Will Turkey Ever Ratify Finnish and Swedish accession to NATO?

October 3, 2022
by Enes Esen, published on 3 October 2022
Will Turkey Ever Ratify Finnish and Swedish accession to NATO?

In June, the NATO member countries signed the Accession Protocol for Finland and Sweden to join the alliance, which has to be ratified by each NATO member country before they become official members. This process has been swiftly completed in all NATO member countries but Hungary and Turkey. While Hungary’s Orban might have some grudges that hold him back from completing the process, they are likely to be resolved soon. Hungary's Justice Minister Judit Varga said, "This is on the agenda at the Hungarian parliament. Naturally, we will confirm their accession to NATO. This is just a matter of timing. Believe me, Hungary completely agrees with, and supports, the accession." This only leaves Turkey, which has been threatening to block the completion of the accession process since the very beginning.

Turkey, which accuses Sweden of being a safe haven for terrorists, is demanding the extradition of 12 persons from Finland and 73 persons from Sweden. The judiciary of the two Nordic countries have already turned down several of Turkey’s extradition demands. Considering the fact that Turkey has prosecuted up to 2 million people for terrorism charges in the last six years and tens of thousands of people are currently behind bars under the country’s lax terrorism laws, it is pretty apparent that charging a few dozen with terrorism is nothing but a rounding error for the Turkish judiciary. In any case, the executive branch of Finland and Sweden are ready to show Turkish officials the way to make sound extradition demands from their judiciary, which has the last word over these decisions. According to Turkish Justice Minister Bozdağ, a delegation from Sweden is expected to visit Turkey on the 5 and 6th of October, and a Turkish delegation will go to Finland in order to discuss Turkish extradition requests.

Furthermore, Finland and Sweden, which imposed an effective arms embargo on Turkey following its military operations in Syria in 2019, have restarted granting arms export licenses to Turkey this summer. To be precise here, Finland did not play an important role in Turkey’s arms imports, and still, it does not. As Finnish Defense Minister Antti Kaikkone emphasized, “During the last months, there have been no major cases of exports of military materials to Turkey. During the last years, not much either.” Sweden, in its turn, was also not an important player in terms of Turkey’s arms imports. However, in the face of the refusal of the US to modernize Turkey's F-16s along with procuring F-35s, there are some indications that the Turkish military might be interested in fighter aircraft manufactured by the Swedish aerospace and defense company Saab AB as an alternative.

Finland and Sweden are implementing all the terms of the Tripartite Memorandum signed with Turkey at the margins of the NATO summit in Madrid in June. Nonetheless, Turkey is still hesitant about the Finnish and Swedish applications. Lately, on October 1, "We are closely following whether the promises made by Sweden and Finland are kept or not, and of course, the final decision will be up to our parliament," said Erdoğan in a speech at the opening of the Turkish parliament. “Until the promises made to our country are upheld, we will maintain our principled and determined position. Our country has been fighting terrorism for nearly 40 years and has lost tens of thousands of citizens to terrorism. We will not make any concessions to anyone on this matter," he added.

Despite all their efforts, Finland and Sweden are unable to overcome Turkey’s refusal because Erdoğan’s objections are not about these two Nordic countries per se. Turkey is holding the accession talks of Finland and Sweden to NATO as hostages to extract concessions, mainly from the US. On the one side, the Turkish general election will be held in less than a year, and Erdoğan’s government is in a dire position to win the elections. Erdoğan would welcome a tacit approval from the US for foreign military adventures that would boost his popularity, a guarantee that Turkey will not be sanctioned because of its ever-increasing relations with Russia in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, or a promise that the charges on the Turkish government-owned Halkbank, prosecuted for its role in busting US sanctions on Iran, will be dropped. On the other side, Turkey’s exclusion from the F-35 program and its inability to purchase F-16 warplanes with their upgrade kits have already undermined Turkey’s air forces until 2030. 

In all these issues, Turkey's only real leverage against the US is its veto rights over the accession process of Finland and Sweden to NATO. Erdoğan will definitely exploit the need for unanimity in NATO as long as possible. How long he can hold his position is a different matter. According to the US ambassador to Finland, Douglas Hickey, Turkey will ratify the Accession Protocols approving Sweden and Finland as members of NATO before this Christmas because he thinks Erdoğan does not want to be the lone holdout. Others think Turkey will ratify the Accession Protocols only after the presidential elections. Whatever the case is, it is for sure that Erdoğan will not let his leverage go cheaply, but he will eventually yield.

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