Erdogan’s Hostage Diplomacy: Why We Need a Transatlantic Response
Only a strong and coordinated response can deter the Turkish president from continuing to use Western nationals as pawns to advance his political agenda.
- Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to use detained US and European nationals as bargaining chips to extract concessions in bilateral relations.
- A NATO member using hostage diplomacy against citizens of its own NATO allies is unprecedented.
- The perceived willingness of NATO member states to consider pragmatic deals with Erdogan to rescue their nationals must not continue.
- Only a strong and coordinated response can deter the Turkish president from continuing to use Western nationals as pawns to advance his political agenda.
An American pastor imprisoned in Turkey on espionage and terrorism charges will appear before a Turkish court on July 18th, ten days after the country’s second round of presidential elections.
Pastor Andrew Brunson is one of the more than 30 Western nationals that Turkish authorities have jailed on dubious political charges since the abortive coup of July 2016.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to use detained U.S. and European nationals as bargaining chips to extract concessions in bilateral relations. A NATO member using hostage diplomacy against citizens of its own NATO allies is unprecedented. This requires a firm transatlantic policy response.
To date, faced with the challenge of hostage diplomacy, U.S. and European officials have chosen to engage Ankara quietly and at the bilateral level. However, this quiet approach has only emboldened Erdogan. Worse, it strengthens the Turkish president’s bargaining position.
The perceived willingness of NATO member states to consider pragmatic deals with Erdogan to rescue their nationals must not continue. There needs to be a coordinated transatlantic policy to transform the nature of the interaction with Ankara from bilateral and transactional bargaining to a multilateral engagement based on values.
A joint response is needed
The United States and the EU member states need to provide a clear message and joint response to Erdogan’s hostage diplomacy.
For that reason, all future bilateral and multilateral deliberations with Turkey should start with the issue of hostages. American and European officials need to unequivocally convey to their Turkish counterparts that this is a top priority for their governments and the transatlantic alliance.
Berlin’s policy of no normalization with Ankara as long as there are German political prisoners in Turkey is a good start. This policy, however, would be more effective if also implemented by the other NATO allies as well.
Firmer travel warnings
U.S. and EU authorities also need to be firmer in their travel warnings about Turkey. They should clearly spell out the risks for travelers to Turkey to become a hostage of the Turkish government while visiting the country.
If and when that happens, in violation of international law, they will have no due process, no attorney-client privilege and no consular access. In addition, they face the possibility of up to seven years of pre-trial imprisonment.
Western officials stationed in Turkey and their families, as well as Turkish nationals working for Western consulates, take great risks when they serve in Turkey. Three Turkish staff working at U.S. consular missions have been charged with terrorism – two continue to be jailed while one is under house arrest.
Spurious issuance of red notices through Interpol is yet another tactic Erdogan uses to harass and intimidate Western nationals, particularly Turkish dual nationals. To guard against such abuses of the system of international law enforcement, Washington and its transatlantic partners need to develop improved checks against Ankara’s abuse of the Interpol system.
Ultimately, only a strong and coordinated response can deter the Turkish president from continuing to use Western nationals as pawns to advance his political agenda.
To that end, the United States and the EU should consider targeted sanctions, such as visa bans for Turkish officials responsible for hostage taking and withholding of international aid, such as the EU’s Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance.
Using the Magnitsky Act
The U.S. government could also use Global Magnitsky Act designations to freeze the assets of Turkish officials facilitating hostage diplomacy. Visa bans and other sanctions could be extended to private-sector partners of the Turkish government who help smear and frame Western nationals in pro-government propaganda outlets, precluding the possibility of fair trial and due process for detained victims.
If we want to free Western nationals wrongfully detained in Turkey, and prevent American and European citizens from becoming bargaining chips in the future, only a concerted transatlantic strategy can put an end to Erdogan’s hostage diplomacy.
Without resolute action from its allies, Ankara’s drift from transatlantic values is sure to continue.
Editor’s Note: For more information, read the author’s latest Foundation for Defense of Democracies report.