Sweden and Finland’s prospects of swiftly joining NATO have been dashed by Turkey’s reservations, which maintains veto power over membership in the military alliance.
In Madrid in June, the three countries came to a decision on how to proceed, but according to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Sweden in particular is not upholding its end of the bargain.
Erdogan put off the accession negotiations indefinitely this week.
Only Turkey and Hungary’s parliaments have not yet approved Sweden and Finland’s entrance into NATO out of the 30 members, since they are concerned for their security following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
WHY DOES TURKEY OBJECT TO SWEDISH AND FINNISH MEMBERSHIP?
According to Turkey, Sweden in particular is home to what it claims are PKK terrorists who started fighting the Turkish government in 1984. The PKK is a banned organisation.
Turkey, Sweden, the United States, and Europe have all recognised the PKK as a terrorist organisation.
Turkey wants Stockholm and Helsinki to act more firmly against the PKK and another organisation it holds accountable for a failed coup attempt in 2016.
In Madrid, Finland and Sweden decided to further up efforts to combat terrorism, including stepping up efforts to extradite and deport suspected terrorists.
However, some expulsions have been halted by Swedish courts.
Protests in Stockholm, which Sweden’s free speech laws protect but which Ankara claims are hate crimes, have also exacerbated tensions between Sweden and Turkey.
“Sweden has addressed many of Turkey’s concerns and will continue to implement this trilateral memorandum … but it is clear right now that’s not enough,” said Paul Levin, director at the Institute for Turkish Studies at Stockholm University.
DOES TURKEY HAVE ANY OTHER GOALS IN BLOCKING ACCESSION?
Elections take place in Turkey in May. Some commentators see Erdogan’s stance on NATO as an attempt to divert voters’ attention from a cost-of-living crisis and to project an image as an international statesman.
Other commentators say he may want to use NATO ratification as part of a deal with the United States. Ties with Washington are strained by Turkey’s conflict with Syrian Kurdish militants who have U.S. support in the fight against Islamic State.
Turkey also wants to buy F-16 fighter jets from the United States, but faces objections from some members of Congress.
Diplomats, analysts and opposition politicians said Erdogan had been energised by two incidents in Sweden – the burning of a copy of the Muslim holy book, the Koran, and the stringing of an effigy of the Turkish from a lamppost.
WHY DO SWEDEN AND FINLAND WANT TO JOIN NATO?
Sweden and Finland have long pursued policies of formal military non-alignment but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted a rethink.
Finland has a 1,300-km (810-mile) border with Russia, and the Swedish island of Gotland lies just 300 km (186 miles) from the home of Russia’s Baltic Fleet in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
Bout countries see NATO, with its collective defence clause, as the best way to ensure their security.
WHY DOES NATO WANT SWEDEN AND FINLAND?
Both have relatively strong militaries. Finland has the capacity to mobilise 285,000 personnel and 650 tanks. Sweden has a strong air force and a submarine fleet tailored to Baltic Sea conditions. Strategically, the two countries plug a hole in NATO’s frontline against Russia while enabling the alliance to project power into the Baltic area.
COULD FINLAND JOIN WITHOUT SWEDEN?
Technically, yes, but defending Finland without strategic land access via Sweden would be difficult for NATO.
Sweden and Finland want to proceed together, but with Turkey’s ire directed mainly at Sweden, Finland could eventually lose patience with the process. Finland’s foreign minister and Sweden’s prime minister have said joint membership is the priority and that Finland would consider a different path only if Sweden’s membership were permanently blocked by Turkey.
COULD NATO EXPEL TURKEY, ALLOWING SWEDEN AND FINLAND TO JOIN?
There is no formal mechanism for the suspension or expulsion of members in NATO’s founding document and Turkey is considered a vital strategic ally.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
Analysts expect the accession process to remain stalled until at least Turkey’s elections are out of the way.
Even then, progress could be slow. Full implementation of the Madrid agreement could take years, and Sweden has said some of Turkey’s other demands are impossible to meet.
Turkey’s national security concerns will not be easily assuaged, and Sweden and Finland’s ability to influence developments is marginal.
But Sweden, Finland and NATO want to avoid a long drawn-out process.