Turkey Is the Last Obstacle Standing in the Way of NATO Bids for Finland and Sweden

Turkey remains adamant on their position of voting against NATO bids for Finland and Sweden until “concrete steps” are taken to remove the existence of what Turkey calls “terrorist groups” in the two Nordic countries. 

Sweden and Finland officially submitted their applications to NATO on May 18th. This action sent a strong message to Russia as Putin repeatedly emphasized military threats if the Nordic states were to join NATO. 

The United States and most of the international community are primarily enthusiastic about Sweden and Finland joining NATO. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg addressed NATO, remarking that “All allies agree on the importance of NATO enlargement. We all agree that we must stand together and that this is a historical moment that we must seize. This is a good day at a critical moment for our security.” 

However, with Sweden and Finland needing a unanimous vote between the entire NATO organization in order to join, Turkey the holds power to successfully veto the decision.

Relations between Turkey, Sweden, and Finland have been rocky over the past few years, with Turkey claiming that the two countries back terrorism in reference to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu slammed Finland and Sweden for refusing to extradite suspects wanted in Turkey despite Ankara’s request. Additionally, Sweden halted the sale of arms to Turkey in 2019 due to disapproval of Ankara’s military operation in Syria. 

Turkey’s denial of the Nordic states into the NATO may also be the country’s attempt at fixing the pressing issues it has with the United States, especially the current US sanctions over the F-35 Jets. Asli Aydintasbas, the senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, wrote, “The president almost certainly sees this as an opportune moment to air his grievances about existing NATO members, especially with the Biden administration, which has kept the Turkish leader at arm’s length.”

Despite political tensions between the Nordic states and Turkey, transatlantic cooperation must succeed now more than ever, given Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine. The US is attempting to facilitate discussions between Turkey, Sweden, and Finland in order to reach a consensus. According to Reuters, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan “expressed support for Turkey’s continued direct talks with Sweden and Finland to resolve concerns over their applications for NATO membership, which the US strongly supports.” 

So far, Turkey still remains unchanged in their position. However, Sweden and Finland remain optimistic that a compromise can be met. Mensur Akgun, professor of international relations at Istanbul’s Kultur University, told Al Jazeera, “Ankara will negotiate as other members would do, in line with its national interests. At the end of the day, historically, Turkey has never undermined a NATO consensus and will still try not to do it. However, it will not be unconditional.”