NATO and Turkey
According to the latest analysis of the 'Foreign Policy' journal on global situation, there was so much emerging hope in the conflicting context of the the world, particularly regarding NATO.
When Finland and Sweden officially applied for NATO membership last May, abandoning decades of neutrality in Helsinki and more than a century of nonalignment in Stockholm, U.S. and European officials celebrated the historic step as a major strategic defeat for Russia, stemming from its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The only thing NATO leaders needed to do to lock this in was get their house in order to admit them.
Cut to eight months later, and 29 of NATO’s 30 members have signed off on expanding the alliance, but there’s still one holdout blocking the whole thing: Turkey. (Hungary, the other holdout, has said it will ratify Sweden and Finland’s bids in February.)
Sweden and Finland, backed by NATO powers, have carefully tried to court Turkey to agree to greenlight NATO expansion through a painstaking, monthslong diplomatic campaign that appears to have run aground. Turkey, Finland, and Sweden signed a memorandum at the NATO summit in Madrid last June signaling there’d be an end to the impasse, but no one spoils otherwise routine NATO business better than Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan has dug his heels in—amid a critical election season in Turkey—over claims that Sweden harbors militants from a separatist Kurdish group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group designated as terrorists by the United States and European Union that Turkey has been fighting for more than 30 years.
In the early months of the NATO expansion process, Finland and Sweden vowed to move in lockstep with each other and coordinate entering NATO at the same time. Now, after eight months of impasse, Finland is reportedly considering going for a membership bid alone. And the prospect of expanding the alliance to 32 members—once seen as a foregone conclusion—now appears more remote than ever.
Turkey had already been stalling on a parliamentary vote needed to ratify Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership for months by the time the clock rolled around to 2023, looking for a variety of concessions—such as deportations of people from Nordic countries viewed by Erdogan as terrorists—that seemed like nonstarters.
But the prospect of Swedish membership, which was first jeopardized by the past government’s ties to Kurdish parties (which their successors distanced themselves from), now appears much more remote after a far-right politician in Sweden burned a Quran at a protest early in January, a move that directly angered Erdogan. That led to Turkey canceling a meeting to hunker down with Swedish and Finnish officials to talk about their NATO membership—indefinitely.
On Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said it was “meaningless” to hold a trilateral meeting to clear the air this month in Stockholm.
Finland is now considering moving ahead with a solo effort for NATO membership if Turkey continues to balk at Sweden’s bid, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said on Tuesday.
But on the other hand, Turkey’s gambit may be time sensitive. Turkey’s elections are set for May 14, and Erdogan, who has been in power for two decades, faces his toughest test yet, with critics calling out the 68-year-old leader for presiding over a severe economic downturn and the erosion of democratic freedoms. (The six-party opposition group opposing Erdogan has yet to put forward a candidate.)
Months ago, when your trusty SitRep writer was in Finland reporting on NATO issues and asking how Sweden and Finland were preparing for a new era of showdowns against Russia, a Finnish official joked to him that “the Swedes are prepared to fight to the last Finn.”
A good natured joke between two neighbors, but the underlying point stands. Finland shares one of the longest borders with Russia in Europe, and friend or not, it acts as a giant, country-sized buffer between Sweden and Russia. So while many U.S. and NATO officials are quietly fuming over what they see as Turkey’s intransigence, they also concede that from a purely geopolitical or defense planning perspective, it may be better to get Finland—the “front-line” country—into NATO as soon as possible.