Turkey Ratifies Finland’s NATO Membership

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Policy Briefs Program

April 4, 2023

On Thursday, March 30, the Turkish parliament approved a bill authorizing Finland to join NATO and became the last NATO member state to ratify Finland’s membership. The bid was approved unanimously by Turkey’s 276 lawmakers and had been endorsed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Sweden’s NATO bid, which was submitted at the same time as Finland’s, is yet to be approved. 

Turkey believes that Finland has met its requirements to join NATO but remains concerned over Sweden’s relationship with groups such as the Kurdistan’s Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey views as a terrorist organization. Written in Ahram Online, “Turkey’s government accuses Sweden of being too lenient toward groups it deems to be terrorist organizations and security threats, including militant Kurdish groups and people associated with a 2016 coup attempt. More recently, Turkey was angered by a series of demonstrations in Sweden, including a protest by an anti-Islam activist who burned the Quran outside the Turkish Embassy. Turkish officials have said that, unlike Sweden, Finland fulfilled its obligations under a memorandum signed last year under which the two countries pledged to address Turkey’s security concerns.”

Despite these concerns, Turkey remains committed to continuing conversation with Sweden regarding its NATO bid. As expressed in Khaleej Times, “Erdogan spoke by phone with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and said Turkey was determined to continue talks with Sweden, with progress directly related to the concrete steps that it takes, the Turkish presidency said…Amid simmering tensions with Sweden, Erdogan signalled in January that Turkey could endorse Helsinki ahead of Stockholm. Washington and other NATO members had hoped the two Nordic countries would join the alliance at a NATO summit set for July 11 in Vilnius.”

In a press conference with Sauli Niinistö, the president of Finland, Erdogan continued to discuss his reasoning for blocking Sweden’s bid. Profiled in Saudi Gazette, “he complained that Kurdish militant demonstrations had been allowed on the streets of Stockholm…President Erdogan said that Sweden’s prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, was a ‘nice person’ but Ankara had asked his government to extradite 120 figures who had yet been sent to Turkey.”

However, there is some pushback to Turkey’s opposition to the Nordic NATO bids, including members of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party. Highlighted in Haaretz, “‘unfortunately, [Erdogan’s ruling party] turned the right to veto Finland and Sweden’s membership bids into a tool for blackmail and threat. We do not approve of it,’” said Hisyar Ozsoy, a legislator from the pro-Kurdish party. “We find the bargaining process (to press for) the extradition of Kurdish dissident writers, politicians and journalists … to be ugly, wrong and unlawful.”

Some believe that Turkey’s policies have been used as a domestic political boost ahead of close elections on May 14. Al-Monitor analyzes: “Former Ambassador Ahmet Kamil Erozan, a lawmaker with the country’s opposition Good Party, meanwhile, said the government delayed Finland’s bid for political purposes. “The process has been managed clumsily,” Erozan said.“The comments of our president [on the issue] have always been aimed at domestic political consumption,” he told the parliament.”

There is still optimism for Sweden’s bid, with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announcing upcoming talks. Underscored by Anadolu Agency, “he acknowledged that Türkiye has ‘legitimate security concerns and all allies should address them because those matter for us.’ ‘When Finland, Sweden and Türkiye work together in fighting terrorism that helps Türkiye in their fight against, for instance, PKK,’ he explained. He said that Sweden implemented ‘stronger legislation’ on terrorism, which will also have an impact on the fight against ‘organized crime, drug traffic’ which is related to terrorist groups. Stoltenberg said that the representatives from Türkiye and Sweden will meet again at NATO headquarters to address their differences.”
Russia perceives Finland’s accession into NATO as subverting its military interests. Al-Arabiya describes the Russian response: “Russia will strengthen its military capacity in its western and northwestern regions in response to Finland’s expected accession to NATO on Tuesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said, state-owned news agency RIA reported. Grushko told RIA: ‘We will strengthen our military potential in the western and northwestern direction. In the event that the forces and resources of other NATO members are deployed in Finland, we will take additional steps to reliably ensure Russia’s military security.’”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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