In January 2023, President Erdogan of Türkiye stated that Sweden and Finland must deport some 130 “terrorists” to Türkiye before Ankara will approve their bids to join NATO. Reuters reports that analysts expect the application process of Sweden to become a NATO member to remain stalled at least until Türkiye’s elections are complete, even if Sweden meets the requirements to join. Türkiye’s elections will be held in June of 2023.
Türkiye’s reluctance to endorse Sweden’s NATO application has caused friction between the two nations and casts doubt on the future of NATO’s expansion. Sweden has been actively pursuing closer relations with the alliance through increased participation in joint military exercises and other cooperative measures while aggressively seeking NATO membership partly in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Despite this, Ankara has stood as a roadblock to Sweden’s NATO accession because of claims that Sweden supports the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), designated in Türkiye as a terrorist organization, Reuters explains.
According to Türkiye, Sweden, in particular, is linked to individuals Ankara claims are PKK terrorists who began a guerilla campaign against the Turkish government in 1984. According to The New York Times, Sweden “has a tradition of openness to refugees from Kurdistan,” which has led Sweden to become the target of Turkish President Erdogan’s demands. In June of 2022, Sweden agreed to address Türkiye’s “pending deportation or extradition requests of terror suspects expeditiously and thoroughly,” according to BBC News.
Many critics from Western countries have cautioned against making political concessions to Türkiye, claiming that any deportations could violate both the sovereignty of each nation and the human rights of those involved. In recent years, freedom of speech and other civil liberties have been curtailed in Türkiye as critics have accused Erdogan of increasing authoritarianism, writes The Washington Post.
On January 23, a Quran was burned outside of Türkiye ‘s embassy in Stockholm, further angering Erdogan, who warned Sweden that they should not expect his backing to join NATO following this incident, reports EuroNews. Swedish leaders condemned the far-right politician Rasmus Paludan, who led the Quran burning incident, but defended their country’s broad definition of free speech. Erdogan said the burning of the holy Muslim book was a hate crime that could not be defended by free speech.
Along with its issues with Sweden, Türkiye does not have a good relationship with other NATO members. Tensions have been rising in recent years between Türkiye and fellow NATO member Greece over maritime rights in the Aegean Sea. After Türkiye deployed a survey ship to search for underwater oil and gas in waters Greece claims are within its sovereignty under international law, Greek and Turkish warships monitored each other’s vessels throughout the entire summer in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean. “Until 2019, 2020, 2021, I supported that there was no chance of war. I can no longer say that,” retired Greek Admiral Alexandros Diakopoulos told Al Jazeera.
Existing U.S.-Türkiye tensions worsened after a failed 2016 coup in Türkiye, as Türkiye accused the U.S. of allegedly backing forces within the country that initiated the coup attempt. President Biden of the United States also decided to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide in 2021, which Türkiye continues to deny. While some have floated the prospect of kicking Türkiye out of NATO if they do not comply, there is no mechanism in the NATO Treaty to expel member states, reports Newsweek.
Sweden and Finland are looking to join NATO as a package deal, and both of these nations provide strategic value to NATO. Finnish and Swedish membership is expected to bolster the alliance’s eastern flank and its collective defenses in northern Europe, according to The Council on Foreign Relations. With the current war in Ukraine, many countries that are in close proximity to Russia are worried about their own security. Finland shares over 800 miles of border with Russia and Sweden shares the Baltic Sea with Russia and many other nations. The importance of joining NATO cannot be understated for these two nations, as NATO membership would guarantee them security with military assistance provided by Western nations.
Regardless of these challenges, Sweden has persisted in seeking NATO membership and has sought to address Türkiye ‘s concerns by affirming its dedication to the alliance’s fundamental principles and objectives. Although both Sweden and Türkiye have reaffirmed their commitment to finding a solution to this problem, the success of NATO’s ability to expand will depend on each member state’s capacity to cooperate and resolve any outstanding issues.
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