Turkey’s position within NATO after Finland and Sweden’s accession

Turkey’s position within NATO after Finland and Sweden’s accession

After a lengthy negotiation process involving multiple parties, Turkey finally ratified Sweden’s application to join NATO on 23rd January.[i] The debate in the Turkish parliament was extensive, but in a late-night vote, the ruling coalition parties and the main opposition party voted to approve Sweden’s accession. Beside Turkey’s 20-month-long opposition, Hungary stood as an additional obstacle to Sweden’s NATO membership, which has just been removed with a parliamentary vote on 26th February, following direct negotiations between Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orban.[ii]. The accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO will not only mark a turning point in the history of the transatlantic alliance but Turkey’s approval of these memberships will also strengthen its relations with the US, which have been plagued by severe disagreements in the last decade.

The post-Cold War era saw NATO adopt two approaches towards Russia: deterrence and engagement. [...[ with the invasion of Ukraine, this approach is no longer sustainable.


Associate Professor Murat Yeşiltaş, a director at the SETA Foundation, highlights that “the Nordic region will become NATO territory,” and the accession of Finland and Sweden will be the most significant outcome of the paradigm shift regarding Russia within NATO, signifying the end of the post-Cold War period.[iii] According to Yeşiltaş, the post-Cold War era saw NATO adopt two approaches towards Russia: deterrence and engagement. However, as of 2020, especially with the invasion of Ukraine, this approach is no longer sustainable, necessitating a new security architecture.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin made it clear that the Russian government will not hesitate to escalate its aggressive and bellicose attacks in Eastern Europe[iv], Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, a visiting fellow with the Brookings Institution, highlights another paradigm shift among Sweden and Finland’s political elites and public opinions: “As all bets are off after the invasion of Ukraine, the policy of neutrality no longer offers security and assurance for these countries, and the need for the NATO umbrella has become evident.” The enlargement of NATO into the Nordic region plays a crucial role in shaping NATO’s deterrence and collective security approach. Finland and Sweden, with their geostrategic location and military capacity, will strengthen the transatlantic alliance against an increasingly aggressive Russian threat.

Turkish officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity asserted that Turkey has always been a strong advocate of the expansion of NATO. “Turkey welcomed the accession of Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia to NATO in 2004, which constituted the largest-ever enlargement of the Alliance.” In 2020, then Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu declared Turkey’s support for the addition of Georgia to the organization.[v] He said, “We are criticized for having relatively better relations with Russia as a neighbor, but our western friends are not agreeing to invite Georgia because they don’t want to provoke Russia. But Georgia needs us and we need an ally like Georgia. So we need enlargement and Georgia should be made a member.” In 2023, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that “there is no doubt that Ukraine deserves membership of NATO.”[vi]

While Turkey may collaborate with Moscow on specific matters, it remains staunchly opposed to any expansion of Russian influence in its immediate vicinity.


Ragıp Soylu, the bureau chief of Middle East Eye, stresses that Turkey’s move to block Sweden’s NATO membership wasn’t about appeasing Russia: “While Turkey may collaborate with Moscow on specific matters, it remains staunchly opposed to any expansion of Russian influence in its immediate vicinity and across Europe.”

According to Turkish officials, Turkey’s initial objection to Sweden’s NATO membership stemmed from bilateral issues, namely Sweden’s accommodation of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD).[vii] “Turkey’s preconditions for Sweden’s membership were in accordance with the principles of Nato” said Prof. Fahrettin Altun, the Turkish Presidency’s director of communication.[viii] The PKK is considered to be a terrorist organization by the US, UK and EU, and several other countries. While Turkey perceives the PYD as the Syrian branch of the PKK, the Obama administration started to support PYD forces in autumn 2014 with the pretext that the armed group was aiding the combat against ISIS in North Syria.[ix] Altun noted that PKK’s violent activities, “along with their ethno-nationalist, separatist ideology, is antithetical to Nato’s values and destabilizing for the region.”[x]

