NATO Membership for Sweden and Finland in Jeopardy Due to Turkey’s Opposition
Sweden and Finland have been hoping to join NATO since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, dropping their decades-long military non-alignment. The two countries applied for membership last May, but their bids are now in jeopardy due to Turkey’s opposition. The Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has warned Sweden not to expect “benevolence” for its bid following protests near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm. He also suggested that Finland’s NATO membership could be approved without Sweden’s, citing recent pro-Kurdish and anti-Islam protests in Stockholm.
In response to Erdogan’s comments, US officials reiterated their support for NATO’s expansion. Sweden and Finland are now hoping that both countries could receive Turkey’s support to ratify membership before the NATO Summit scheduled for Vilnius, Lithuania, on July 11. Joining NATO requires approval from all 30 member nations, and only Turkey and Hungary have not yet ratified the applications from Sweden and Finland.
Turkey is requiring Sweden and Finland to lift their “arms embargo” on Turkey as a requirement for Ankara's endorsement of their NATO membership. Additionally, Turkey has provided a list of 120 people it wants extradited from Sweden and has postponed a new round of talks with Sweden and Finland on the Nordic neighbours’ NATO membership bids.
After a far-right activist set fire to the Quran in Stockholm on Sunday, Erdogan declared that he would not back Sweden's request on Monday. Turkey and Hungary are the only two out of the 30 NATO members who have yet to approve their membership. On Monday, US officials reaffirmed their backing of the Nordic bids.
In response to the diplomatic strain, Finland hinted for the first time on Tuesday that it might consider joining NATO without Sweden. Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said Finland might be forced to consider joining NATO without Sweden, but he also said that both countries are continuing the application process together and that the goal is for them to become members at the same time.
It remains unclear whether Finland will shift its approach and go it alone or if Turkey will eventually change its stance. The possibility of Sweden and Finland joining the bloc prior to the May Turkish parliamentary and presidential elections has been reduced by Erdogan's remarks and Tuesday's delay.
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