Hafsa Ammar is a student of the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at the National Defence University, Islamabad. Her areas of expertise are hybrid warfare, narrative building, and nuclear deterrence in South Asia.
Finland & Sweden Seek NATO Membership
On 16th May 2022, President Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey moved to block the historic attempt at the Nordic military alignment with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a response to the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. Finland and Sweden both put forth the bid to establish themselves as active members of NATO which would not only extend them the favor of security but also pose a potential high-level threat to Russia by bringing the military organization back to its borders.
Due to Turkey’s position as a permanent member of NATO since 1952, without its express approval, no new states can be a party to the organization. Erdogan went as far as to preemptively and publicly deny any attempts by the Nordic governments to change the Turkish stance, claiming that they would only be wasting their time. Turkey has the 2nd largest military in NATO after the US and that goes to show its influence over the organization.
The Russian response was two-sided as it not only re-established the non-hostile ties with Finland and Sweden, but all the while threatened a response in kind if the NATO membership led to a military presence of the West in the Nordic States.
“Everything was fine between us, but now there might be some tensions, there certainly will,” Vladimir Putin
The potential for a military presence at its borders was what played a major role in the Russian invasion of Ukraine; a similar case would be of the neighboring state, Finland, which is why this step could either lead to regional deterrence or further aggravation of Russia.
This rejection of the NATO expansion was a global shock, but Erdogan stood firm against the states due to their continued refusal to the extradition of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists to Turkey. Sweden and Finland both have the PKK listed on their terrorism alert list but their attitude towards its Syrian arm, Yekîneyên Parastina Gel (YPG) or People’s Defense Unit, is a little lax.
This is mainly due to the Western perspective of the YPG being a potential ally in combating ISIL in Syria. Simply put, the West views the YPG as a lesser and more beneficial evil. Sweden and Finland have refused to extradite over 30 individuals to Turkey due to their blatant refusal to see PKK and YPG in the same light. This has been the major factor in the abject refusal put forth by Turkey.
Attempts at Negotiation
The negotiations took place at the 2022 NATO Summit in Madrid between the three nation-states where historic compromises were made and a ten-point memorandum was signed. The Turkish Minister of Justice, Bekir Bozdağ, declared that under the terms of negotiation, for Turkey to allow the establishment of Finland and Sweden as NATO members, the states were to extradite 12 and 22 suspects respectively who belonged to terror groups PKK, YPG, and FETO (Fetullah Terrorist Organization).
Helsinki and Stockholm were to not only hand over the militants to Turkish forces but also officially declare the Syrian wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party, the YPG, as a legitimate terror threat and place it on their watchlists. Turkey also demanded an end to the arms embargo imposed on it by Sweden and Finland after Turkey’s incursion into Syria.
However, it is important to note that a lot of the discussions and concessions of the summit have not been disclosed to the public and hence it is still not clear how much power and authority each side has conceded. Upon the tri-lateral agreement of all parties, Turkey finally consented to the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO.
Foregoing Military Neutrality
What led to Sweden and Finland breaking their decades of military neutrality? Sweden and Finland are what would be considered states with armed neutrality as they have established militaries and conscription as well. Despite their unflinching loyalty to peace, both states recognize the necessity of military forces in the current realist paradigm.
The ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine has left the Nordic duo in a conundrum; eventually, the need for physical and military security won over the metaphysical sense of neutrality and peace. Finland has tasted its own share of violence at the hands of (Soviet) Russia and does not feel the need to do so again.
Finland shares a border with Russia, commonly known as the Vaalimaa-Torfjanovka border, that is over 1300km long and lined with fences and plastic signs — something that would not hold up against a probable Russian offense. Sweden and Finland have been slowly increasing their military stockpile and training sessions over the past few years, but this war is what has finally tipped them over the edge.
Turkey, Sweden, and Finland ultimately came to a unanimous decision and any resistance from Ankara against the Swedish and Finnish attempt at NATO membership has been put to rest. The Nordic bids have to be approved by all 30 member states of the organization. There could still be some bumps along the way but for now, it is smooth sailing.
There is a chance for a revival of the blockade if Sweden and Finland don’t make haste in the requirements asked of them.
‘I want to reiterate once again that we will freeze the process if these countries do not take the necessary steps to fulfill our conditions’ – Tayyip Erdogan
Erdogan is standing firm on his requirements from the Swedish government (more so than from the Finnish) and declared that this membership should be seen as a privilege and therefore must be earned.
‘I want you to abide by our red lines’ – Tayyip Erdogan
The reason behind such a rigid Turkish stance is not only the international spotlight on the Kurdish terrorists but also the politico-national agenda of the Turkish President himself. The Madrid Summit and overall Turkish influence in global affairs have led to the increase in public support of the AKP/Justice and Development Party which is headed by Erdogan himself. His actions on the international platform have led to increased support which could win him the 2023 Turkish general elections.
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