cubic meters of water.  Thus, it would be the largest Iraqi dam in the volume of water reserves.  

The contract to build the dam was awarded to a consortium of Turkish-Yugoslavian firms, ENKA Hidrogradnja and Energoprojekt.  A colossal tunnel was built to drain the excess water. The diversion tunnel the size of car tunnels was dug into the mountain by the Turkish company ENKA, a company specializing in the field of engineering and power plants, which removed thousands of tons of rock. The Yugoslavian company, Hydrocravenia, helped build the chambers for the underground powerhouse and transformers. 

 

Work suspension 

 

Between 1987 and 1991, the two companies completed about 35% of the dam.  Construction was halted with the outbreak of the second Gulf War in 1990 after the Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990. The war was followed by the popular March 1991 uprising (Intifadat Sha'ban). As a result of this uprising, most Kurdistan region broke away from control of the central government. The equipment and machinery of the two companies were looted, so the Iraqi government was forced to compensate for the losses of the Turkish and Yugoslav companies at a cost of $175 million dollars. 

The Bekhmel Gorge
After Saddam's regime fell in 2003, efforts were made to complete the dam's construction. In 2005, several Iraqi technical and foreign advisory committees were organized to review the project.  By this time, the dam's cost had risen to $3 billion dollars based on subsequent studies and designs. In 2007, the estimated amount rose to $5 billion dollars. Nevertheless, the Council of Ministers headed by Nuri al-Maliki agreed to allocate this amount and the Kurdish Regional Government expressed interest in the project.  

 However, the Bakhma Dam project did encounter some opposition. A Kurdish leader objected to the establishment of the dam because his clan resides in the region of Aqrah, east of the Great Zab River. Several villages, his tribe complained, would be flooded with the waters of the dam's lake, erasing the history and traces of those villages and the graves of the former prominent sheiks. 

 

On November 17, 2019, Mr. Kifah Mahmoud, an adviser to the Kurdish Democratic Party, claimed that "Bakhma dam was designed to separate (the) Soran (area) from Badinan (Bahdinan), in a malicious attempt to divide the partition by natural means.”  However, new construction designs were formulated so that the reservoir would not constitute a water barrier between different regions in Kurdistan. 


The Politics of the Bakhma Dam 

The Bekhmel Gorge area inundated by Bakhma Dam
The Bakhma Dam wasn’t completed after the toppling of Saddam due to a number of objections.  In 2007, the Council of Ministers, led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Malik, agreed to fund the dam whose cost had now reached $7 billion.  However, in 2008, the Federal Government decided not to pursue the dam project due to the drought affecting the country and fears it will reduce water supplies to the south of Iraq. Thus, once again, the Bakhma Dam project was put on hold. 

 Could the current water crisis change the calculus of the Baghdad and Erbil political elites and permit the dam project to finally move forward?  First, the KRG leadership is well aware is that the water crisis in the south can only produce political instability. In neighboring Syria, the severe drought along the Euphrates led to the Arab Spring uprisings there and subsequently helped the Islamic State recruit local farmers and youth. A destabilized Arab Iraq would present a major challenge to the landlocked KRG. 

 

Second, the rise in oil prices makes it easier for the Federal Government in Baghdad to make concessions on the division of Iraq’s oil wealth.  While the sharing of oil wealth with the KRG needs to be shielded from corruption (and in the south as well), e.g., designated for specific uses such as KRG government salaries, pensions, and infrastructure projects, greater flexibility on sharing Iraq’s oil wealth could incentivize the Kurdish political elite to allow the Bakhma Dam project to move forward. 


Third, Iraq could use the ties it has recently developed with Saudi Arabia to raise funds from the kingdom and the GCC to invest in the KRG’s agrarian sector.  Much of the Kurdish region's agriculture was destroyed during Saddam’s Husayn’s brutal ANFAL Campaign of the later 1980s when over 150 Kurdish villages were razed to the ground.  Currently, with many KRG government employees returning to the agricultural sector as a result of sporadic salary payments, now would be the time to revive Kurdish agriculture. This could help assure the KRG and Iraq’s food security and lessen Iraq’s dependence on food imports.   

