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March 2, 2024

Sweden on Cusp of NATO Membership After Months of Negotiations

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Jan 24, 2024

Turkey Approves Bid, Leaving Hungary as Final Hurdle

After months of negotiations and concessions from Sweden to satisfy Turkey’s demands, the Swedish government is tantalizingly close to achieving its goal of joining the NATO military alliance. On Monday, Turkey’s parliament voted overwhelmingly to approve Sweden’s membership bid, removing a major roadblock to its accession. This leaves Hungary as the lone holdout among NATO’s 30 members.

Swedish leaders welcomed the Turkish vote, expressing hopes that Hungary would follow suit in short order. “This is an important step for Sweden’s NATO application,” said Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson. “We look forward to Hungary also ratifying our membership.”

Timeline of Sweden’s Bumpy Path to NATO

Sweden has historically practiced military non-alignment, remaining neutral amid the Cold War. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted a dramatic shift, with Sweden and neighbor Finland deciding to seek the protection of NATO’s mutual defense pact. What they perhaps didn’t anticipate was the complications that would ensue.

Date Event
May 18, 2022 Sweden and Finland formally apply to join NATO
Early 2022 Turkey raises objections over Sweden’s stances on Kurdish militant groups
June 28, 2022 NATO summit, but Sweden bid still stalled by Turkey
June 29, 2022 Sweden signs deal agreeing to address Turkey’s concerns
July 5, 2022 Turkish president warns Sweden not fully meeting commitments
September 28, 2022 Hungary also singles out Sweden’s bid due to immigration concerns
January 21, 2023 Sweden passes law allowing tougher stance against terrorism
January 24, 2023 Turkish parliament approves Sweden’s membership bid

“It’s been a long road with some unexpected bumps, but the finish line may finally be in sight,” said Lt. Gen. Michael Claesson, head of Sweden’s military. “Barring any 11th hour surprises, we could be full NATO members within months.”

Turkey Holdout Over Kurdish Groups Finally Ends

Turkey had blocked the Nordic states’ bids over allegations they supported terror groups, specifically calling out Sweden for its positions on Kurdish organizations including the YPG militia and the PKK, which has waged a decades-long insurgency against Turkey.

Last June’s deal saw Sweden promise Turkey to address its terrorism concerns, including agreeing to restrict arms exports and extradite terror suspects. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan still regularly accused Sweden of not following through fully. Sweden continued its efforts to satisfy Erdogan, culminating in this month’s passage of a constitutional amendment for new anti-terror laws.

“It wasn’t easy, but this outcome shows commitment to our word plus good faith and mutual respect can overcome even thorny obstacles,” said Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom.

Attention Shifts to Hungary’s Objections

With Turkey now backing their bid, Sweden is eager to get the green light from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the lone holdout remaining. Hungary has also raised objections tied to migration and family policies.

Orban had remained coy about his stance, but recently invited Swedish PM Kristersson to Budapest to discuss Hungary’s concerns. The Swedish government continues resisting calls to negotiate its NATO bid with Hungary directly, pointing out its relevant policies won’t change.

Many NATO countries have lost patience with Orban’s delay tactics and have applied pressure behind the scenes. Analysts say Orban has isolated himself by overplaying his hand.

“Orban seems to have miscalculated here and now finds himself out on a limb,” said Andras Racz, senior fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations. “He either risks further bruising ties with allies or just gives in.”

What Would NATO Membership Mean for Sweden?

If its bid ultimately succeeds, NATO would gain two technologically advanced militaries in Sweden and Finland. Both continue ramping up defense budgets and acquiring new weapons systems amid the Russian threat. Sweden has emphasized contributions its airpower and submarine warfare capabilities could provide NATO.

Swedish officials also tout the strategic Baltic Sea geography it would bring to the alliance. Analysts say Russia would lose military advantages from keeping NATO out of that area.

Equally important is what Sweden would gain from NATO’s protection. As a member, it could invoke Article 5 mutual defense provisions if attacked. Given its proximity to Russia, deterring aggression under NATO’s expanded umbrella shield is Sweden’s main goal.

Both Sweden and longtime neutral Finland have seen that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine means NATO membership may now be crucial. As Finnish President Sauli Niinisto put it: “You caused this. Look in the mirror.”

Next Steps Toward NATO Accession

If Hungary joins with other NATO members in approving Sweden’s bid, what comes next? The accession process moves forward with several additional formal steps:

  • Accession protocols need drafted and signed by all allies
  • National parliaments must then ratify protocols
  • Following completed ratification by all 30 members, Sweden can finally accede into NATO

So even after winning Hungary’s approval, months could still pass before Sweden becomes a formal NATO member. But Swedish officials say the important hurdles have been cleared and the finish line for this year-long quest may soon arrive.

“It’s hard not seeing this through to the end now. The pot is on the stove boiling,” said Prime Minister Kristersson. “Just waiting impatiently for Mr. Orban to give us the green light.”

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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