Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 523, 15 June 2022

NATO: Turkey’s concerns over Finland and Sweden
Ashwin Dhanabalan

In the news
On 12 June, NATO’s chief Jens Stoltenberg mentioned that the security concerns raised by Turkey on Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO bid were ‘legitimate.’ He sympathized with Ankara and mentioned how Turkey as a member of NATO, had suffered the greatest number of terror attacks.
 
On the same day, in Finland, groups supporting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) launched protests in front of Helsinki’s parliament. They called on the government to reject Turkey’s demands. In Sweden, demonstrators carried posters of the YPG/PKK’s convicted leader at the Norra Bantorget Square in the capital Stockholm.
 
On 13 June, Sweden announced it would take steps to adhere to Turkey’s demands. Stoltenberg added that he was glad Sweden expressed its “readiness to address Turkey’s concerns as part of assuming the obligations of future NATO membership.”
 
Issues at large
First, Ankara’s security concerns. Turkey has been apprehensive of Sweden and Finland’s policies over the PKK and YPG, which Ankara deems as terrorist outfits. Sweden has also supported the Syrian branch of the PKK called the PYD, which Turkey alleges is a front of the terror organization.
 
Second, maintaining strategic ambiguity. Turkey has been playing a role as a crucial mediator in the Ukraine-Russia war, but it is making sure that it maintains a strategic ambiguity with both parties. Lately, it has been working towards a grain export corridor from Ukraine through Turkey to the world to avoid a global wheat shortage.
 
Third, divisions within Europe. Since the failed coup attempt of 2016, the EU has asked Turkey to clarify its definition of terrorism. This comes as Ankara had labelled all parties involved in the coup as terrorist outfits. Sweden’s announcement to change its terrorism laws indicates a policy shift to please Turkey. However, the officials at the EU stated that Turkey since 2017 violated the Copenhagen criteria of eligibility for the bloc’s membership.
 
Fourth, bilateral issues. In 2019, Sweden and Finland had imposed arms export embargoes on Turkey after Ankara’s military had carried out military operations to clear the YPG in the northern region of Syria near the Euphrates. In addition, Turkey had earlier asked the two countries to extradite 30 people it identifies as terrorists; with Sweden and Finland accepting Turkey’s demands, the 30 people would likely be extradited.
 
In perspective
First, NATO appeases Turkey. NATO’s approach to Turkey to help Finland and Sweden join the bloc has been by pleasing Ankara and agreeing on its security concerns. This comes as Finland and Sweden joining the NATO would help the bloc immensely in the Baltics and push forth a more vigorous collective defence against Russia.
 
Second, Erdogan’s power play. Erdogan would use this as an opportunity to gain more concessions from Sweden and Finland, as Helsinki would give NATO an additional 810-mile-long border with Russia. Erdogan will also utilize this as a way of mustering votes or his re-contestation to the presidential and parliamentary elections of June 2023.
 
Third, all eyes on Turkey. NATO’s summit in Madrid would be overshadowed by the impasse, even with Finland trying to soften Ankara’s approach by hinting at buying drones once they are made members of the western alliance. Since Turkey’s membership in the EU has been stalled since 2016, Ankara might push for a revival of the accession using the current stalemate. Turkey will also ask to expedite the order of 40 Lockheed Martin-made F-16 fighters from the US.

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