 

To assure that the Bakhma Dam project was resumed, it would be important for the United Nations and the European Union to serve as mediators between Baghdad and Erbil. These parties would be viewed as neutral arbiters who could hopefully encourage the two political elites to come together on promoting the dam which would serve both Kurds and Arabs. 

 

If neutral mediators could bring the Federal Government and KRG to develop a comprehensive national water policy, it might encourage Iraq to try and establish a regional water authority including Iraq, Iran and Syria.  The problem of access to water is only going to become worse as global warming increases.  A water authority encompassing Iraq, Turkey and Iran could provide a model for the entire MENA region. 


Finally, accommodation should be made for the estimated 20-40,000 Kurds whose villages would be destroyed by the Bakhma Dam’s construction and the heritage which would be lost to the dam’s large reservoir.  Drawing up efforts in Egypt to save precious heritage during the building of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s, similar measures should be taken to assure that as much heritage as possible is saved for posterity. 

 


Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The Youth Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Development Project - Phase 2

An overview of current conditions in the world can produce many negative feelings.  The continued Covid-19 pandemic, Russia’s brutal attack of Ukraine, food insecurity resulting from the halt in wheat and other critical agricultural products from Ukraine and Russia as a result of the war, the spread of autocratic regimes, global inflation resulting from the pandemic and Ukraine war and, of course, the existential threat posed by climate change and global warming, offer few areas of hope for the near future.  

There is one bright spot which is the possibly of youth globally – the “generation in waiting” – to adopt new approaches to global problems which differ from the destructive policies of their elders.  What can youth offer to provide a new spirit of hope in the future. 

 

In past posts, I have spoken about the power and promise of youth social entrepreneurship. Based on the belief that youth today constitute the only demographic which bring about meaningful social change, I worked with several colleagues to create the Youth, Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Development Project (YSESD). 

 

Now in its fourth year, the YSESD completed its first phase in December 2021. Supported by a grant from the Hollings Center for International Dialogue in Istanbul, the YSESD brought together a group of youth social entrepreneurs from Turkey, Iraq, and Pakistan.  Phase 1 of the YSESD focused on mentoring.  It created cross-national teams of project participants who developed projects which could be implemented in the future. 

 

The response of these teams, which grouped youth social entrepreneurs from Turkey, Iraq and Pakistan, was extremely positive. The participants benefited from the ideas which came from different cultural contexts and reported that the synergy that developed during the project building was something they not experienced heretofore.  The YSESD’s progress in Phase 1 underscored the goal of building an international network of youth social entrepreneurs.  

 

Beginning with our 3 “pilot” countries in Phase 1, youth social could share information on the project’s platform with other YSESD participants beyond their teams, and obtain mentorship in YSESD workshops from successful social entrepreneurs in the MENA region, Pakistan Europe and the United States.

 

This spring, the YSESD began Phase 2 of the project.  Once again, the project is fortunate to have outstanding participants. This cohort not only includes youth social entrepreneurs from Turley, Iraq, and Pakistan, but also from Syria, Kuwait, Dubai, Palestine, and MENA region youth living in Europe.  Thus, the YSESD is widening its focus in the MENA region and in Pakistan.


 Mentoring is a core component of Phase 2, which is providing instruction using lectures and instructional materials from the YCombinator Start-Up School.  During bi-weekly meetings, YSESD participants join breakout rooms where they receive suggestions and comments on their social entrepreneurial ventures.  As in Phase 1, an effort is made to link youth social entrepreneurs from different countries. 

 

For example, during our last meeting this month, I worked with 2 youth social entrepreneurs from Turkey and another from Iraq.  The Turkish partners have developed a computer training venture which provides refugees and other educationally deprived youth in Turkey with computer skills training. The Iraqi youth social entrepreneur, and his partners in Iraq, have developed 7 schools in Iraq which offer primary and secondary school education.  Two of the schools serve youth in the poorest districts of Baghdad while the other 3 serve displaced youth in Iraq’s al-Anbar Province west of the Iraqi capital. 

 

The outcome of our mentoring session was the suggestion that the Turkish social entrepreneurs provide computer skills training to trainers in Iraq where schools provide limited education in this critical area.  The Iraqi social entrepreneur, and his partners, would reach out to an Italian NGO and USAID in Iraq to fund the project.  Thus, this initiative would link Turkish and Iraqi youth social entrepreneurs in a cross-national project from which both sides would benefit. 


