Understanding Turkey’s Advancement on Sweden’s NATO Membership Bid

by Michael Nguyen
Sweden NATO Membership

On Tuesday, Sweden progressed closer to joining NATO as Turkey’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee approved a protocol for the country’s admittance into the alliance.

After initial resistance, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan consented to Sweden’s NATO bid at a summit in July. However, the process saw delays as it took months for Erdogan to forward the ratification bill to the parliament, followed by additional weeks for the committee’s approval.

The protocol now awaits endorsement from the parliament’s full general assembly. The timeline for this discussion remains uncertain.

Prompted by security concerns after Russia’s Ukraine invasion in February 2022, Sweden, along with Finland, shifted from their longstanding neutral stance to seek NATO membership. Earlier this year, Finland was accepted as NATO’s 31st member following ratification by Turkey.

Hungary, the remaining NATO member yet to approve Sweden’s bid, has not specified a timeline for its ratification.

An examination of Sweden’s delayed NATO entry, Turkey’s eventual agreement to the bid, and forthcoming developments:

The Reasons Behind Turkey’s Delay in Approving Sweden’s NATO Membership

Turkey’s reluctance to approve Sweden’s NATO bid originated from its perception of Sweden being lenient towards groups it deems security threats. These groups include supporters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), involved in a long-term insurgency in Turkey, and individuals linked to a 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan.

Following a 2021 agreement between Turkey, Sweden, and Finland addressing Ankara’s security concerns, Sweden amended its anti-terrorism legislation, introducing harsher penalties for supporting extremist groups.

However, anti-Turkey and anti-Islam demonstrations in Stockholm, including Quran burnings, further strained relations. Despite Swedish governmental condemnation of these acts, Turkey criticized Sweden’s allowance of such expressions under its free speech laws.

Factors Leading to Turkey’s Withdrawal of Objections

In addressing Ankara’s security apprehensions, Sweden enhanced its anti-terrorism laws. Concurrently, NATO appointed Assistant Secretary General Tom Goffus as a special counterterrorism coordinator.

At NATO’s July summit, Sweden committed to actively support Turkey’s EU accession process rejuvenation. This included efforts to improve customs agreements and facilitate visa-free European travel for Turkish citizens.

Turkey’s EU accession talks have been stagnant since 2018, largely due to concerns over Turkey’s democratic regression and human rights record.

Erdogan recently linked Sweden’s NATO membership with Ankara’s aspirations to acquire U.S.-made F-16 jets, urging Canada and other NATO allies to lift arms embargoes on Turkey.

During the parliamentary committee debate, questions arose regarding U.S. assurances over the F-16 sales. While the Biden administration supports Turkey’s request, there is significant opposition within the U.S. Congress to arms sales to Turkey, which seeks 40 new F-16 jets and upgrades for its existing fleet.

Next Steps

With the parliamentary committee’s approval, Sweden’s accession protocol now moves to the general assembly for debate and ratification, followed by Erdogan’s final signature for enactment.

The timing for the assembly’s discussion is not yet clear. Erdogan’s party, holding a parliamentary majority, asserts the decision lies with the lawmakers. However, nationalist allies of the ruling party, expressing reservations about Sweden’s membership and perceived indifference to the PKK threat, may influence the decision.

Recent attacks by Kurdish militants in northern Iraq, resulting in the deaths of Turkish soldiers, have heightened tensions. Additionally, Islamist parties, frustrated by perceived Western inaction towards Israel’s actions in Gaza, might oppose the bill.

Hungary’s Stance

Hungary, under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, has delayed approving Sweden’s NATO bid, accusing Swedish politicians of misrepresenting Hungary’s democratic state. Orbán’s alignment with Russian President Vladimir Putin adds complexity to the situation.

No clear indication has been given by Hungarian officials on the requirements for their approval of Sweden’s membership.

Some analysts suggest Hungary might use its veto power as leverage against the European Union, which has withheld funds from Budapest over minority rights and legal concerns.

Hungarian opposition politicians advocate for immediate approval of Sweden’s bid, suspecting Orbán’s party is synchronizing its decision with Turkey’s ratification timeline.

Reported by Justin Spike from Budapest, Hungary.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Sweden NATO Membership

Why has Turkey delayed approving Sweden’s NATO membership?

Turkey’s hesitation in approving Sweden’s NATO bid was primarily due to concerns that Sweden was too lenient towards groups Ankara considers security threats. This includes supporters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and individuals linked to the 2016 coup attempt against President Erdogan.

What led to Turkey lifting its objections to Sweden’s NATO bid?

Turkey’s objections were lifted following Sweden’s strengthening of its anti-terrorism laws and NATO’s appointment of a special counterterrorism coordinator. Additionally, Sweden committed to support Turkey’s EU accession process and improve visa-free travel arrangements for Turkish citizens.

What are the next steps in Sweden’s NATO membership process?

The next steps involve the Swedish accession protocol being debated and ratified by Turkey’s general assembly and then being signed by President Erdogan. The exact timeline for these steps remains unclear.

How has Hungary’s stance affected Sweden’s NATO bid?

Hungary, under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, has delayed approving Sweden’s NATO membership, citing grievances with Swedish politicians’ comments about Hungary’s democracy. Hungary’s delay is seen as a potential leverage tool against the European Union.

More about Sweden NATO Membership

  • Understanding NATO Expansion
  • Turkey’s Foreign Policy
  • Sweden’s Security Strategy
  • EU-Turkey Relations
  • NATO’s Role in Global Politics
  • The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)
  • U.S.-Turkey Defense Relations
  • Viktor Orbán’s Government Policies
  • NATO and the Russia-Ukraine Conflict

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Mike O'Neil December 27, 2023 - 8:34 am

interesting read, but isn’t it a bit biased towards Sweden’s perspective? Seems like Turkey’s concerns are kinda brushed off…

Tom G. December 27, 2023 - 3:01 pm

good article, but missed out on the economic impact of Sweden joining NATO. that’s a huge aspect too!

Karen P. December 27, 2023 - 7:05 pm

this is pretty informative, but some parts are hard to follow? maybe simplifying the language would help more people understand.

Jenny M. December 27, 2023 - 11:42 pm

wow, really detailed article! great to see such in-depth coverage on Sweden’s NATO bid, Turkey’s politics are always so complicated…

Lisa S. December 28, 2023 - 1:37 am

Great job covering the Hungary angle, it’s often overlooked in these discussions. Orbán’s politics are tricky to navigate for sure.


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