In 2023, Tobias Billstrom, the Swedish foreign minister, admitted that the PKK has “extensive work in Sweden to raise money and finance terrorist activities aimed at Turkey” and added that the organization also uses Sweden as a base for drug sales and other activities that also harm Swedish society.[xi]

According to Soylu, Turkey has achieved three tangible results through the negotiations for Sweden’s NATO membership: “First, Turkey successfully persuaded Sweden to take decisive action against PKK financing and recruitment activities, resulting in concrete legal reforms to criminalize support for terrorist organizations.” Turkey and Sweden have established robust security and judicial cooperation mechanisms to closely monitor PKK activities, including the deployment of a permanent Turkish police presence at the Swedish government to consult on counterterrorism efforts.

Secondly, since the May 2023 presidential elections, Erdogan has aimed to recalibrate Turkey’s relationship with the West, revitalizing its aspirations for EU accession and initiating a new dialogue with Europe. “Erdogan is primarily driven by the potential for EU investment in Turkey, particularly as Ankara grapples with a severe economic crisis marked by high inflation. His endorsement of Sweden’s bid is another indication of his efforts to mend ties with Europe.”

Lastly, Turkey’s support for NATO’s Nordic expansion will carry significant implications for its relationship with the US. According to Soner Cağaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “Sweden’s NATO membership has become a symbol of the deadlock in Turkey-US relations.” US Congressional leaders have already announced that they would not block the $23 billion F-16 sale to Turkey[xii] while Canada also lifted an armed embargo against Ankara. Sweden last year already lifted its own embargo as well.[xiii] Recently, the US Ambassador to Turkey authored an opinion piece titled “A Strong Relationship with Turkey is in America’s Best Interest.”[xiv] Additionally, President Erdoğan hosted a bipartisan US congressional committee led by senior Senator Jeanne Shaheen in Ankara.[xv]

Turkey plays a crucial role in countering radical Shia and Sunni influences in the region, serving as an indispensable moderate power with substantial military capabilities.


Turkish officials emphasize that Turkey’s contributions to NATO are often overlooked. “Turkey plays a crucial role in countering radical Shia and Sunni influences in the region, serving as an indispensable moderate power with substantial military capabilities,” stated a Turkish diplomat. Highlighting Turkey’s participation in NATO interventions in Bosnia and Afghanistan, Altun asserts, “Turkey has never shied away from the most difficult Nato operations around the world. Turkey has invested heavily in defence, fast approaching the target of two percent of GDP for defence spending.
[xvi] As the second-largest army in NATO[xvii], Turkey believes that the alliance’s expansion is key to lasting peace and stability in the world.”[xviii]

Turkey’s relations with the US, dating back to the Cold War years and having deep roots, had faced significant challenges over the past decade. According to Çağaptay, differences of opinion and the erosion of trust stemming from the Iraq and Syria conflicts had shaken bilateral relations. In fact, after assuming office, President Biden was the only leader who did not invite Erdoğan to the White House. Turkish officials assert that while many disagreements with the US are manageable, American support for the YPG crosses Turkey’s red line. Çağaptay is optimistic that “the accumulation of grievances between the two countries may now begin to dissipate, and there is potential for a restoration of trust with this opening. A new and positive era seems to be emerging among institutions and bureaucratic elites, marking a significant transformation not witnessed in the past decade.”

However, Aydıntaşbaş points out that although both countries aim to stabilize relations and expand areas of cooperation, there is no romanticism in either Washington or Ankara. “There is a new Turkey, and Turkey’s relations with the US are being redefined accordingly. This doesn’t imply that Turkey is aligning with Russia or China. Nonetheless, Turkey is positioning itself as a more autonomous actor.”

