Turkey’s Shift on Sweden’s NATO Membership

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In a significant turn of events, Turkey has taken steps to support Sweden’s bid to join NATO, marking a pivotal moment in their diplomatic relations. This move comes after months of hesitation from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who had initially opposed Sweden’s membership during a NATO summit in July. The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee recently approved a protocol for Sweden’s accession to the military alliance, bringing the Nordic country one step closer to NATO membership.

Delays and Security Concerns

Despite Erdoğan’s earlier objection, the approval of the protocol was a protracted process, taking several months for the Turkish president to submit the bill for ratification and additional weeks for the parliamentary committee to give its consent. Sweden and Finland, both seeking NATO membership amid heightened security concerns following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have faced delays in the approval process. Finland eventually became NATO’s 31st member after Turkey ratified its bid.

Turkish Opposition and Security Measures

Turkey’s initial opposition to Sweden’s NATO membership was rooted in concerns about Sweden’s alleged leniency towards individuals associated with Kurdish militants and other groups viewed as security threats by Ankara. To address these concerns, an agreement was reached between Turkey, Sweden, and Finland last year. Sweden, in response, strengthened its anti-terrorism laws, making support for extremist organizations punishable by up to eight years in prison. However, anti-Turkey and anti-Islam protests in Stockholm, including incidents of burning the Quran, strained relations.

Changing Dynamics and Conditions

Recent developments indicate a shift in dynamics. Sweden, in an effort to address Turkey’s security concerns, strengthened its anti-terrorism laws, while NATO appointed a special coordinator for counterterrorism. Moreover, Sweden pledged support for Turkey’s EU accession process, and discussions about improved customs arrangements and visa-free European travel for Turkish citizens have been initiated. Turkey’s President Erdoğan has openly linked Sweden’s NATO membership to efforts to purchase US-made F-16 fighter jets, further intertwining diplomatic considerations.

The Path Forward and Potential Challenges

The approval by the parliamentary committee clears the way for Sweden’s NATO accession protocol to be debated and ratified by the full general assembly. The timing of this debate remains uncertain. While Erdoğan’s party holds a majority in the parliament, the decision ultimately rests with lawmakers. Challenges may arise from nationalist allies who remain uneasy about Sweden’s NATO membership, and potential votes against the bill from Islamist parties frustrated with perceived Western silence on certain geopolitical issues. Additionally, Hungary, the only other NATO holdout on Sweden, presents an additional hurdle with its ongoing reservations and demands for redress from Stockholm.

SOURCE: Ref Image from Los Angeles Times

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