NATO’s Expansion in Doubt Over Turkey’s Objections
Finland and Sweden’s aspirations to join NATO are in doubt as Turkey has renewed its objections to their membership bids.
Finnish diplomats met with their Turkish counterparts Tuesday in Ankara, according to local media reports. The meeting marked the latest diplomatic effort by Helsinki to persuade Ankara to agree to its bid to join NATO. For the Atlantic alliance to expand, all members must agree.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has voiced reservations over Finland and Sweden’s bid to join, accusing the countries of giving sanctuary to Kurdish groups that Ankara considers terrorists. Speaking to parliament earlier this month, Erdogan said he would closely monitor commitments by both Finland and Sweden to address Turkish concerns.
Erdogan said Turkey is not going to give concessions as a country that has fought terrorism for 40 years.
Earlier in October, the Turkish leader accused Stockholm of reneging on its commitments to Ankara, saying enemies of Turkey were continuing to operate freely in Sweden. Erdogan, however, said he is ready to meet with Sweden’s newly elected prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, to discuss Turkish demands.
Huseyin Bagci, head of the Foreign Policy Institute in Ankara, said Erdogan sees NATO expansion as an opportunity.
“Tayyip Erdogan tries to increase the leverage of the Turkish bargaining process through this. Maybe at the end, he will say yes, but he has to take now something. It is a calculated act but whether [it is] a miscalculation, we will have to see this,” Bagci said.
News reports say Sweden has made many security concessions. Ankara is demanding the extradition of dozens of people, including Swedish nationals wanted for terrorist offenses.
Analyst Ilhan Uzgel with the Duvar news portal said concessions from Washington are Erdogan’s main aim.
“The membership bid of Finland and Sweden, he tries to use these two bargaining chips to get something from the West,” Uzgel said. “It can be either a meeting with [U.S. President Joe] Biden; it can be the purchase of F-16 fighter jets from the United States, [or] external support during the elections. Something that will help Erdogan get into a better position before the elections.”
Erdogan is languishing in most opinion polls ahead of elections that Turkey is required to hold by June of 2023. Analyst Uzgel said Erdogan will be reluctant to give up leverage over NATO before the June polls.
“My guess is that he is going to use it until the elections. It’s a leverage that he needs right now, unless he gets something quite important from the United States,” Uzgel said. “He is completely and utterly focused on winning the elections because he is losing support domestically. So, he has to win the elections, so he is going to do whatever it takes to stay in power domestically or externally.”
Analysts say Erdogan will also be aware that standing up to NATO and, in particular, the United States, plays well among his religious and nationalist base. This means Finland and Sweden could have a long wait until they are able to join the alliance.