At the same time, the YSESD, under the leadership of Mr. Berat Kjamili, CEO of migport.com, a company which specializes in providing career opportunities for refugees who have come to Turkey, is developing the YSESD platform for all project participants to use both to improve their ongoing social entrepreneurial ventures, to share ideas with their colleagues, and to meet with potential investors. 


YSESD and the MENA region and Pakistan

Turning to the MENA region and Pakistan, from which our YSESD participants are drawn, it is obvious that the countries in the MENA region and South Asia face myriad problems. One of the most dangerous is global warming caused by climate change which poses an existential threat.  Little, if nothing, is being done by states in the MENA region or in Pakistan to combat what should accurately be called the Climate Emergency.


Water shortages threaten many countries as drought spreads, rivers dry up and states fight over a critical resource. It was a key causal factor in the Syrian Arab Spring uprising when residents of 175 villages along the Euphrates River were forced to leave them and migrate westward as the reduced river flow would no longer support local agriculture.  Failing to receive state support, these migrants began demonstrating peacefully which led to a violent response by the al-Asad regime leading to onset of Syria's civil war which is still ongoing.


Like Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen and Jordan are facing serious water problems as are other countries in the MENA region. Pakistan is the third most water stressed country in the world with only a 10% capacity for rainfall storage. Further, Pakistan and many MENA region countries are unable to provide large segments of their population with clean, potable water.


Rising sea levels rw causing saline water from the Mediterranean to enter the two tributaries of Egypt's Nile River.  The Shatt al-Arab where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers join is also experiencing invasive saline water from the Persian Gulf. In both Egypt and Iraq, this phenomenon has hurt local agricultural production. 


Excessive heat exacerbates the water shortage problem by preventing crops from growing and being harvested. It is also contributing to desertification in the MENA region and Pakistan. Thus, the Climate Emergency contributes to food insecurity.  It also adversely affects the health of local populations because dust storms are becoming more frequent causing an increase in pulmonary diseases.


Hot temperatures and limited rainfall has also contributed to the spread of wildfires.  Large areas of Turkey along the Mediterranean suffered from extensive wildfire during the summer of 2021. Both Lebanon's Bekaa Valley and areas around Jerusalem in Israel also suffered extensive wildfires in 2021. This problem will only worsen in the bear future displacing people from their homes and forcing states to divert funds to tackle this problem.


Civil strife and the Climate Emergency have created a large refugee population in the MENA region and Pakistan.  Refugees have myriad needs which often aren't or can't be et by the host country.  Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, for example, have millions of Syrian refugees who have fled the civil war which has displaced half of the country's population.


How can youth social entrepreneurs help  address these problems? Many of the YSESD participants have already initiated excellent projects to help residents and displaced people adapt to the disruption which has affected their lives. These projects have offered training in many skills, including learning the local language and computer usage.  


Other projects engage in recycling waste.  These projects offer small amounts of money to local residents who bring their waste to recycling centers but help prevent the spread of disease.  They promote a community spirit where residents realize that their community can better handle waste products and receive compensation for better practices as well. One project in Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government provides employment for over 600 people who work in the recycling sector.


Another project has developed 7 schools in Iraq for poor and displaced Iraqis.  These schools have been able to educate both female as well as male children.  The schools charge a minimal fee or no fee at all if funds aren;t available.  In Baghdad poor districts, some parents who are illiterate have enrolled in the schools together with their children.


Proposed social entrepreneurial projects 


The following list constitutes the "tip of the iceberg," naely a small menu of the tremendous prospects for social entrepreneurial venues in the Global South, such as the MENA region, and Pakistan 


Land reclamation - One of the simplest applications of social entrepreneurship which is needed in the MENA region and Pakistan is combating climate change.  As drought and rising temperatures ravage the MENA region and parts of South Asia, desertification has spread. Establishing myriad social entrepreneurial firms, funded by the state, vegetation could be planted throughout areas which have turned to desert or were in the process of doing so.


Agricultural mentoring - climate change is fostering food insecurity in the MENA region and south Asia. With support of Ministry of Agriculture, youth entrepreneurial ventures could be developed to help farmers better use their limited water resources.


