Turkey's Erdogan Threatens to Block Finland & Sweden From Joining NATO
Do you think Turkey’s concerns justify blocking Finland and Sweden from joining NATO?
What’s the story?
- Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan doubled down on his threat to block Finland and Sweden from their bids to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) unless they stop harboring Kurdish separatists.
- These threats come as the formal accession process for Finland and Sweden to join NATO is ramping up and they may become full members this summer ― but that will require unanimous support from all current NATO members which gives Turkey an effective veto.
- Erdogan spoke with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg about his concerns on Saturday. Finnish and Swedish leaders, along with the head of NATO, have said they’re confident they will be able to resolve Turkey’s concerns.
- Erdogan said earlier this week, “We have told our relevant friends we would say ‘no’ to Finland and Sweden’s entry into NATO, and we will continue on our path like this.”
- Specifically, Erdogan says Finland and Sweden have harbored members of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) militant group in addition to followers of Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan has accused of attempting to topple his government in a failed 2016 coup.
- Since the late 1970s, the PKK has been engaged in an insurgency against the Turkish government that has been interspersed with several ceasefires. One of the PKK’s primary goals is the formation of an independent Kurdistan.
- Erdogan has also taken issue with Western support for the Syrian Kurdish group known as the YPG (People’s Defense Units), which has fought against the Islamic State insurgency in Syria and Iraq.
- While the Turkish government views the YPG and PKK as one and the same, many other Western governments including the U.S. and EU have sanctioned the PKK as a terrorist group but backed the YPG.
- Aside from concerns about allowing Kurds affiliated with the YPG and PKK to stay in Finland and Sweden, Erdogan likely wants assurances that weapons won’t be provided to those groups by the Finnish and Swedish governments. However, Sweden and Finland haven’t sent arms to those groups and it seems unlikely they would begin to do so as they join NATO or after they become members.
- Turkey’s status in NATO has been through a turbulent period over the last decade. The failed coup which sought to topple Erdogan in 2016 raised concerns about the country’s stability, as Erdogan’s government cracked down on dissent and the free press in the aftermath.
- Additionally, a 2019 military incursion into Syria aimed at displacing Kurdish groups from areas near the Syrian-Turkish border led to sanctions on Turkey and calls to transfer nuclear bombs stored at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey as part of NATO’s strategic deterrent. That was a particularly sensitive moment for Turkey-NATO relations given Western support for the YPG’s campaign against the Islamic State terror group in Syria and Iraq.
- Turkey was also removed from the F-35 Lightning II, which has been developed as a joint strike fighter by the U.S., numerous NATO countries, along with Israel, Japan, Australia, South Korea, and other global allies. Turkish participation in the program was suspended after the country purchased the advanced S-400 air defense system from Russia due to concerns the exposure of the fighter to advanced Russian radars while in stealth mode could undermine its capabilities in a potential conflict with Russia. The U.S. purchased the F-35s that were allocated to Turkey and Turkish defense firms were removed from their portion of the production line.
- Despite those circumstances fraying the bonds between NATO and Turkey, they remain part of NATO and have helped the alliance support Ukraine by providing military aid in the face of Russia’s invasion. Turkey is currently seeking to purchase updated F-16 fighter jets from the U.S. to offset the denial of F-35 purchases, although Turkey’s NATO member neighbor Greece has expressed opposition to that deal as it too seeks to buy F-35s.
Finland, Sweden, & NATO respond
- Finnish President Sauli Niinistö spoke to Erdogan’s concerns while he visited the White House with the Swedish prime minister as part of a trilateral event with the U.S. regarding their NATO applications. He said:
“Finland has always had proud and good bilateral relations to Turkey. As NATO Allies, we will commit to Turkey’s security, just as Turkey will commit to our security. We take terrorism seriously. We condemn it in all its forms, and we are actively engaged in combating it. We are open to discussing all the concerns Turkey may have concerning our membership in an open and constructive manner. These discussions have already taken place, and they will continue in the next days.”
- Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson was also at the White House and thanked the U.S. for supporting the Swedish and Finnish NATO bids, adding that “we look forward to a swift ratification process by NATO members” and:
“(W)e are right now having a dialogue with all NATO member countries, including Turkey, on different levels to sort out any issues at hand.”
- NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that the alliance is working closely with Finland, Sweden, and Turkey to resolve the dispute:
“We are in close contact with Finland and Sweden and Turkey and also with all the Allies. I don't think it will be helpful if I go into the specifics of all those conversations, but of course we're addressing the concerns that Turkey has expressed. Because when an Ally, an important Ally as Turkey, raises security concerns, raises issues, then of course, the only way to deal with that is to sit down and find ways to find a common ground and an agreement on how to move forward.”
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— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: G20 Argentina via Flickr / Creative Commons)