OPN Nato Erdogan
Turkey has agreed to back Sweden’s bid to join the military alliance – a major development on the eve of the Nato summit Image Credit: AFP

In a promising start to the Nato Vilnius Summit, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has pledged to advance Sweden’s bid to join the Nato military alliance, bringing an end to a prolonged uncertainty that strained the bloc.

Last year, both Sweden and Finland abandoned their long-standing policies of military non-alignment and applied for Nato membership following the Russia-Ukraine war.

While Finland’s membership was approved in April, Turkey had reservations about Sweden’s bid, citing concerns over counterterrorism efforts against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the EU, and the US.

The recent announcement has been warmly received by US President Joe Biden, who is having one-on-one discussions with Erdogan during the summit.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson attend a meeting, on the eve of a NATO summit, in Vilnius, Lithuania July 10, 2023. Image Credit: REUTERS

Once the Turkish parliament ratifies the accession protocol, Sweden will become the 32nd member of Nato. The military alliance feels that Sweden’s participation will bolster the defence of Nato’s eastern flank countries and enhance security in North Central Europe, particularly in the Baltic Sea region.

The Vilnius Summit therefore sets a tone for deepening partnerships in an ever-evolving geopolitical landscape.

What brought upon Erdogan’s change of heart?

Turkey has finally given its long-awaited approval for Sweden to join Nato, setting off a wave of celebration at the Vilnius Summit. Nato Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, declared it a historic day as the agreement was signed between Sweden, Turkey, and Nato

Read more

The agreement eliminates the risk of Sweden being left on the outskirts of Nato, ensuring full-fledged membership. Stockholm can now accelerate its military and political adjustments, benefiting not only its own defence but also playing a pivotal role in safeguarding Northern Europe.

But the excitement doesn’t end there. Finland, closely tied to Sweden in terms of security and defence, eagerly anticipates its own full integration as a Nato member. Finnish President, Sauli Niinistö, emphasised that Finland’s Nato membership cannot be complete without Sweden by its side.

High political drama

For Nato, this deal kick-starts the Vilnius Summit on a high note, preventing any signs of fragmentation among the alliance’s members. Stalling Sweden’s progress would have jeopardised Nato’s credibility and its cherished “open door” policy.

Amid this high political drama, it appears that President Erdogan has effectively leveraged his influence to push Sweden and Nato towards stricter counterterrorism measures.

The icing on the cake? Sweden’s unexpected support for Turkey’s aspirations to revive the European Commission’s accession process. It seems like a win-win situation, but will Turkey’s dreams of acquiring the sought-after F-16 fighter jets from the United States materialise? All eyes are on US President Joe Biden.

Sweden’s stringent antiterrorism laws, enacted in June, have been put into action for the first time, resulting in the imprisonment of a Kurdish man on charges related to terrorism financing. The court ruling included a subsequent deportation order. In a surprising twist, Sweden has also resumed its arms exports to Turkey.

Behind-the-scenes discussions

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson emphasised the importance of countries contributing to enhanced security when joining the alliance.

As celebrations erupted following talks in Vilnius, Kristersson admitted to enjoying a celebratory drink with colleagues. However, questions linger regarding the potential behind-the-scenes back-end-forth during closed-door discussions.

Turkey appears to have emerged as a significant beneficiary in this development. In light of Erdogan’s withdrawal of opposition to Sweden’s Nato membership, the US has agreed to fresh talks concerning Turkey’s acquisition of F-16 fighter jets.

Some analysts argue that Sweden may have become a bargaining chip in Erdogan’s larger geopolitical strategy.

Supporters of Sweden’s Nato membership emphasise the crucial security guarantees it offers during this volatile period in European politics.

Additionally, Sweden’s inclusion will provide Nato with additional resources, despite its relatively small military. Sweden has reintroduced conscription and increased defence spending, with plans to reach a military budget equivalent to 2% of the country’s GDP by 2026.

With the approval of Sweden’s Nato membership, the Vilnius Summit sets in motion with an affirmation of collective security and a positive outlook for the alliance’s future endeavours.