[i] Hayatsever, H. and Gumrucku, T. (2024). “Turkey approves Sweden’s NATO membership bid after 20-month delay”, Reuters, 24 January 2024, retrieved from: Turkey approves Sweden’s NATO membership bid after 20-month delay | Reuters.
[ii] Kola, P. (2024). “Hungary’s parliament clears path for Sweden’s NATO membership”, BBC, 27 February 2024, retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-68405893.
[iii] Yesiltas, M. (2022). “NATO at the Crossroads”, June 2022, retrieved from: NATO-Crossroads-Report.pdf (setav.org).
[iv] Frederick, B., Cozad, M. and Stark, A. (2023). “Undersstanding the Risk of Escalation in the War in Ukraine”, RAND, 21 September 2023, retrieved from: Understanding the Risk of Escalation in the War in Ukraine | RAND.
[v] Civil.ge. (2020). “Turkish FM Cavusoglu: Georgia Should Become NATO Member”, 23 January 2020, retrieved from: Civil Georgia | Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu: Georgia Should Become NATO Member.
[vi] Humayun, H., Gigova, R., Knight, M., John, T. and Tuysuz, G. (2023). “Turkey’s Erdogan says Ukraine deserves NATO membership”, CNN, 7 July 2023, retrieved from: Turkey’s Erdogan says Ukraine deserves NATO membership | CNN.
[vii] SETA (2023). “Sweden-PKK/PYD/YPG/SDF Relations”, retrieved from: Sweden-PKK/PYD/YPG/SDF Relations |  | SETA (setav.org).
[viii] Altun, F. (2023). “For Ankara and Nato, Sweden’s membership is a win-win”, Middle East Eye, 15 July 2023, retrieved from: For Ankara and Nato, Sweden’s membership is a win-win | Middle East Eye.
[ix] Ching, N. (2016). “Obama Stresses Commitment to Turkey Security in Meeting with Erdogan”, VOA, 31 March 2016, retrieved from: Obama Stresses Commitment to Turkey Security in Meeting With Erdogan (voanews.com).
[x] Altun (2023). “For Ankara and Nato, Sweden’s membership is a win-win”.
[xi] Altuntas, A. (2023). “PKK terrorist activities in Sweden stymie NATO memerbship bid, admits minister”, AA, 27 April 2023, retrieved from: PKK terrorist activities in Sweden stymie NATO membership bid, admits minister (aa.com.tr).
[xii] Guardian. (2024). “US approves$23bn sale of F-16 war planes to Turkey”, 27 January 2024, retrieved from: US approves $23bn sale of F-16 war planes to Turkey | Turkey | The Guardian.
[xiii] Reuters. (2024). “Canada drops weapons export controls to Turkey, including drone technology”, 29 January 2024, retrieved from: Canada drops weapons export controls to Turkey, including drone technology | Reuters.
[xiv] Flake, J. (2024). “Opinion: A strong relationship with Türkiye is in America’s best interest”, 14 February 2024, retrieved from: A strong relationship with Turkey is in America’s best interest | Opinion – Deseret News.
[xv] Yetkin, M. (2024). “US Senator Shaheen Returns to Ankara: Never Without Purpose”, 21 February 2024, retrieved from: US Senator Shaheen returns to Ankara: never without purpose – Yetkin Report.
[xvi] Felstead, P. (2023). “Turkish Government Announces Major Defense Spending Boost”, European Security & Defence, 18 October 2023, retrieved from: Turkish Government Announces Major Defence Spending Boost – European Security & Defence (euro-sd.com).
[xvii] Statista (2023). “Number of military personnel in NATO countries”, July 2023, retrieved from: Number of military personnel in NATO countries 2023 | Statista.
[xviii] Altun, F. (2023). “For Ankara and NATO, Sweden’s membership is a win-win”, Middle East Eye, 15 July 2023, retrieved from: For Ankara and Nato, Sweden’s membership is a win-win | Middle East Eye.

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2 July 2022

“Economics and Rebuilding in the Middle East and North Africa” showcases articles about the various ways of conceiving the region’s economies as well as reconstruction.