Recycling companies - food, cardboard, plastic, glass and metal waste are all recyclable.  They create problems with landfills, especially in dense urban areas.  Food waste can cause disease.  Thus, recycling is environmentally beneficial.  It can also generate financial resources for the social entrepreneurs. 


But perhaps the greatest inventive is the small amount of money local residents can obtain from  bringing their waste to local recycling centers.  Finally, food waste can be transformed into organic fertilizer which can be used in local gardens.


Local health care clinics - Working with local hospitals, physicians associations, faculties of health at regional and national universities, and with the national ministry of health, youth social entrepreneurs can organize to provide basic healthcare information and services to poor urban neighborhoods and rural areas which lack health care facilities.  


This process occurred on a temporary basis when youth leading the October Revolution in Iraq.  Offering basics such as soap and vaccinations, such clinics can both help poor, underserved populations to acquire basic healthcare while also serving as an informational conduit  to governmental agencies to use in improving healthcare services to the poor. 


Solar energy - electricity is a commodity which is in short supply in many countries of the Global South.  With rising temperatures, electricity is also essential to protect vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, the ill and children, though allowing them access to air conditioning.  Electricity is critical for preserving food and having access to information via the Internet.


In Egypt, a group of youth established a solar energy company, Karam Solar, despite initial oppositiøon fo the Egyptian government.  To date, it has provided solar panles to large areas of Egypt.  Its providing farmers with solar panels helped them obtain water from deeper in the ground, cut their irrigation costs by cutting down or even elimination the need for diesel fuel altogether (which sometime was not delivered to them in a timely manner), and improve their harvests.

The Karm Solar team - Sharikat Karm li-l-Taqa al-Shamsiya
Most MENA region countries and Pakistan lack adequate electricity.  As Iraq and other countries lacking electricity move to devel large solar farms, the time is ripe for providing solar panels to poorer communities and large numbers of farmers .  Youth social entrepreneurs can use the Karm Solar model to apply to their own national contexts.
Karam Solar, Cairo, Egypt


For those interested in more information on the Youth Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Development Project, or would like to join our youth social entrepreneurs as a Phase 2 participant, mentor, or potential investor, please contact me at: davis@polisci.rutgers.edu, or Mr. Berat Kjamili, CEO, migport.com at: beratmigport@gmail.com



Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Is It Time for Turkey to Leave NATO? Türkiye'nin NATO'dan Ayrılma Zamanı Geldi mi?

Security alliances are only as strong as the commitment of their members.  Ever since he rose to power in the early 2000s, Turkish president Recip Tayyep Erdoğan has worked to consolidate his rule domestically and project Turkey’s influence throughout the Mediterranean basin and beyond.  As his policies have become more repressive over time and his foreign policy less in line with the objectives of NATO, of which Turkey is a member, the question arises: Is it time for Turkey to leave NATO? 


Turkey has been an important NATO member.  It has the second largest army of any member and it is situated at a strategically important juncture between Europe and Asia, controlling the key Straits of the Bosporus and Dardanelles which connect the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Nuclear weapons are positioned in Turkey.   

 

When Turkey was largely controlled throughout the 20th century by the military, democracy was never fully consolidated as several Islamist governments and parties were arbitrarily abrogated by the army’s intervention.  Nevertheless, Turkey held regular elections and power was transferred between secular political parties.  The press enjoyed relative freedom and a wide range of political views populated Turkish political discourse.  As a NATO member, Turkey always conformed to the alliance’s policies. 

 

Under Erdoğan, especially after 2010, Turkey has increasingly moved towards autocratic rule. The Turkish president has intervened to curb the power of the judiciary. He has removed secularists from positions in the education system and replaced them with political cronies, most notably appointing Islamist rectors to all prominent Turkish universities.  Erdoğan has imprisoned large numbers of journalists who have been critical of his rule.  Indeed, Turkey has the dubious distinction of having the highest percentage per capita of jailed members of the press of any country in the world.

Revealed: the terror and torment of Turkey's jailed journalists 

 

It is bad enough that Turkey has over 300,000 Turks in jail who have been accused of having links to the 2016 coup attempt which sought to overthrow Erdoğan.  However, during the largest and most dangerous ground war to threaten Europe since World War II, the Turkish autocrat has blocked the admission of 2 critical countries – Finland and Sweden – to join NATO. Because all 30 members must agree to the admission of any new state, Erdoğan has been able to thwart Finland and Sweden’s membership bid. 

