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Is Turkey right to block Finland and Sweden's NATO bids?

WRITTEN BY
05/22/22
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Fact Box

  • The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was established in 1949 as a collective entity to provide security from the Soviet Union after WWII. Since 1997, a total of 14 eastern European countries have been admitted to NATO. 
  • Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Swedish Prime Minister Sanna Marin made a joint announcement on May 15, 2022, requesting admission to NATO. Although both countries have been known for their neutrality policy, times have changed with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 
  • On May 19, 2022, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied support for Finland and Sweden to join NATO because of their alleged willingness to host Kurdish militants saying, “Neither of these countries have a clear, open attitude towards terrorist organization. How can we trust them?”
  • According to Finland’s public broadcaster YLE, support to join NATO among Finnish people reached 76% in May 2022. Accordingly, a Demoskop poll found that Swede approval to join increased to 57% in April. . 
  • On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, “unleashing airstrikes on cities and military bases and sending in troops and tanks” with disapproval coming from the US, Europe, South Korea, Australia, and other countries. Only five countries were in opposition: Russia, Belarus, Syria, North Korea, and Eritrea.

Luke (Yes)

According to NATO protocols, an attack on one is an attack on all. This fact makes the admittance of any new members a necessarily contentious issue as those new members may potentially put the rest of those in the alliance at serious risk. For this reason, in a military alliance, trust between members is paramount.

'How can we trust them,' are the words chosen by Erdogan, the president of Turkey, concerning the NATO applicants, Finland and Sweden. The Turkish president cites two particular issues on the matter. The first issue address how both Finland and Sweden have repeatedly refused Turkey's requests to extradite members of the PKK, a Kurdish militant organization labeled as terrorists by Turkey. The second issue cited by the Turkish president deals specifically with Sweden, who halted the sale of arms to Turkey over issues with the war in Syria. 

While these issues could be enough for Turkey to decide not to admit Finland and Sweden into NATO, there is also the ongoing war in Ukraine to consider. It is no secret that the Russian invasion was over the matter of Ukraine's potential joining of NATO. Likewise, Russia has stated that, while neither Finland nor Sweden's admittance into NATO would threaten Moscow, an increase of weaponry on the Russian border would be met with consequences. For Turkey, already in close proximity to Russia, there is little to gain from further agitating Russia.

Given the lack of trust between Turkey and the applicant Scandinavian nations, the proximity of Turkey to Russia, and the potential incitement of an already aggressive Russia, Turkey is right to block Finland and Sweden from joining NATO.


Andrew (No)

Turkey's primary objection to Finland and Sweden joining NATO is an accusation that the nations harbor Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants. While Turkey's history with this terrorist organization is complicated, it shouldn't sideline this important expansion in the face of Russian aggression. NATO was primarily set up to counter the threat from Russia during the Soviet Cold War era. It isn't a place to air grievances between nations and withhold defense support over other matters; it is a way for multiple nations to stand united against Russia. While Turkey may have legitimate claims about the PKK in Scandinavia, it should address them elsewhere.

While not formally members of NATO, Finland and Sweden have a long history of cooperation with the defense block. Given that the two Nordic nations' neighbor is the primary foe of the block, it's not difficult to imagine a situation where a NATO response would need cooperation from Finland and Sweden in terms of airspace, navigational routes, or other logistical means. Given that NATO would rely on access to this assistance, it is logical that the two nations should enjoy the protections of formal membership.

Turkey has always sat at a crossroads. This decision to block Finland and Sweden represents another such crossroads where Turkey will have to choose whether to align itself with Russia and the chaos and violence that it promotes or with sovereignty and stability promoted by western allies. Turkey has already seen itself booted from the F-35 fighter program over weapons purchases from Russia. Other NATO members have expressed support for Finland and Sweden; moving away from the NATO alliance and toward Russia is a dangerous move for Turkey.

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