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May 23, 2024

Turkey Approves Sweden’s NATO Bid, Leaving Hungary as Final Hurdle

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Jan 25, 2024

Turkey’s parliament voted overwhelmingly on January 24th to approve Sweden’s bid to join NATO, removing a major obstacle to the Nordic country’s accession to the military alliance. The move leaves Hungary as the sole NATO member still yet to ratify Sweden’s membership application.

Background

Sweden and neighboring Finland submitted a joint application to join NATO in May 2022, abandoning decades of military non-alignment in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. All NATO members must approve the bids before the two Nordic nations can officially accede into the alliance.

While most NATO countries rapidly ratified the applications, objections from Turkey – a NATO member since 1952 – have presented a stumbling block. Ankara accused the two countries, and especially Sweden, of harboring members of groups it deems terrorist organizations, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Breakthrough in Turkey

The impasse appeared on the verge of resolution this week as Sweden and Finland agreed to a memorandum with Turkey that addressed Ankara’s concerns, including extraditions of suspects wanted by Turkish authorities.

The memorandum paved the way for the Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee to approve Sweden’s application on January 25th. The plenary vote followed shortly after, with 264 lawmakers backing Sweden’s bid, 41 voting against and 21 abstaining or absent.

In a further sign of thawing relations, Ankara made a formal request to the United States for the purchase of 40 Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets and approximately 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes.

What Comes Next?

With Sweden checking the final box on Turkey’s demands, Hungary now remains the only NATO member yet to ratify its accession protocol.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a nationalist with warm ties to the Kremlin, has accused Sweden of anti-Hungary sentiment. However, many analysts believe Orban is using Sweden’s NATO bid as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the EU over rule-of-law funding disputes.

Orban said Hungary feels “no urgency” regarding Sweden’s NATO membership. However, he invited Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson for talks in Brussels on January 26th.

Kristersson called the invitation “good news” and said he hopes to convince Orban to ratify Sweden’s accession. “Hungary has also expressed a will and wish to first have a discussion between me and prime minister Orban before they make their decision final in parliament in Budapest,” he told reporters.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg likewise urged Hungary to swiftly endorse the Swedish application, tweeting: “The time is now to welcome Sweden.”

Nonetheless, Hungarian officials maintain Orban’s meeting will focus narrowly on rules governing EU funds, rather than NATO expansion.

Russia’s Response

The advancement of Sweden’s NATO bid represents a setback for Russia, which has fiercely opposed the alliance expanding to include Sweden and Finland.

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said last May that Moscow would have to bolster its defenses in the Baltic region if the two Nordic countries join.

However, Russia admitted this week that Sweden and Finland have the right to decide their own security arrangements. “It is their business, the business of the Swedish people,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Military analysts say Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership will allow greater integration of defense planning, information sharing and troop deployments in the strategically important Baltic Sea region. It will also permit NATO military equipment to be staged on Finnish and Swedish territory.

What Role Will Sweden Play in NATO?

As a new NATO member, Sweden is positioned to make significant contributions to the alliance’s defense capabilities and defense industry collaboration.

Air Power

Sweden has a technologically advanced air force that could reinforce NATO’s Baltic air policing mission, meant to protect Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian airspace.

The Swedish air force operates approximately 100 Gripen fighter jets, manufactured by domestic company Saab. The single-engine, lightweight Gripen has an array of NATO-compatible weaponry and is designed forQuick runway to air interceptions.

“Sweden would add an incredibly competent air force to NATO’s roster, that is accustomed to operating in the eastern Baltic region,” said retired U.S. General Ben Hodges, former commander of American army forces in Europe.

Submarine Hunting

Sweden also possesses a highly skilled military branch dedicated to anti-submarine warfare – critical for countering any Russian underwater naval activity in the Baltic.

The Swedes have a fleet of ultra-quiet Gotland Class submarines and Visby Class stealth corvettes that experts say are capable of detecting even the most sophisticated Russian subs.

“Operationally, Sweden adds robust maritime and anti-submarine warfare capacities,” commented analyst Bruno Lete of the German Marshall Fund.

Defense Industry

Sweden spends over 1.2 percent of GDP on defense, above NATO’s own guideline. Its technologically advanced defense sector – led by firms like Saab and radar specialist Hensoldt – means it already collaborates extensively with European and American allies.

Yet NATO membership could spur greater cooperation, including potential future efforts to develop a European next-generation fighter jet.

“There is a potential for more states to join future European projects,” said French air force Chief of Staff General Stéphane Mille. “I’m thinking about the future combat aircraft system.”

So in sum, while Russia seethes, Swedish NATO membership promises security dividends on air, land and sea. The country appears primed to bolster NATO defenses, add vital military technology and know-how, and deepen defense industrial cooperation across the European alliance.

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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.

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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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