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The Path to NATO Is Clear for Sweden and Finland

NATO Tank Leopard 2
NATO Leopard Tank. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

The largest military alliance in the world is set to become even larger after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan withdrew his objections to Finland and Sweden joining NATO.

Erdogan met with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and President Sauli Niinisto of Finland, just prior to the NATO summit in Madrid. The three-hour meeting was chaired by NATO’s general-secretary, Jens Stoltenberg. The Turkish government claimed in a statement that it “managed to get serious gains” in the fight against terrorism. 

Sweden and Finland also agreed “not to impose embargo restrictions in the field of defense industry” on Turkey and to take “concrete steps on the extradition of terrorist criminals,” the statement added.

With Turkey lifting its veto, NATO averted a potentially embarrassing situation just prior to a summit at which it hopes to show a continued united front against Russian aggression in Ukraine. 

“I’m pleased to announce that we now have an agreement that paves the way for Finland and Sweden to join NATO,” Stoltenberg said late on Tuesday. “Turkey, Finland, and Sweden have signed a memorandum that addresses Turkey’s concerns, including around arms exports, and the fight against terrorism.

“Our joint memorandum underscores the commitment of Finland, Sweden, and Turkey to extend their full support against threats to each other’s security,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said in a statement.

Turkey’s Objections Centered on the Kurds

At the heart of Turkish objections was Erdogan and Turkey’s ongoing conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which Turkey has labeled a terrorist organization. The PKK, in an effort to establish an independent Kurdish state, has waged a campaign against the Turkish government since the mid-1980s.

Turkey’s concerns center around reported off-shoots of the PKK in Syria and Iraq. The Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, and the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, are Kurdish-led groups. Erdogan wanted the countries to stop harboring members of the Kurds, whom he says are terrorists, and return them to Turkey. 

Many in the West, including Sweden, support the SDF in the war against ISIS. The SDF is the main partner force of the U.S. inside of Syria. Both the YPG and the SDF have denied any organizational involvement with the PKK, but Turkey has rejected those statements, considering them one and the same. It is a contentious issue among allies.

Turkey was also upset that many nations of the West, including Sweden and Finland, sanctioned Turkey in 2019 by restricting its ability to export arms after the Turks’ incursion into Syria to push the YPG back from the Syrian-Turkish border.

A Political Defeat for Putin

While not yet official, the coming addition of Finland and Sweden to the alliance is a major political loss for Russian President Vladimir Putin. One of Putin’s goals in invading Ukraine was ostensibly to stop NATO’s eastward expansion. Now, two Nordic nations that were officially neutral for decades have been pushed right into NATO’s arms. Finland, which has long been a victim of Russian aggression, shares an 810-mile (1,300km) border with Russia.

With NATO looking for more of a presence in the Baltic Sea, the additions of the two new members will essentially make it a “NATO lake.” It should also be quite useful in countering Russian aims in the Arctic.

President Joe Biden is slated to meet with Erdogan in Madrid, where the Turkish leader is expected to push for an extended purchase agreement for the F-16 fighter program. Turkey’s at times cozy relationship with Putin led Ankara to purchase the S-400 air defense system from Russia, and in turn Turkey was kicked out of the F-35 fighter program. 

Relations between the U.S. and Turkey have been chilly since the Biden administration took office. The U.S. criticized Turkey’s and Erdogan’s human rights record, and emphasized U.S. support for the SDF in Syria. 

Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He has served as a US Army Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for 19fortyfive.com and other military news organizations, he has covered the NFL for PatsFans.com for over 11 years. His work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.

Written By

Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He has served as a US Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for 1945, he covers the NFL for PatsFans.com and his work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.

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