Talks with Sweden, Finland on NATO membership

While Sweden attempts to persuade Türkiye to complete NATO accession talks, Finland prefers to wait and observe how dynamics will evolve rather than taking concrete steps.

Talks with Sweden, Finland on NATO membership

While Sweden attempts to persuade Türkiye to complete NATO accession talks, Finland prefers to wait and observe how dynamics will evolve rather than taking concrete steps.

1 - What is the current situation for Finland and Sweden's accession to NATO?

The war between Russia and Ukraine had the effect of reinforcing the idea that Europe's security could not be provided without the US or NATO. Russia's quest to regain great-state status has prompted Sweden and Finland to join NATO to avoid a similar Russian invasion. The maintained risk of Russia's enlargement policy forces both countries to take a more realistic view of their own security. Having seen as the solution to the rising Russian threat, their NATO accession process started with the official documents delivered to Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on May 18.

The NATO membership negotiations of Sweden and Finland, with the enthusiastic support of the US and other European countries, evolved into a different dimension after Türkiye announced its security concerns. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that these two countries, especially Sweden, directly support the terrorist organization PKK, which has been fighting against Türkiye in its more than 35-year terror campaign for decades. Erdogan also added Sweden granted PKK members political asylum and provided financial assistance, as these policies need to change for Türkiye's approval of their membership.

It is known that both countries provide asylum to some convicted or wanted FETO as well as PKK members. Highlighting the barrier to arms sales to Türkiye, President Erdogan emphasized that both countries are seeking to join NATO, which in essence, seeks collective security and should not pose a threat to the security of other members. Türkiye demanded the removal of the ban on arms sales, the extradition of terror suspects or people convicted for terrorism, and the sharing of its security concerns by the allies in actions.

At the NATO leaders' summit held in June 2022, Sweden and Finland responded positively to Türkiye's expectations on the fight against terrorism and the extradition of terrorists. The trio signed a trilateral memorandum. Although the memorandum is not a direct NATO document, the fact that Türkiye's legitimate security concerns stemming from the PKK and PKK-affiliated terror organizations were accepted on the margins of NATO was an important message to other allies that support the PYD.

Sweden and Finland naturally want their NATO membership processes to be completed as soon as possible. We can possibly understand this from the intensifying diplomatic traffic of the two countries with the U.S. Sweden and Finland are probably expecting the US to convince Türkiye and soften its reservations about the PKK/PYD. However, taking account of Türkiye's possible land operation across the border into northern Syria, the United States may be avoiding possible effects of the situation in bilateral relations.

Following the talks between countries on Dec. 8, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Sweden and Finland's NATO membership processes are not a bilateral issue between the US and Türkiye. This statement reflects the US policy, including the efforts to minimize possible effects on Türkiye-U.S relations.

Although Sweden and Finland have expressed their intention to complete the NATO membership process before the elections in Türkiye, Türkiye does not have the intention to allow their NATO membership without seeing clear steps to prevent PKK/PYD terrorism.

2 - What concrete steps did Sweden and Finland take?

The remarkable change in perceptions and discourses towards the PKK and PYD, especially in Sweden, is an important development from Türkiye's perspective. During the NATO membership process, Sweden is also making an effort to take concrete steps towards Türkiye's fight against PKK/PYD terrorist organizations with the extradition of the wanted terrorists and enacting the anti-terror law. However, Finland is not taking the same steps. Despite their statements that the demands will be met, seems to avoid concrete moves to support the process compared to Sweden.

Expressing its satisfaction with Sweden's constitutional amendment, which will come into effect on Jan. 1, 2023, making it possible to pass stricter anti-terrorism laws, Türkiye wants to see how this law will be implemented.

The extradition of asylum seeker Mahmut Tat, who was sentenced for being a member of the PKK, to Türkiye is seen as another remarkable step taken by Sweden.

On the other hand, Finnish officials, who stated that they are ready for dialogue with Türkiye and believe that the problems can be solved, have been slower to take concrete steps to address Türkiye's security concerns PKK/PYD since the NATO summit in June.

"Türkiye's concern about terrorism should be taken seriously," Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said following the latest terrorist attack in Istanbul on Nov. 13. Of course, it was not seen as an important step to meet Türkiye's demand for its security. In addition, the prevention of terrorist organization YPG/PKK banners by the police in Finland on Dec. 7 was an extremely inadequate attempt to convince Türkiye to confirm both countries' NATO membership.

3 - What are possible scenarios for negotiations?

While Sweden tries to persuade Türkiye to complete the accession talks, Finland prefers to wait and observe how the dynamics will evolve rather than taking concrete steps. Türkiye's waiting for a move from Finland during this period may put Finland under pressure in parallel with Sweden's intention to complete the process as soon as possible.

Again, if Russia increases its military presence in Ukraine or in different regions, it will maximize the threat perception of both countries and increase the pressure on the membership process. The US, which is trying to balance Russia's dominance and aggressive foreign policy in the region with Türkiye, will want to see Sweden and Finland be allies against Russia as soon as possible under the umbrella of NATO.

If these two countries contribute to addressing Türkiye's security concerns with concrete steps and convince Türkiye that they will support its fight against the PKK, PYD and FETO in accordance with the spirit of the alliance, then there will be no reason to block their NATO membership.

Suppose Türkiye's demands are not taken seriously or are tried to be overlooked with superficial moves. In that case, it will mean that necessary steps Türkiye wants for its own security concerns are not taken, and the spirit of the alliance will not be already formed. So, as President Erdogan stated, Türkiye cannot be expected to contribute to both countries' membership processes. From this perspective, Türkiye plays a key role in all possible scenarios. A member who may request the activation of NATO's Article 5 in any future crisis is expected to equally respect the security of all members of the alliance.

AA/Mehmet Akif Kirecci

Hüseyin Demir

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