Turkey’s parliament voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to approve Sweden’s bid to join NATO, taking the two countries a step closer to membership in the military alliance. Out of the 600-seat parliament, 264 lawmakers voted in favor, with 41 abstentions.
The vote came after Sweden and Finland abandoned their longstanding policies of military nonalignment and applied to join NATO in May, driven by security concerns after Russia invaded Ukraine. Their membership bids were initially blocked by Turkey, which accused the two Nordic countries of harboring Kurdish militants.
Months of Tense Negotiations Lead to Breakthrough
Sweden and Finland signed agreements with Turkey in June, vowing to support Ankara’s fight against the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. The agreements included provisions on extradition of PKK members, sharing of information and evidence relating to terrorist groups, and lifting arms embargoes on Turkey imposed after its 2019 military incursion into Syria.
In the months that followed, Turkey threatened several times to block Sweden’s membership bid if it didn’t crack down harder on the PKK and affiliated groups. Sweden took some steps, like revising its anti-terrorism laws, banning support for the YPG militia in Syria and lifting an arms embargo on Ankara.
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Finally on Monday, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson visited Ankara in an attempt to get Turkey to greenlight NATO membership.
“I am pleased about the very strong and broad support that exists in the Turkish parliament for our NATO application,” Kristersson said in a statement after the vote. “This creates the conditions for Sweden and Finland to very soon, I hope, be able to become full members of NATO.”
Hungary Now the Only Hurdle
With Turkey dropping its resistance, only Hungary is left opposing Sweden and Finland’s membership bids. But on Tuesday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that parliament would vote on the issue soon, strongly suggesting it would approve.
Orban is the sole NATO leader opposing membership for the two applicants, frustrating allies who seek to present a united front against Russia. Sweden said it saw no reason to negotiate with Hungary over the terms of its accession to the defensive alliance.
NATO requires unanimous approval from its existing members to admit new ones. Once Sweden, Finland and Turkey ratify a accession protocol, all 30 NATO members must sign it to finalize approval.
This next step should go quickly after Hungary’s expected ‘yes’ vote. Several NATO members have already ratified the protocol, while more are expected to do so by the NATO summit in Lithuania in July.
So while Sweden still isn’t formally in NATO yet, Tuesday’s vote was a crucial hurdle that significantly smooths the path towards membership in the coming months.
Why Sweden and Finland Sought NATO Membership
Both Sweden and Finland shed their policies of neutrality after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. They feared they would be the next victims of Russian aggression if they remained outside NATO’s defense umbrella.
Public opinion polls showed a seismic shift in favor of joining the alliance. Since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, Sweden and Finland have sought greater cooperation with NATO, allowing closer military exercises and exchange of sensitive intelligence data.
If Sweden joins NATO, only Russia and tiny Albania, North Macedonia and Montenegro would be outside the alliance along a 900-mile border with northern Europe.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday that Turkey sees both countries positively and wants them to join NATO.
“We said: ‘The gate is open, you can join,’” he said.
Russia has repeatedly warned Finland that joining NATO would be “a grave mistake with far-reaching consequences.” Some considered it an implicit threat that Russia would retaliate militarily.
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General
I warmly welcome the vote in 🇹🇷 Parliament to approve 🇸🇪 membership in NATO. This is an important step that allows allies to start the accession process. Together we are stronger and safer.
Charles Michel, President of European Council
Swift ratification by allies will strengthen our shared security.
Emmanuel Macron, President of France
Excellent news: Sweden and Finland’s membership will strengthen our Alliance.
Melvyn Ingleby, Swedish Defense University
This is an important milestone for Sweden and the ratification process, even if there might still be bumps along the road.
The NATO alliance was created after World War II as a check against Soviet military power and aggression. It gained renewed purpose after Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine nearly a year ago, horrifying many of Russia’s neighbors.
Finland, which shares an 830-mile border with Russia, and Sweden abandoned decades of neutrality and applied to join together just days after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Tuesday’s vote was a milestone, but there are likely more twists ahead in the accession saga. Turkey could still throw up objections to finalizing the two Nordic nations’ membership.
For now, NATO has taken a big step toward expanding its ranks to 32 members. That will enhance NATO’s reach in the Baltic Sea and the Arctic. And it will give NATO more territory near Russia’s military installations in the Kola Peninsula and Russia’s Baltic Fleet naval base at Kaliningrad.
The bottom line is that if Sweden becomes a NATO member, it will significantly strengthen the alliance’s power and reach right on Russia’s doorstep – delivering a stern rebuke to Putin’s aspirations and making the region more secure.
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