War in Ukraine: Why Turkey Opposes Finland and Sweden Joining NATO

15 minutes ago

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Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has used the justification that the Nordic countries do not support the PKK, which Turkey has designated as a terrorist organization.

Sweden and Finland submitted an official application for membership to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a western military alliance on the 18th (local time). However, Turkey strongly opposes the two countries’ accession.

Sweden and Finland, which have maintained a neutral military non-alignment path, have rapidly changed direction, feeling a threat to security after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and geographical proximity to Russia.

However, it soon met opposition from NATO member Turkey.

It took issue with Sweden and Finland’s supportive attitude toward armed groups active in Turkey and neighboring areas, such as the ‘Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK)’, which calls for the independence of the Kurds.

Turkey regards these groups as a threat to its national security and has been at war with each other.

According to NATO regulations, a new member state can only be joined by the unanimous consent of the existing 30 member states.

If so, what is the background behind Turkey’s opposition, and is there any possibility that this conflict will be resolved diplomatically?

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson (left) and Finnish Prime Minister Sana Marin

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Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson (left) and Finnish Prime Minister Sana Marin

Why Turkey is against it

Turkey, which joined NATO in 1952, has traditionally supported NATO’s ‘open door’ (expansion) policy. It did not oppose NATO’s eastward movement through NATO accession by Eastern European countries close to Russia in 1999 and 2004.

But this time it’s different. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the excuse that these Nordic countries did not support the war they had waged against the PKK, which Turkey designated as a terrorist group, and the People’s Guard Corps (YPG), which it considers to be a branch of the PKK.

The PKK is also an organization designated as a ‘terrorist organization’ by the European Union (EU), the United States, and the United Kingdom.

But its branch, the YPG, is a key partner in the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS) in northern Syria.

Turkish authorities claimed that both Sweden and Finland were hiding PKK members.

In fact, Sweden and Finland joined the arms embargo in 2019 after Turkey launched a military offensive against the YPG in northern Syria.

Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and visiting fellow at Carnegie Europe, a non-profit organization in Brussels, Belgium, said Turkey’s “legal concerns” had not been addressed before Finland and Sweden joined.

“There are some legitimate concerns in Turkey, especially with regard to Sweden’s position,” Ulgen told the BBC.

“These concerns include Sweden’s stance on the activities of the PKK and its related organizations and Sweden’s support for the ‘PYD’ (Democratic Alliance Party), which Turkey views as a Syrian branch of the PKK.”

Turkey also alleges that the Swedish and Finnish governments have refused to extradite 21 and 12 persons “suspected of terrorism” respectively.

“Many of the requirements that Turkey has put forward over the years remain unresolved,” Ulgen said. “And now Turkey is in a position to put conditions on Sweden as much as it wants to join NATO.” .

Why are you talking about Greece?

Turkish soldiers deployed to Syria

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Meanwhile, the current controversy has raised another sensitive issue that has continued since Turkey sent its troops to northern Cyprus in 1974.

Greece’s decision to withdraw from NATO in 1974 protested NATO’s inaction against Turkey’s “invasion” of Cyprus.

However, it rejoined in the 1980s. There was no opposition from Turkey at this time.

“Turkey considers it a mistake not to object at the time, and now it does not want to repeat the same mistake,” said Yafrak Gursoi, chair professor at the Turkish University of Economics, London, UK.

“It is a common belief in Turkey that some of the problems between Turkey and Greece could be resolved now if Turkey had raised its voice then,” said Professor Gursois in an interview with the BBC.

“Now Greece and Cyprus enjoy a diplomatic advantage as EU member states, while Turkey has missed an important opportunity to stand on an equal footing,” he added.

“Turkey has learned an important lesson from the past. And now Turkey doesn’t want to make the same mistake twice.”

What does Turkey want?

Although Erdogan is currently voicing his opposition to Sweden and Finland’s accession, many experts analyze that he will be willing to negotiate and ultimately agree to NATO’s expansion.

