Sweden is one step closer to joining NATO after a key approval vote from the Turkish Parliament’s foreign affairs committee. The nod came after repeated delays as Turkey accused Sweden of being too lenient towards Kurdish militants that Ankara says threaten its own security.
Sweden’s accession protocol still needs to be approved by the Turkish Parliament’s general assembly as well as a vote in Hungary, where the leadership has stalled the ratification process. The addition of Sweden into NATO would greatly enhance the military alliance’s access to air and submarine forces and intelligence as well as a strategic positioning in the Baltics.
Nordic nations are no longer neutral
Finland and Sweden officially ended their historic Cold War neutrality by applying for NATO membership in May 2022. The Swedish government has cited the “fundamentally changed security situation following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine” as a primary reason for its bid. As Richard Milne reported for the Financial Times, the war has underscored how “exposed” Finland’s 1,340-kilometer (832-mile) border is with Russia and echoes back to when it lost 10% of its territory during the Moscow Armistice in World War II. Since Russian military exercises in 2018, Sweden has relaunched a “total defense” style of preparation whereby all citizens are responsible for invasion resistance, The Washington Post noted, including a cyberattack defense cooperation with NATO member Denmark.
Voting delays reflect Turkey’s strategic interests
Finland successfully joined NATO after a unanimous vote by members back in April, but Sweden has faced repeated delays due to Turkey and Hungary. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has demanded Nordic nations take more steps to crack down and extradite members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), dissidents which Ankara deems as terrorists. Meanwhile, Turkey has also used this vote to pressure other Western allies such as the United States and Canada in the sale of F-16 military jets and drone camera support. Stockholm passed a new anti-terror law in May this year, pacifying Turkey’s interests, and extradited a pro-Kurdish political party supporter. Al Jazeera reported that the Turkish foreign affairs commission head set realistic expectations for the upcoming general assembly vote, noting that it could take time.
Sweden has a lot to offer
The U.S. and Sweden recently signed a defense cooperation agreement that will allow Washington access to all 17 of Sweden’s military bases. Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonson said that the deal will create “better conditions” for American support “in the event of a war or crisis.” European security expert Constantine Atlamazoglou noted that Sweden’s Gotland island base overlooks three Baltic nations and serves as a vital outpost that would limit Russian naval activity in case of an attack. More notable is the country’s air force and its domestically produced Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets, which can operate from shorter, narrower runways or highways. Sweden is currently considering sending Gripens to aid Ukraine’s war efforts but only if it becomes a NATO member and is a party to mutual defense commitments.