Ankara, Jan 24 (The Street Press) – On Tuesday, Turkey’s parliament gave the thumbs up to Sweden’s NATO membership bid, making a significant move in the Western military alliance’s expansion. This decision comes after a 20-month delay, marking a crucial step forward.
Turkey’s general assembly, where President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling alliance has the upper hand, voted 287-55 in favor of approving Sweden’s application. Sweden initially submitted the request in 2022 as a measure to enhance its security, a response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Approval from all NATO members is required for countries seeking alliance membership. In 2022, when Sweden and Finland expressed interest in joining, Turkey raised concerns, citing what it considered the two countries’ support for groups labeled as terrorists. While Finland’s membership gained endorsement in April of the following year, Turkey, along with Hungary, had delayed Sweden’s approval.
Fuat Oktay, head of parliament’s foreign affairs commission and a member of the ruling AK Party, expressed support for NATO enlargement to enhance deterrence efforts. He highlighted the hope that Finland and Sweden’s stance against terrorism would serve as an example for other allies during the debate.
U.S. Ambassador Jeff Flake expressed gratitude for the Turkish Parliament’s approval of Sweden’s NATO entry, emphasizing Turkey’s commitment as a testament to the enduring partnership within the NATO Alliance. Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom echoed this sentiment, eagerly anticipating President Erdogan’s signature on the ratification document.
Erdogan is anticipated to sign the legislation in the coming days, leaving Hungary as the sole member state yet to approve Sweden’s accession. Prime Minister Viktor Orban, known for his friendly ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, extended an invitation to his Swedish counterpart for discussions on joining the bloc. Hungary’s parliament is in recess until approximately mid-February.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Turkey’s decision and urged Hungary to complete its national ratification swiftly. Both Turkey and Hungary maintain closer ties with Russia compared to other members of the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
While Turkey criticizes Western sanctions on Moscow despite opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russia has warned of a response if NATO strengthens military infrastructure in Sweden and Finland. Sweden, undergoing a historic shift from a non-aligned security policy, joining NATO would strengthen the alliance’s defenses in the Baltic Sea region facing Russia.
DEMANDS AND CONCESSIONS
Turkey’s delays had caused frustration among some Western allies, providing an opportunity for Ankara to secure certain concessions. In exchange for approval, Turkey pressed Stockholm to take a firmer stance on local members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), recognized as a terrorist group by both the European Union and the United States.
In response, Stockholm implemented a new anti-terrorism bill criminalizing membership in terrorist organizations. Additionally, Sweden, along with Finland, Canada, and the Netherlands, adjusted policies on arms exports to Turkey. During parliamentary discussions, Oktay highlighted that Erdogan’s AK Party endorsed Sweden’s NATO bid in recognition of positive steps taken by Sweden in the fight against terrorism.
The AKP’s nationalist allies, MHP, and the main opposition CHP endorsed Sweden’s NATO bid, while opposition nationalist, Islamist, and leftist parties rejected it. Four MPs chose to abstain. Erdogan, who submitted Sweden’s bid to parliament in October, connected the ratification to U.S. approval of F-16 fighter jets sales to Turkey. The White House supports the sale, and some analysts anticipate a swift deal following Turkey’s approval of Sweden’s bid. However, there is no clear timeframe for the U.S. Congress to approve the deal.