“Turkey wants to put pressure on Sweden, in particular to review Sweden’s position on the PKK and their activities,” Ulgen said.

Professor Gursoi also said, “Turkey has an important opportunity to influence diplomatically.

“Turkey is trying to use this incident as an opportunity to remind its allies of its international and domestic security concerns and expand its influence in the international community,” he added.

It is evaluated that it was timely for Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Chowshoulu to visit the United States on the 18th and meet with US Secretary of State Tony Blincoln.

Turkey is said to be interested in purchasing 40 F-16 fighters and 80 fighter modernization kits in exchange for an investment in the US’s state-of-the-art F-35 stealth fighter program.

In the past, Turkey was excluded from the US F-35 program when it purchased the Russian air defense missile system S-400.

Prior to the meeting, Secretary Blincoln noted that “dialogs were ongoing” between Turkey, Sweden and Finland, and said he was “very confident that an agreement could be reached” regarding the current opposition from Turkey.

Galip Dalay, research adviser for Middle East and North Africa at the British think tank Chatham House, told the BBC that the Turkish president’s position “is rather a signal of dissatisfaction” and that “there is room for a diplomatic solution.”

In addition, Dalay predicted that “Diplomacy between Turkey and NATO will continue actively ahead of the NATO Summit to be held in Madrid, Spain at the end of June.”

However, he added, “If there is no solution by the end of June, it is of course a crisis. It is also a crisis between Sweden and Finland, but more importantly, a crisis between Turkey and NATO.”

Have there been similar conflicts in the past?

Throughout its 73-year history since its inception, NATO has experienced disagreements on a number of issues.

The most recent conflict is Greece’s opposition to North Macedonia (formerly Macedonian) accession.

Greece has been a problem for the past decade, calling the name of Machetonia, located in the Balkans of southern Europe, “an attempt to steal the heritage of Greece.”

The Macedonian government was finally able to join NATO in 2020 after changing its official name to ‘Republic of North Macedonia’.

In 2009, Turkey opposed the appointment of former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fog Rasmussen as NATO Secretary-General.

The reason was that Prime Minister Rasmussen showed ‘poor leadership’ during the so-called ‘Prophet Muhammad Cartoon Incident’ in 2006.

In 2006, Danish painter Kurt Westergaard drew a cartoon satirizing the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and the Islamic world was outraged.

However, after lengthy negotiations, Turkey has agreed to appoint Rasmussen as secretary-general after Turkey has secured an important political and military position within NATO.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (center) said he was confident he would reach an agreement with Turkey, which is opposed to Sweden and Finland joining NATO.

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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (center) said he was confident he would reach an agreement with Turkey, which is opposed to Sweden and Finland joining NATO.

What are the future prospects?

Sweden and Finland have submitted their official applications, and they will prepare an accession protocol and submit it to NATO.

Normally, it goes through a long negotiation period before joining NATO.

However, given the current geopolitical situation, several procedures are expected to be completed before the NATO summit in Madrid at the end of June this year, and Sweden and Finland’s accession is expected to proceed faster than before.

It is expected that NATO member countries will approve Sweden and Finland joining the alliance at the summit, but it will not be approved until parliamentary ratification of all 30 NATO member states.

Finland and Sweden have several advantages. First of all, it is also a long-time partner of NATO and an advanced democracy with outstanding military power.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also said at the time of accepting applications for membership, “The two countries are our closest partners, and Sweden and Finland’s accession will strengthen our common security.”

Former US ambassador Mark Green, chairman and CEO of the US think tank ‘Woodrow Wilson Center’, evaluated that Sweden and Finland’s accession “will significantly contribute to expanding NATO’s capabilities”.

“One thing to keep in mind is that NATO is a defense mechanism. It should only work when Russia invades NATO territory,” he told the BBC.

He added, “Therefore, it is important to build an army. It is meaningless to build an army after an invasion.”

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