Diplomacy is a marathon that never ends. That is why it is quite meaningless to celebrate or lament the outcome of a diplomatic round, because it is just another round.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan decided to play a game of poker in Madrid. He found the West at a time when it needs him because of the war in Ukraine and exerted all possible pressure. What did he secure? First of all, a meeting with US President Joe Biden. He really wanted that meeting for domestic reasons but also to balance the impressions from the Greek prime minister’s recent speech at the US Congress. In Washington, the followers of the theory “We must not lose Turkey” won a round by including the term “strategic ally” in the relevant press release.
The US president also promised to support the request to upgrade the Turkish F-16s. Of course, Biden pointed out to Erdogan that the request must be approved by the Congress, which is by no means certain. In their talks, he also explained that any Turkish action that would cause instability in the Aegean would make it even more difficult to advance the Turkish request.
Therefore, the Turkish leader got what he wanted for his domestic political audience: the meeting and the green light for the F-16s. In practice, however, it remains to be seen whether in a few months this promise will be redeemed. Already in Congress, as reported by Kathimerini’s DC correspondent Lena Argyri, members are seriously considering adding some conditions for the approval of the Turkish request regarding the use of F-16s for overflights or other aggressive actions against Greece. The battle will be difficult and inconclusive.
What is impressive is what Finland and Sweden agreed to give in return for Turkey’s approval of their NATO membership. Although they are both countries with a long tradition of protecting human rights, they agreed to change their legislation regarding the Kurds and lift the arms embargo on Turkey. But these, too, can change along the way, and that is why Ankara is holding the weapon of a possible new veto next year. Sweden and Finland are politically and institutionally mature countries. Consequently, no one can predict whether the commitments toward Turkey will be accepted smoothly domestically, since the reactions have already begun.
The crucial question is what conclusions Erdogan drew from Madrid. The positive scenario says that he is satisfied with the – mainly political – benefits he secured and will keep calm regarding Greece and Cyprus until the elections. The bad scenario is that he got the impression that he is strategically necessary to the West and that he can do whatever he wants at little cost. Time will tell which scenario comes to pass.