Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made a historic decision to support Sweden’s bid to join NATO, marking a historic turning point.
Turkey’s surprise support comes after a year of hostilities as Sweden sought NATO membership following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg acknowledged the development, saying Erdogan had agreed to submit the appropriate documents for approval in the Turkish parliament.
Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Christerson reached an agreement ahead of the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. President Joe Biden, who has been a vocal supporter of Sweden’s NATO membership in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, applauded the news.
In a telephonic conversation, they agreed to meet with Erdogan in person on the sidelines of the summit. Stoltenberg lauded the event as a “historic step”, expressing hope that Hungary, another rival of Sweden’s NATO bid, would follow suit.
Turkey initially rejected Sweden’s membership due to concerns over Sweden’s apparent support for Kurdish organizations designated as terrorists by the Turkish government. However, efforts were made to ease Turkey’s security concerns. Sweden amended its constitution, made important legal changes, strengthened counter-terrorism cooperation with the PKK, and resumed arms transfers to Turkey. Stoltenberg stressed that cooperation in the fight against terrorism will continue after Sweden joins NATO and develops a new bilateral security agreement.
Sweden’s possible membership in NATO would have huge geopolitical implications. Despite the fact that Sweden has no land border with Russia, its naval and aviation forces in the Baltic Sea together with neighboring NATO countries will improve defense capabilities and remove potential threats. Former Swedish Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Carl Bildt stressed the importance of Finland and Sweden joining NATO in order to expand the alliance’s political influence in Europe and the transatlantic region.
Turkey’s decision is particularly notable given Turkey’s role as the coalition’s second largest military power since 1952. With Hungary following Turkey’s lead, Sweden’s path to full NATO membership appears more likely.
Given Stockholm’s naval and air capabilities in the Baltic Sea, analysts believe Sweden’s potential involvement would further limit Russia’s influence. The eight NATO member states encircling the region will work together to respond to any threats from the Kremlin.
The agreement between Sweden and Turkey marks the beginning of a new chapter in Sweden’s NATO ambitions and highlights the possibility of a diplomatic solution to overcome the strong opposition. The unexpected Turkish aid, along with initiatives to address security issues, set a favorable precedent for Sweden’s full NATO membership.