NATO Secretary General Says Sweden Has Taken “Important Steps” to Join Alliance

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said during a visit to Sweden that the country has taken important steps to gain Turkey’s approval of Stockholm’s NATO membership application.

In light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Sweden and Finland both applied to join NATO in May but were met with opposition from Turkey, who criticized what it sees as Sweden’s support of Kurdish militants that Ankara deems terrorists. In response, Sweden has changed its terrorism laws and is continuing to introduce strong legislation.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson stated about anti-terrorism laws that “from the first of July we will also have even stronger legislation when it comes to the fight against terrorism. So here there are no questions about how strongly Sweden sees terrorism and that we are willing to contribute to the fight against terrorism.” Stoltenberg indicated his approval of Sweden’s actions, saying, “I welcome that Sweden has already started to change its counter-terrorism legislation and that Sweden will ensure that the legal framework for arms export will reflect the future status as a NATO member with new commitments to allies.” He said later that he aimed for Sweden to join NATO “as soon as possible” despite Turkey’s objections.

As the Russian aggression in Ukraine continues, it is essential that Europe and other Western countries present a united front against this violence. If Sweden or Finland were attacked, NATO allies ought to come to their defense regardless, but an additional institutional guarantee is logical. Furthermore, the Turkish opposition to Sweden’s membership is on generally unfounded partisan grounds. There is little evidence that Sweden is making any effort to shelter terrorists or even PKK members, and Ankara is likely utilizing this application to negotiate arms deals from Washington.

Turkey has indicated its strong opposition to Sweden joining NATO, threatening the country’s application as member states must unanimously agree on new additions. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cited Sweden’s perceived leniency toward the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as Turkey’s reason to disapprove; the country sees the PKK as a terror organization that wages armed uprising against the Turkish government. In addition, Sweden has not historically responded positively to Turkey’s extradition requests of individuals accused of having links to the PKK. 

Despite Turkey’s objections, key leaders in NATO have expressed optimism that Sweden’s application would be approved “as soon as possible,” in Stoltenberg’s words. He added that it would be inconceivable for NATO allies not to defend Sweden in the event that the nation was attacked. US military leaders have also stated that Sweden and Finland are “close” to NATO membership, with further decisions expected in the coming weeks.