President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office announced on Monday that the official submission of Sweden’s NATO membership application for ratification by the Turkish parliament has taken place, marking a step towards potentially resolving a 17-month-long standoff. In the justification text sent by Erdodan to the legislature is a listing of the contributions that Sweden is expected to make to NATO.
The document emphasizes that Sweden, along with Finland, is recognized as NATO’s two closest partners. It further notes that both countries had engaged in comprehensive and multidimensional cooperation with the alliance before submitting their applications, highlighting their capabilities and resources in the fields of defense and security. Additionally, it says they have demonstrated a high level of interoperability with the armed forces of allied countries, contributing significantly to various NATO operations and missions with their capabilities.
The document also states that to advance the membership process, Turkey requested concrete steps from Finland and Sweden, including the removal of sanctions and restrictions related to defense industry exports to Turkey, and addressing Turkey’s legitimate security concerns including counterterrorism efforts.
“In this context, discussions between the three countries began in Ankara on May 25, 2022, and subsequently continued in Brussels under the initiative of the NATO Secretary-General. The Tripartite Memorandum, which was reached with the facilitation of the NATO Secretary-General just before the NATO Summit in Madrid on June 28-30, 2022, was signed by the foreign ministers of the three countries in Madrid on June 28, 2022. Based on the Tripartite Memorandum, and following their commitment to meet our expectations regarding counter-terrorism efforts and the removal of restrictions on defense industry exports, Sweden and Finland were invited to join NATO at the NATO Madrid Summit, with reference to the Tripartite Memorandum in the Summit Declaration. These countries were also invited to commence alliance accession negotiations,” the English translation of the document reads.Sweden NATO
It is noted in the document that Finland had previously fulfilled its commitments to Turkey, and its membership application was approved in April. Regarding Sweden, a reassessment was conducted on July 10, 2023, before the NATO Summit in Vilnius that same month. Following Sweden’s commitment to provide a roadmap for the full implementation of the commitments outlined in the Tripartite Memorandum, establish a security cooperation mechanism at the ministerial level and strongly support Turkey’s EU membership process, a decision was made to approve its membership application.
The document highlights that “at the current stage, considering the commitments outlined in the Tripartite Memorandum, the elements stated in the Joint Statement dated July 10, 2023, the state of relations with Sweden, this country’s comprehensive partnership with NATO, and its interoperability, it is concluded that Sweden’s NATO membership will contribute to European-Atlantic security, including Turkey.”
The opposition argues that Turkey has not achieved any concrete gains from negotiations with Sweden, while supporters of the ruling party express their discomfort with recent Quran-burning incidents in Sweden.
In August, addressing the Quran-burning incidents in Sweden, Erdogan stated, “If these attacks on our sacred values persist, they should not expect apologies,” implying that he might not grant membership approval.
It’s worth noting that before the NATO summit in Vilnius on July 10-11, President Erdogan had expressed similar concerns, suggesting that such incidents might hinder Sweden’s NATO membership. However, he ultimately gave the green light for Sweden’s membership and initiated the approval process following a parliamentary recess.
For those well-acquainted with Turkish politics, it comes as no surprise that the Quran-burning incidents were not a central concern for President Erdogan. He viewed the NATO negotiations, particularly with Finland and Sweden, as an opportunity to address various issues with the United States. This included efforts to secure the procurement of F-16 fighter jets and modernization kits, which has faced congressional hurdles in the US, as well as extending the ongoing delay in the Halkbank trial. The Halkbank case is particularly sensitive for the Erdogan family as they are implicated in allegations of benefiting unfairly to the tune of billions of dollars due to violations of US sanctions on Iran.
Turkish media is rife with speculation that Erdogan’s allies in the parliament may cast votes against Sweden’s NATO application. Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), has been notably critical of Sweden, particularly in light of the Quran burning incidents. However, Bahçeli’s indication that the final decision lies with the government and his statement emphasizing respect for the president’s choice suggests that the MHP is unlikely to pose an obstacle. It is not expected that MHP members would risk their alignment with the ruling party and forego the benefits of being in power for the sake of a country like Sweden, which is not in close proximity to Turkey.
The Turkish media has reported that some members of the ruling party are expected to cast clear votes against Sweden’s membership during the general assembly vote in response to alleged double standards in the policies of the US and Europe concerning the Palestinian issue and the recent Israeli offensive in Gaza. However, it’s important to note that President Erdogan exerts absolute dominance over his party members, and no significant defections that would influence the outcome of the vote are anticipated. It’s highly unlikely that members of the ruling party would cast a vote contrary to Erdogan’s wishes.
As some observers point out, there are parallels between the current situation and a noteworthy event in 2003, when a proposal was presented to the Turkish parliament seeking authorization for the deployment of the Turkish Armed Forces abroad and the presence of US forces in Turkey. Despite the appeal of then-prime minister Erdogan, the proposal, which could have allowed the US-led invasion of Iraq from Turkey, was rejected by the parliament. However, a comparison with the current vote on Sweden’s NATO application reveals a distinct contrast. Again, Erdogan’s present dominance over his party, achieved through the elimination of opposition, signifies a shift in dynamics since then.
Declining Sweden’s NATO membership in the parliamentary vote could potentially trigger a fresh crisis in Turkey’s relations with the United States. This is a scenario that President Erdogan may wish to avoid, particularly in light of the economic difficulties and his endeavors to stabilize the Turkish lira against the dollar.