- Sweden’s bid to join NATO has raised tensions between the United States and Turkey.
- Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan expressed doubts about the benefits of Sweden’s NATO membership and criticized the Swedish government over recent protests involving the burning of the Quran.
- Turkey’s opposition to Sweden’s inclusion in NATO may have implications for arms agreements, strained relations with the United States, and the unity of the alliance.
The recent announcement of Sweden’s bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has heightened tensions between the United States and Turkey. Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said in an interview on Tuesday that “it is not clear from a strategic and security perspective whether Sweden’s membership into NATO would be beneficial to the alliance or be a burden”.
The Turkish Foreign Minister also criticized the Swedish government due to the recent protests in Sweden involving the burning of the Quran. After a day from the Turkish Foreign Minister’s comments on Sweden’s NATO bid, President Biden welcomed the Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson at the White House while renewing his call for Turkey to approve Sweeden’s membership. The US President told reporters that he is “anxiously looking forward” to Sweden’s inclusion into NATO.
The Turkish government had repeatedly stated that Sweden must take further steps against the actions of the PKK, a designated terrorist organization, within their borders. The Swedish government insists that they have taken substantial amounts of measures against terrorism. However, the Turkish government has not yet been convinced. As both the two NATO Allies,
Turkey and the United States, prepare for the anticipated 2023 Vilnius Summit, where critical decisions on NATO’s future will be discussed, the potential membership of Sweeden added a new layer of complexities to the proceedings and implied problems between the already tense relationship between the two countries.
Turkey’s decision on Sweden’s inclusion in the alliance is hard to predict. President Erdogan will likely try to utilize the situation in order to establish a better arms agreement with the United States in regards to the F-16 sales and to stop all of the activities of the PKK within Sweden. However, even if the Biden administration tries to establish such an arms agreement desired by Turkey the Congress would strictly oppose it. However, even a good deal on F-16 sales might not bring positive outcomes for Sweden’s inclusion. It seems like the Turkish government will likely reject Sweden’s inclusion in the coming months for various reasons.
It could be examined that Turkey will enact a hawkish attitude in foreign policy in the upcoming years while emphasizing the “local and national” policy doctrine President Erdogan had used in his political campaign. The “local and national” doctrine heavily emphasizes the significance of national interests and has its roots in realism. Ratifying Sweden’s inclusion into NATO would heavily oppose Turkish national interests if Sweden does not take concrete measures against the PKK within their borders. In his recent political campaign, President Erdogan made it very clear that fighting terrorism would be at the top of his agenda. Domestic politics in Turkey must also be considered to predict President Erdogan’s decision.
Nationalism is on the rise and the Turkish public is very angered by the recent protests in Sweden which involved the burning of the Quran. President Erdogan might also face opposition from his nationalist coalition if he decides to accept Sweden in the alliance. If Ankara opposes Sweden’s inclusion into NATO the already strained relations with Washington would face new challenges. The White House along with the Congress will most likely hold off the sales of the F-16 fighter jets. Furthermore, hopes of restoring bilateral relations between the two countries will likely fade off.
Even though Turkey has legitimate security concerns for Sweden’s inclusion, the diverging interests within NATO would also undermine the alliance’s unity. Ankara’s opposition and the diverging interests within NATO will indeed also have crucial effects on the Russia-Ukraine War. Sweden’s inclusion would have given the image of the united Western front against Russia.
As two critical NATO members the United States and Turkey must address their diverging interests while laying out a possible working solution that would find the common ground in order to ensure a unified front in NATO. Indeed, failure to reconcile such differences in interests could undermine the unity and the effectiveness of NATO in the future. Sweden’s NATO bid and the outcome of the Vilnius Summit which is set to happen next week on July 11-12 in Lithuania will serve to be very critical in determining the future course of US-Turkey relations while also having serious implications for the broader security and geopolitical dynamics in the world.