Hardly a day goes by without Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan doing whatever he can to confirm that he is the neighbor from hell. Not satisfied with trampling on the rights of his own people, he intervenes repeatedly in his neighbors’ (and others’) affairs, he lays claim to other people’s territory and rights, and he does not shrink from taking foreigners hostage to achieve his ends.
Now he is proclaiming Turkey’s right to acquire nuclear weapons. Erdogan may be the victim of delusions of grandeur but the more tragic truth is that the international community is neither in a position to control him nor does it seem to want to do so.
In a world ruled by law, any country that dared to threaten the security and stability of its neighbors should face the danger of sanctions and isolation. That is not the case here. And though Erdogan is by no means the only leader who is autocratic and dangerous, nor the most dangerous, he is the one who constitutes the greatest direct threat to Greece.
One could argue that his declaration of Turkey’s right to nuclear weapons is part of Erdogan’s practice of raising the rhetoric so as to project the image of the tireless defender of the nation and of Islam. The combination of complaint, bullying and megalomania is aimed at drawing voters’ attention from the fact that the opposition runs Turkey’s largest cities, that Russia and the United States are curbing Turkish ambitions in Syria, and that the economy is showing the limits of Turkey’s modern Midas.
When Erdogan threatens to push Syrian refugees toward Europe and when he speaks of nuclear weapons, he wants to show that he is still master of the game.
However valid this assessment, the fact is that Turkey can fulfill many of its ambitions. It has always exploited its size and geographical position; now it can combine this with the confusion in US policy and with Vladimir Putin’s Machiavellian influence. (It is Russia, after all, which is providing the know-how for the construction of a nuclear reactor in southern Turkey.)
However opportunistic the initial engagement between Erdogan and Putin may have been, as time passes it is clear that both have invested so much in the relationship that this is overturning decades-old balances. At a time when US President Trump is trying to weaken NATO and the European Union, Turkey has become Russia’s wedge in the Alliance.
Moscow will help Ankara increase the damage. And just as our borders become even more important for Greece and Europe, our pyromaniac neighbor reaches for nuclear arms.