Turkey Clears Major Roadblock For Sweden’s NATO Bid: Why Was It Opposed Earlier?

After Turkey’s parliament endorsed its membership on Tuesday (January 23), Sweden moved closer to joining NATO. All the current members have to agree for a new country to become part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Turkey and Hungary had been blocking Sweden’s entry for nearly two years.

Why does Sweden want to join NATO?

Sweden has maintained its neutrality for two hundred years, avoiding involvement in the two World Wars and the Cold War. In recent times, it became a member of the European Union and cooperated with NATO, but it did not show any interest in joining the military alliance that is opposed by its powerful neighbour, Russia.
However, this neutrality was compromised after Russia invaded Ukraine. As public opinion shifted in favour of joining NATO, Sweden and Finland applied for membership in 2022. Finland’s application was approved, but Sweden faced strong resistance from Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Being a NATO member means that an attack on its territory is treated as an attack on the US-led alliance, and all 31 members are bound to defend each other.

Why was Turkey opposing Sweden’s bid?

Turkey had blamed Sweden for being lenient on groups it considers terrorists, such as the Kurdish militant group the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkey’s relations with Sweden worsened after Quran-burning protests took place in Sweden, which its government says are covered by freedom of speech laws.
Fuat Oktay, a senior member of Erdogan’s party, told parliament that Sweden had strengthened its anti-terrorism laws, clamped down on the PKK’s activities, and removed restrictions on arms sales to Turkey, AP reported, when Turkish lawmakers cleared Sweden’s bid recently. Sweden has also said it will back Turkey’s bid to join the EU.
Erdogan had also tied Turkey’s support for Sweden to the US agreeing to sell 40 F-16 fighter jets to Ankara. The US had not said the deal would depend on Turkey’s actions on Sweden, but the sale is likely to happen now.
Hungary had been seen as following Turkey’s lead in stopping Sweden. Its complaints with the country include Stockholm’s critical comments about the state of democracy and the rule of law under Orban. Orban is also more friendly with Russia than other NATO countries. After Turkey’s move, Orban said Tuesday that he had invited Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson to Budapest to talk about “future cooperation in the field of security and defence as allies and partners,” AP reported.

What will Sweden bring to NATO?

Once Sweden joins, NATO will control almost all of the Baltic Sea coastline, except for the part under Russia’s control. This will give the alliance strategic bases near Russia, make supply lines more efficient, and make it easier to protect assets in the sea.
Sweden’s military, though small in numbers, is modern and experienced in previous NATO missions. Importantly, it has advanced aircraft and submarine capabilities.