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Sweden getting closer to NATO. How the breakthrough happened

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Sweden applied to join NATO in May last year. The candidacy was blocked for over a year by successive Turkish demands and Hungary’s passivity. On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that his country would ratify Sweden’s accession. This is the last step on the road to joining the Alliance.

– We have met all the conditions on the road to NATO. It is not a question of whether we will join the Alliance, but when, it is only a matter of time; All NATO members will benefit from our accession, incl Türkiye – said Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstroem in recent days. He emphasized that for Sweden there is no “plan B”.

Sweden applied to join NATO along with Finland on May 18, 2022. Both countries were invited to join the Alliance in early July, after the Madrid Summit. Finland became the 31st member of NATO on April 4, 2023. For the enlargement of NATO with new members, ratification of the accession protocols by all allies is necessary. The only thing missing for Sweden’s accession is the consent of Turkey and Hungary.

Erdogan’s consent to Sweden’s membership in NATO

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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced on Monday evening, after talks with Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, that The Turkish leader agreed to submit Sweden’s accession protocol to the vote of the Turkish Parliament and assured that it would be ratified. Stoltenberg stressed that this was a “historic step”.

The Hungarian authorities had already made it clear that they would complete the procedure of enlarging the Alliance with Sweden when Ankara withdraws its opposition. The date of Sweden’s accession to NATO now depends on how quickly the Turkish parliament ratifies the accession, as well as when the postponed vote on this issue takes place in the Hungarian parliament.

President of Turkey, head of NATO, Prime Minister of SwedenPAP/EPA/PHILIP SINGER

What caused the negative attitude of Turkey

However, Sweden was to become a member of the organization “as soon as possible” after fulfilling the agreement with Turkey signed at last year’s summit in Madrid. Stockholm has pledged to tighten anti-terrorism laws to help the government in Ankara fight Kurdish organizations centered around the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Many Kurds sympathizing with terrorist organizations have found refuge in Sweden for years, receiving political asylum.

The act, introducing a new type of crime – participation in and support of a terrorist organization, even by renting premises or taking care of children – entered into force on June 1. In July, under the new law, the first convictions were handed down for financing the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and for deporting Kurdish immigrants to Turkey. In September last year, Sweden also lifted the embargo on arms exports to Turkey.

Erdogan deceived Sweden for several months, calling progress on the implementation of the Madrid agreement “insufficient”. In the background of delaying the agreement, the names of politicians opposed to Erdogan, who emigrated to Sweden after the failed military coup in 2016, appeared. For the Turkish leader, they are terrorists, for the Swedish authorities – people who received asylum because of political persecution. There are also journalists from the independent Turkish media among them. Some of them have already been granted Swedish citizenship, making it impossible to extradite them to Turkey if convicted.

Other reasons for Turkey’s negative attitude towards Sweden are the Swedish authorities’ permission to burn the Koran, the holy book of Islam. In Sweden, such manifestations are treated as criticism of religion, an expression of opinion that is protected by the constitution. This is exploited by provocateurs, including Rasmus Paludan, the Danish-Swedish founder of the anti-Muslim party. In January, after he burned a Koran in front of the Turkish embassy, ​​Ankara suspended talks with the Swedish authorities. Erdogan also criticizes the fact that Kurdish demonstrators in Sweden may demonstrate with flags of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Just waving a symbol of a terrorist organization is not a crime in Sweden, but according to the court, it can be considered, along with other activities, to support terrorism.

Importance of Sweden’s accession to the Alliance

For the Swedish authorities, a quick seal of accession to the Alliance is necessary for the so-called defense planning. So far, it has been based on a partnership with Finland. Once Helsinki has joined NATO, they prioritize this alliance over cooperation with Sweden. Decisions on arming the army or officers who are to work in NATO structures are awaiting full entry into the Alliance.

For NATO, Sweden’s membership is crucial for strengthening the Alliance’s presence in northern Europe in the face of the Russian threat. Sweden became a “lonely island” after Finland joined NATO in April. In the event of aggression by Russia against the Baltic states or Finland, it would be difficult to help these countries without the participation of Sweden. The key is the island of Gotland, located in the middle of the Baltic Sea. The scenario of gathering NATO forces on Swedish territory to transport troops to north-eastern Europe was the subject of the largest Aurora exercise since 1989, involving 20,000 troops, in late April and early May.

During the transition period on the way to NATO, the government in Stockholm received verbal assurances of military assistance from, among others, Great Britain, the Nordic countries and the USA in the event of a threat from Russia. However, these are not the guarantees of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which provides for mutual assistance in the event of an attack. In recent months, there has been an increased naval presence in Swedish ports and territorial waters NATO countries. American bombers landed for the first time at a military base in the north of Sweden.

It is possible that the issue of the Turkish veto against the ratification of the Swedish application was to serve Erdogan for other purposes, primarily to convince the US Congress to accept the sale of F-16 fighters to Turkey. US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said on Monday that the US government fully supports the sale of the F-16 to Turkey. Previously, Erdogan had used demands against Sweden in the presidential election campaign in May, in which he secured his re-election.

Stages of NATO expansionPAP/Maciej Zielinski

Sweden has been cooperating with NATO for years

Sweden, although it decided to join NATO only in 2022 after full-time Russia’s attack on Ukraine, has been cooperating with the Alliance for years, conducts joint exercises, and its soldiers take part in military missions of this organization. The political breakthrough came when the Swedish Social Democrats, who had opposed it for years, opted for NATO. For Swedish society, this meant a quick abandonment of the image of its own country as an exceptional country that benefits from a lack of commitment to military alliances. According to opinion polls, despite Turkey’s difficulties, support for NATO membership remains at a record high of 70 percent.

Sweden’s non-involvement in military alliances became just a slogan. Since the 1990s, key documents have gradually removed the provisions stating that Sweden is a neutral country. The change in approach was sealed by the adoption in 2009 of the doctrine of solidarity with the Nordic and EU countries. Sweden has committed itself to helping partners or expects them to support them in the event of an armed attack or a natural disaster.

Main photo source: EPA/PHILIP SINGER



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