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Why Turkey dissents on Finland and Sweden joining NATO and why it matters

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 5/16/2022 Bryan Pietsch
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Finnish and Swedish officials have declared in recent days their intention to join NATO, citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But their acceptance to the alliance requires unanimous consent among members, and the leader of one such state — President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey — has voiced hesitation about the two nations.

Here’s what to know about Turkey’s opposition to Finland and Sweden joining NATO.

What has Turkey said about Finland and Sweden joining NATO?

Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey was not “favorable” toward the possibility of Finland and Sweden joining NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“We are following the developments with Sweden and Finland, but we don’t have favorable thoughts,” he told reporters. Sweden and Finland could move formally to join the group as soon as this week.

On Monday, Erdogan said that Swedish and Finnish diplomats who were set to visit Turkey to discuss the rift should not come.

“They are going to come here on Monday to try and convince us? Excuse us but there is no need for them to tire themselves,” Erdogan said during a news conference in Ankara.

But Turkey hasn’t said it would veto the countries’ membership, and on Sunday, its foreign minister laid out several conditions for its support, including that the Nordic nations end what he called support for “terrorist organizations” in their countries, as well as export bans on Turkey.

On Saturday, an Erdogan adviser told Reuters: “We are not closing the door. But we are basically raising this issue as a matter of national security for Turkey.”


Video: Turkey Says No to Sweden and Finland Joining NATO (Bloomberg)

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Turkey’s Erdogan voices skepticism on Sweden and Finland joining NATO

Why does Turkey not want Finland and Sweden in NATO?

Erdogan alleged that Sweden and Finland were “home to many terrorist organizations,” referring primarily to the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

The PKK is a Kurdish guerrilla group that has fought a decades-long separatist insurgency in parts of Turkey. It was designated by the United States as a terrorist organization in 1997.

The United States and Sweden have drawn Erdogan’s ire over their support of a PKK-affiliated militia in Syria, where the group was fighting the Islamic State. Turkey reprimanded the United States in February 2021, and Ankara summoned Sweden’s ambassador to Turkey over the matter two months later.

Erdogan, whose unorthodox views on the relationship between interest rates and inflation have led to economic turmoil, faces a reelection fight in 2023 at the latest, and his comments could be aimed in part at nationalist voters opposed to any accommodation with the PKK.

Turkey has aired other grievances about Sweden and Finland, including concerns about security guarantees and blocked exports of weapons to Turkey.

Can Turkey veto Finland and Sweden’s membership in NATO?

Admission of Finland and Sweden to the alliance requires the unanimous support of all 30 NATO member states, so Turkey could object and stop the accessions from happening. However, Stockholm, Helsinki and Ankara have held talks in recent days to hammer out the issues.

The United States, which holds an outsize role in the alliance, has said there is broad support for the Nordic nations joining NATO. Karen Donfried, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, cautioned that Erdogan has not formally declared he would act against Sweden and Finland. She told reporters: “It is not clear to me that Turkey is saying they will oppose Sweden’s application.”

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Friday that there was “no question” about the support from most NATO members, adding that the Biden administration was “working to clarify Turkey’s position.”

In response to questions about Turkey’s stance, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg expressed confidence that the alliance would move swiftly.

“Turkey has made it clear: Their intention is not to block membership,” he told reporters Sunday. “Therefore, I am confident we’ll be able to address the concerns that Turkey has expressed in a way that doesn’t delay the accession process.”

Kareem Fahim, Michael Birnbaum, Victoria Bisset, Andrea Salcedo and John Hudson contributed to this report.

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