Turkey and NATO have confirmed the Anna Karenina Principle of Alliances


All happy families are alike; every happy family is happy in its own way. Leo Tolstoy’s famous opening in Anna Karenina is also about contradictions. Currently, NATO is unhappy with Turkey, the European Union with Hungary. For the sake of everyone involved – including dear families like Sweden and Finland – let’s hope these families make amends.

The most important challenge is to get the Finns and Swedes, who are members of the EU but not of NATO, in the transatlantic military alliance for their security and NATO.

After the attack by Russian President Vladimir Putin against Ukraine, the two Nordic countries have abandoned their traditional policy of seeking protection within NATO. The alliance was happy to have them, because the Scandinavians would be strengthened – especially to protect Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on the other side of the Baltic. But speed is of the essence. If Putin is to “retaliate,” he will do so in the time between the request and the intervention.

Enter Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He has long been the team’s bete noire. He has repeatedly threatened another NATO country, Greece. To draw criticism from allies, he bought a Russian air defense system from Putin that could change NATO operations.

And now he knows how happy the 29 NATO allies are about welcoming the Swedes and Finns. Now was a good time, he concluded, to complain about his pet peeve again. It is the Kurds.

Turkey has long been at war with Kurdish separatists in the southeast of the country and their allies in Syria and elsewhere. To Ankara, all these groups are terrorists. But other Western countries are different and do not treat Kurdish dissidents with the same enthusiasm. That worries Erdogan. “The Scandinavian countries,” he said last week, “are like shelters for terrorist groups.” Turkey said it could block the membership of Sweden and Finland in NATO.

It is not the first time that Erdogan has tried to discredit the West’s family party. He threatened to direct refugees to the EU, among other things. He often plays to a home crowd – his supporters may like to see him finger it in Europe and America.

But his recovery of the Nordics is myopic. After all, the ability of peace to prevent aggression is a matter of War and Peace. Now, it will take some nimble diplomacy and force by NATO, Sweden and Finland – and concessions on the part of both – to get Erdogan.

A similar conflict is playing out between the EU and its bugbear member, Hungary (also in NATO). Prime Minister Viktor Orban has for years undermined the rule of law and other democratic institutions, ignoring the EU’s debate and turning Brussels into the hobgoblin of its internal propaganda. He made goo-goo eyes at Putin, whose dictatorial machismo he cut.

Since the invasion of Ukraine, Orban has accompanied several rounds of EU sanctions. But he is holding back on things that hurt Moscow the most, such as the embargo on Russian oil. Hungary is one of the Western countries that has not sent weapons to Ukraine for self-defense.

In all these ways, the alliances and communities of nations are similar to the families in Tolstoy’s novel. The interesting ones – in this case, the Oblonskys, Karenins and Levins – are not very happy, but for whatever reason. Families braid each other’s hair. Family members must give their opinions, wishes and freedoms to keep the family going. Is it worth the pain?

That’s what Tolstoy meant. And any reasonable geopolitical strategist would agree. Just remember what’s relevant in each context. Putin rejects all the rules of international relations, from the sovereignty and integrity of states to the norms governing the treatment of civilians in war. He is only threatening nuclear escalation.

In Tolstoy’s world, terror comes from the whole world outside. You only survive and prosper, the story says, if you stick to the family, even if it doesn’t work. The Oblonskys overcame disbelief and stuck together. The Levins run together and have loyalty and commitment. But the Karenins failed.

It is important that Anna, solipsistic like Erdogan and Orban, does not see the big picture and has to find her own way. It is now up to other Western leaders, those in NATO and the EU, to remind the two rogues among them of the importance of family values ​​in times of disaster. Happy or not, we need to stick together. Otherwise, one can end up – like Anna – thrown under the train.

More from this author and others at Bloomberg Opinion:

Erdogan’s NATO Brinkmanship Smacks of Desperation: Bobby Ghosh

NATO must seal the deal with Sweden and Finland quickly: Andreas Kluth

Next in Ukraine’s war on the Black Sea: James Stavridis

This column does not reflect the views of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP or its owners.

Andreas Kluth is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering European politics. A former editor of Handelsblatt Global and a writer for the Economist, he is the author of “Hannibal and Me.”

More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com/opinion

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