After decades of neutrality, the Nordic countries of Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO on Wednesday, May 18. Finland declared its intent first and was closely followed by Sweden. The decision was made based on national security concerns after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
While NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg “warmly welcomes” these Nordic nations, the sentiment was not echoed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The same day as they applied to join the world’s largest military alliance, Finland and Sweden’s quick acceptance was blocked by Erdogan. Per Forbes, this impasse is due to the two countries supporting groups that Turkey regards as terrorists.
On the day of their application, accession talks for Finland and Sweden did not happen as Turkey prevented the vote that would have permitted this. Turkey announced it needed more time to “work out concerns” over the Nordic nations joining NATO due to their assistance to Kurdish groups. The details were presented to NATO ambassadors in a list of grievances Erdogan had with admitting the two new countries.
According to a Turkish official, Turkey is not trying to keep Finland and Sweden out of NATO. The nation wants to come to an agreement that recognizes its concerns. They have stated that the sooner this happens, the quicker membership discussions can begin. Specifically, Turkey is asking Finland and Sweden to clarify their stance on Kurdish militants and their activity in southeast Turkey.
Finland, Sweden, and other western allies have supported the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces for years, while Turkey has fought against such groups for even longer. Other news outlets have reported that Turkey’s opposition to the applications is not a final position but a means to have its grievances taken swiftly and seriously.
The tactic appears to be working as a NATO official told Forbes, “The security interests of all alliance members are being taken into consideration,” and NATO is “determined to rapidly work through these issues to reach a conclusion.”
All 30 members of NATO must approve new members unanimously. This means that Turkey can single-handedly prevent Finland and Sweden from joining the alliance.