Finland’s and Sweden’s aspirations to join NATO have just encountered a major roadblock.
On May 13, 2022, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkey would not support efforts by Finland and Sweden to join the military alliance. Erdogan argued that these countries are “home to many terrorist organisations”, thereby disqualifying them from NATO membership.
Turkey has traditionally supported NATO expansion since it joined the alliance in 1952. However, Turkey’s opposition to NATO expansion for Sweden and Finland could prove to be lethal for the Nordic countries’ membership prospects given how unanimous agreement is needed for new members to be accepted into NATO’s ranks.
Turkey has routinely butted heads with Sweden and other members of the European Union and NATO for their failure to confront organizations that the Turkish government has designated as terrorist entities. These include organizations such as the Kurdish Worker’ Party (PKK) and the People’s Defense Units (YPG). The PKK has been designated as a terrorist organization by the Turkey, several EU countries, and the US, while YPG has been designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey and Qatar. Similarly, Turkey has denounced Western countries for promoting shelter to the disciples of Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen, who currently resides in Saylorsburg.
The Erdogan regime is adamant about the Gulenists’ alleged role in launching a coup attempt back in 2016.
Sweden is expected to follow Finland in applying for NATO membership. “We are following the developments regarding Sweden and Finland, but we don’t hold positive views,” Erdogan said to reporters in Istanbul.
Erdogan stressed that NATO previously made a mistake of adding Greece into its alliance structure.
“As Turkey, we don’t want to repeat similar mistakes. Furthermore, Scandinavian countries are guesthouses for terrorist organisations,” Erdogan continued.
Turkey nearly got into a military scuffle with Greece in 2020 over natural gas drilling rights. “They are even members of the parliament in some countries. It is not possible for us to be in favor,” Erdogan stated.
Russia has sharply criticized this latest plan to expand NATO. It views the addition of Finland, a country that it borders, as a potential threat if it joins NATO — an institution that Russia believes is designed to encircle it.
Turkey has been critical of Russia’s invasion, delivered military-grade domes to Ukraine, and has tried to play the role of mediator during the Russo-Ukrainian conflict.
However, Turkey has maintained its longstanding policy of hedging and has not fully backed Western sanctions on Russia and has sought to keep close commercial, energy, and touristic ties with it.
Turkey is exercising its options right now. Due to its geographic position, Turkey has the flexibility to play off Eastern and Western powers against each other.
Moreover, there’s growing domestic pressure within the country to pursue a different foreign policy path and look East. According to a 2019 poll by Pew, only 21% of Turks have a favorable view of NATO.
For many Turks, NATO imposes shackles on Turkey’s ability to project power abroad. There already exist many current in Turkish society that view the country as a great power that could potentially opt for a Pan-Turkic pivot throughout Central Asia or go the revanchist neo-Ottoman route in the Middle East, North Africa, and Balkans.
One way or the other, Turkey will be an interesting country to follow in the upcoming decades.