Turkey Gives Green Light to Sweden’s NATO Membership Bid Following 20-Month Delay

Turkey’s Parliament Gives the Green Light to Sweden’s NATO Membership Bid

On Tuesday, Turkey’s parliament took a significant step forward by officially ratifying Sweden’s NATO membership bid, overcoming the major obstacle that had caused a 20-month delay in expanding the Western military alliance.

The decision sets the stage for a crucial vote in Turkey’s general assembly, where President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling alliance holds a majority. This move comes in response to Sweden’s application made in 2022, a response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

With parliamentary approval, the next anticipated step is for President Erdogan to sign the ratification into law within a matter of days. Once completed, Hungary would remain the sole member state yet to grant approval for Sweden’s accession to NATO.

The Final Ally Required

Hungary, previously committed not to be the last to ratify, faces a parliamentary recess until mid-February. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has extended an invitation to his Swedish counterpart to discuss the possibility of Sweden joining the bloc.

Despite the invitation, Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom expressed reservations, stating, “I don’t see any reason to negotiate in the current situation. However, we can have a dialogue and continue to discuss questions.” Sweden’s government has chosen not to comment on Turkey’s parliamentary process.

Notably, both Turkey and Hungary maintain more favorable relations with Russia compared to other members of the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). While Turkey has criticized Western sanctions on Moscow, it has also opposed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia has cautioned that it would respond if NATO strengthens military infrastructure in the two Nordic states.

Sweden’s NATO membership bid represents a significant shift in its security policy, aiming to enhance NATO defenses in the Baltic Sea region. Turkey’s delays in the ratification process have led to frustration among some Western allies, providing Turkey with an opportunity to secure certain concessions.

Late Admission

In 2022, when Sweden and Finland sought NATO membership, Turkey raised objections, citing concerns about the alleged protection of groups deemed terrorists by Ankara. While Finland’s membership received endorsement in April of the previous year, Sweden, along with Hungary, faced delays. Turkey had called for a firmer stance from Sweden regarding local members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), recognized as a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States.

Responding to Turkey’s concerns, Sweden introduced a new anti-terrorism bill criminalizing membership in terrorist organizations. Additionally, Sweden, Finland, Canada, and the Netherlands took steps to ease arms-export policies with Turkey.

President Erdogan, who submitted Sweden’s bid to parliament in October, linked the ratification to US approval of F-16 fighter jet sales to Turkey. While the White House supports the sale, the timeline for US Congress approval remains unclear. Congressional opposition has arisen due to concerns about Turkey’s delay in NATO enlargement and its human rights record.

The Turkish general assembly convened to discuss several matters, with Sweden’s bid among the early topics. Last month, the foreign affairs commission approved the bid, with support from Erdogan’s ruling AK Party, nationalist allies MHP, and the main opposition CHP. However, opposition from nationalist and Islamist parties has been evident.

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