 

With Finland and Sweden joining NATO, a strong security and psychological blow would be dealt to Russian president Vladimir Putin. One of his goals in invading Ukraine was to prevent another country becoming a NATO member along Russia’s border. With Finland joining NATO, the alliance would gain an added 830-mile defensive capacity along Russia’s Western border.  

 

Both Finland and Sweden have modern and sophisticated armed forces.  Sweden’s navy would help better defend the 3 Baltic republics, Latvia, Estonia. And Lithuania, which Putin would like to annex and reintegrate into Russia as part of his effort to rebuild the geographical reach of the former USSR.


Sweden’s Gotland Island is only 200 miles from Russia’s border. Since Putin illegally annexed Crimea in 2016, the Swedes have been fortifying the island to prevent Russia from trying to mount a military attack in the eastern Baltic Sea. Thus, Putin completely miscalculated the response to his invasion of Ukraine which has only strengthened, not weakened NATO. 

 

Erdoğan’s argument that he must remain “neutral” in the war so that he can help mediate a ceasefire and end to the conflict has, to date, accomplished nothing.  While thousands of innocent Ukrainian civilians have been summarily executed by Russian troops, schools, hospitals, and nurseries bombed, and Ukrainian cities and towns reduced to rubble, Erdoğan’s “neutral” posture is, in effect, an implicit endorsement of Putin’s genocidal policies in Ukraine, a country the Russian tyrant insists doesn’t exist. 

 

The question then is whether Turkey, under Erdoğan’s rule, has the right to remain in the NATO alliance.  It currently enjoys all the benefits of the alliance but has contravened its rules, namely supporting democratic governance domestically and working in tandem with the entire alliance to pursue a unified foreign policy which rejects the willful and unprovoked destruction of a sovereign state by the force of arms.


Erdoğan and Putin after S-400 Russian missile deal
At least twice, questions have arisen whether to try and remove Turkey as a NATO member. After Erdoğan’s forceful repression following the failed 2016 coup d’état, and then again in 2019 when his forces invaded northeastern Syria to destroy Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State, many calls were heard for ending Turkey’s membership. His $2.5 billion of a  Russian S-400 mobile anti-missile system in 2017 infuriated the US and NATO and led the US to impose sanctions on Turkey. 
U.S. sanctions Turkey over purchase of Russian S-400 missile system

 

Turkey could be forced to leave the NATO alliance if it can be shown that it has not lived up to the requirements for membership in the alliance.  However, as many analysts have noted, that would be a difficult process and one most NATO members wouldn’t be comfortable taking as long as the Ukraine war continues. 

 

However, there are other alternatives.  First, NATO can insist that Turkey conform to its policy towards Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine.  If it continues to refuse to do so, the alliance could cut off sharing intelligence with the Erdoğan regime. While the immediate impact might have limited military consequences for Erdoğan, the very fact of a public announcement by NATO would be a huge embarrassment to his regime. 

 

Turks demonstrate against the high rate of inflation
Second, the US and European Union members of NATO could refuse to support economic efforts by Erdogan to address the serious financial problems facing the country, where the inflation rate is currently estimated at almost 70%. The IMF,World Bank and other international financial institutions should make any form of cooperation with the Erdogan regime contingent on joining the sanctions regime against Russia.

Turkey's Inflation Rate Soars to Almost 70% 

 

Third, the US should withhold its proposed sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.  There is no need to make the delay public.  Instead, the Biden administration can send a tacit message that there will be no further arms sales until Erdoğan drops his opposition to Finland and Sweden joining NATO. A combination of a threat to censure Turkey by NATO, Western economic pressure, and the refusal to sell Turkey Western arms is the only language Erdoğan understands.  Hard-nosed realpolitik is the course NATO should pursue to force the Turkish dictator to become a committed member of the alliance. 

 

NATO is the most important organization standing between Putin’s destruction of Ukraine and his efforts to build a new Russian empire stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean.  It also represents a bulwark against rising levels of autocracy in the world, including in Turkey.  The stakes regarding Turkey’s NATO membership extend far beyond the Anatolian Peninsula. Indeed, they have serious ramifications for the future of the world order.