A Turkish parliamentary committee will discuss and likely approve Sweden’s bid for NATO membership today, the latest step toward expanding the alliance after an 18-month delay that has frustrated some allies and led to some concessions.
In May last year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan opposed requests from Sweden and Finland to join the military alliance. The Scandinavian countries submitted their bids after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Turkey ratified Finland’s bid in April but, along with NATO member Hungary, kept Sweden waiting by demanding that Stockholm take more action against members of organizations on its territory that Turkey designates as terrorist.
Here are some of the major steps Stockholm, Helsinki, Washington and other NATO members have taken to address Ankara’s concerns, marking what analysts say are geopolitical victories for Erdogan even as he has strained Turkey’s relations with the West.
The concessions of Sweden and Finland
At a NATO meeting in Madrid last year, Turkey reached an agreement with Sweden and Finland, according to which they will lift the arms embargo and take measures against members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the so-called Fathullahist Terrorist Organization (FETO), which Ankara considers the mastermind of the failed coup attempt in 2016, and to extradite terror suspects to Turkey.
Last year, Stockholm lifted a ban on military equipment exports to Turkey without disclosing details of companies or products.
In June, Sweden unveiled a new anti-terrorism bill, saying it had kept its end of the bargain.
In recent months, a Swedish high court has blocked the extradition of two Turks who Ankara says are members of FETO, and an appeals court upheld the conviction of a man for trying to finance the PKK, which is recognized as a terrorist group by both the EU and the US.
Meanwhile, in response to criticism in Turkey and other Muslim countries, Justice Minister Gunnar Strömer said Sweden was investigating whether legal changes could be made to stop people from publicly burning the Muslim holy book, the Koran.
Finland agreed last year to consider granting arms export permits to Turkey on a case-by-case basis. After nearly a year of waiting, Ankara said Helsinki had won its blessing.
What did other NATO members do?
When Erdogan hinted at a NATO conference in July that Sweden would eventually get the green light, NATO member Canada quietly agreed to resume talks with Turkey to lift export controls on drone parts, including optical equipment.
The Netherlands lifted restrictions on arms supplies to Turkey.
Also in July, after a meeting between Turkish and Swedish leaders, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that the alliance would create a special counter-terrorism coordinator position. In October, he appointed Assistant Secretary General Thomas Goffus to the post.
The delivery of American fighter jets
Overhanging the discussions was the question of US approval of Ankara’s request to buy F-16 fighter jets and 79 kits to modernize the existing fleet worth $20 billion.
A day after Erdogan gave the green light for Sweden to join NATO in July, the White House said it would advance the F-16 issue to Turkey after consulting Congress.
In October, Erdogan sent Sweden’s bid for NATO membership to the Turkish parliament for consideration. However, he said Washington is tying the F-16’s ratification to Sweden’s.
Ankara made the request to buy the F-16s in 2021. However, Turkey has faced objections in the US Congress over Ankara’s delay in NATO expansion and the country’s human rights record.
Sweden’s application for NATO
If the Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee backs Sweden’s membership bid, parliament will vote on the matter, possibly in a few days or weeks.
NATO foreign ministers will meet in Brussels on November 28-29. Hungary has also not yet ratified Sweden’s bid.
The speaker of the Turkish parliament, where Erdogan’s coalition has a strong majority, told his Swedish counterpart on Tuesday that they hoped to complete ratification “as soon as possible”.
Since introducing the bill to parliament in October, Erdogan has said he will try to speed up ratification, but added that Stockholm has not yet taken enough action against the Kurdish fighters.
Israel’s war against the Hamas militant group in the Gaza Strip could strain relations between the US and Turkey and complicate NATO expansion, analysts say.
After Erdogan said Hamas was not a terrorist organization but a liberation group fighting to defend Palestinian lands, 47 members of the US Congress called on the US administration to hold Turkey accountable for its role in supporting Hamas.
The translation is in BTA