Turkey continues to reject NATO membership to Sweden and Finland

Samuel Kang, News Writer

As the war between Russia and Ukraine continues into 2023 and increases tensions on the European continent, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, more widely known as NATO, was mostly accepting when Sweden and Finland submitted their applications to join last May. 

Although the two Nordic countries have fully-fledged policies of formal military non-alignment, the invasion of Ukraine prompted both to join the military alliance to ensure their security against Russia. Many countries have supported the ratification of Sweden and Finland to join NATO, as geographically, it will help secure another frontline in Europe against Russia due to Finland’s 1,300 km border with the nation. 

However, Sweden and Finland are currently facing obstacles concerning their ratification, as Turkey continues to oppose both applications, especially Sweden’s, due to accusations of providing refuge and harboring militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is deemed as a terrorist organization in Sweden, Turkey, and the European Union. 

Sweden is also known for taking in many Kurdish refugees, which Turkey continues to disapprove of due to the numerous conflicts against the Kurdistan region.

For a country to join NATO, all countries currently in the military alliance must approve of its application. So far, only 28 of the 30 countries have approved Sweden and Finland’s application, leaving only Hungary and Turkey abstaining. 

Hungary’s response remains rather stagnant as Prime Minister Viktor Orbán believes that he has to “take Turkey’s sensitivities into account,” according to an article by Atlantic Council. However, Turkey’s approval seems rather unlikely due to further tensions in a recent protest in Stockholm. 

Earlier this year, on January 21, protests about Turkey’s opposition to Sweden’s application near the Turkish embassy escalated and led to the burning of the Qur’an, the central religious text of Islam. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan quickly responded to the incident. 

“Those who allow such blasphemy in front of our embassy can no longer expect our support for their NATO membership,” Erdoğan said. “If you love members of terrorist organizations and enemies of Islam so much and protect them, then we advise you to seek their support for your countries’ security.”

Sweden denies giving any prior notice to burning the Qur’an; however, the protests in front of the Turkish embassy were approved by Swedish officials. 

Far-right politician Ramsus Paludan, a Danish-Swedish national, was the one that burned the Qur’an in the protests, yet he did not face any repercussions from the Swedish government. Sweden’s foreign minister Tobias Billström responded to the controversy by addressing Sweden’s freedom of speech and expression laws.

“Sweden has a far-reaching freedom of expression,” Billström said. “But it does not imply that the Swedish government, or myself, support the opinions expressed.”

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson expressed similar views. He mentioned that although it is legal within Sweden’s laws concerning freedom of expression, the burning of the Qur’an was not appropriate and disrespectful to those it may offend.

As Sweden’s relations with Turkey continue to sour, their hopes of joining NATO and Finland remain unclear. For now, the ratification process is expected to continue to show little progress as elections in Turkey happen in May of this year.