NATO Expansion Hits a Speed Bump

international politics, Politics

Elizabeth Boyle, Staff 

The Northern Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)’s once positive and unifying rule of the unanimous vote is now being manipulated to prevent Sweden and Finland from gaining NATO membership. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan voting down the admittance of Sweden and Finland has caused other member states to pick sides and show their support. 

NATO was created after World War II in the hope to prevent another world war. According to the US Department of Defense, there are 5 regulations that must be met to join NATO. The country must be a democracy, members must be actively moving towards a market economy, national military forces must be under civilian control, nations must be good neighbors to those on their border and nations must work towards compatibility with NATO forces. 

Turkey has voted against Sweden and Finland’s acceptance into NATO. Finland and Sweden petitioned to join NATO in May of 2022 after Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. At that time, Erdogan placed conditions on the US in order for him to give his approval of Finland and Sweden’s membership. Erdogan wants the US military to stop arming and funding the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the People’s Defense Units (YPG) in Syria. Experts have commented that Erdogan has a legitimate security concern about Syria but trying to force the US into abiding by his wishes by attempting to punish Sweden and Finland is not the correct course of action.

NATO is extremely concerned by Erdogan’s actions because of Putin in Ukraine. NATO has worked hard to show a unified front and Erdogan could disrupt that. If Turkey is angered by NATO or prospective NATO entrants, it could choose to launch a military attack into northern Syria against the Kurdish people who were crucial in helping the US defeat the Islamic State in various battles. Although Turkey has helped Ukraine by supplying some drones used to attack Russian forces, it has also increased trade with Russia and welcomed almost 5 million Russian refugees. This leaves room for doubt about Erdogan’s intentions.

The reaction to Turkey’s vote has caused concern for tension on the pact between Sweden and Finland. The two countries originally agreed they would join NATO to ensure the two countries’ safety and continued alliance. When petitioning for NATO membership, Sweden and Finland signed an agreement in June 2022 stating that they would take action against terrorist organizations such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), which are aligned with Turkey. Turkey has stated it believes Finland has fulfilled its obligation of acting against the PKK and FETO but Sweden has not. Erdogan’s reasoning is that during a protest in Stockholm, the Swedish Government allowed the burning of the Quran, the religious book of Islam, offending Turkish citizens who are majority Muslims. 

This dispute has pushed speculation that Finland is considering joining NATO without Sweden. However, on Thursday, Feb. 2 the Prime Ministers of Finland and Sweden held a press conference announcing, “I think it’s very important that we send today a clear message: Finland and Sweden applied together and it is in everybody’s interest that we will join together in NATO” said Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin.

Sweden responded to Turkey’s vote by broadening its anti-terror laws and announced the change at the press conference. The Swedish Justice Minister talked about the new laws stating, “It’s a broader criminalization, targeting a large number of activities within a terrorist organization that is not concretely connected to a particular terrorist crime.”

The US has also responded to Turkey’s recalcitrance by postponing the sale of F-16 fighter jets that were supposed to be sold to Turkey. Congress wrote a letter stating they “cannot consider future support for [Turkey until] completing the ratification of the accession protocols.” They explained, “Failure to ratify protocols or present a timeline for ratification threatens the alliance’s unity at the moment in history, as Russia continues its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.” Congress further wrote, “A productive and mutually beneficial bilateral security relationship with [Turkey] is in the interest of the United States, and we are awaiting the government’s ratification of NATO accession protocols for Sweden and Finland.” The US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken “reiterated US support for Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO accession.”

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