Mehmet Hasan Yacı is a Staff Correspondent for JURIST and a senior law student at Türkiye’ s Galatasaray University. He files this dispatch from Istanbul.
Today, Tuesday, the Turkish National Assembly accepted Sweden’s bid to join the NATO alliance by a vote of 287 in favor, 55 against, and 4 abstaining.
During the final negotiations on the ratification, security concerns were raised one more time and the importance of NATO was highlighted. Türkiye has the second largest army within NATO, just after the United States of America. Enlargement of the organization is said to make it stronger, according to Turkish lawmakers. Numerious legislators in the final debate also mentioned Israel’s attacks on civilians in Gaza and the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Palestine, stating that tensions around the world have been raising day by day.
The NATO Treaty requires unanimous voting for a state to join NATO, giving individual member states a right of veto.
Following the 2022 outbreak of war between Ukraine and Russia, Finland and Sweden expressed their wish to become members of NATO, abandoning their long-lasting national neutrality policies. At first, the two Nordic states’ applications to join NATO was not welcomed by Türkiye. Ankara required future military allies to meet its security concerns. More specifically, Türkiye asked Finland and Sweden to extradite members of the PKK/YPG and FETÖ terrorist organizations.
On 28.06.2022, the presidents of Finland, Sweden, and Türkiye and Secretary General of NATO Stoltenberg held a meeting during the NATO summit in Madrid. After the meeting, a memorandum was signed by the three states. According to Article 4 of that memorandum, Finland and Sweden agreed not to support the PYD/YPG and FETÖ terrorist organizations, in consideration of which Türkiye pledged to give its full support to the two states for the accession. Finland and Sweden acknowledged PKK as a terrorist organization one more time in Article 5. The organization is listed as a terrorist organization by the EU and USA as well. The Nordic States also promised to lift their arms embargo on Türkiye.
On 31 March 2023, 276 Turkish lawmakers voted in favor of Finland’s accession to NATO. Since 4 April 2023, that Nordic state has been a NATO member.
The Turkish public has opposed Sweden’s accession, mainly for the reasons that the state welcomed FETÖ members after the failed 15 July coup attempt against the Turkish government that took place in 2016. Sweden does not list the organization as a terrorist organization. The Turkish public has also criticized Sweden for its position towards the PKK/YPG terrorist organizations.
But Sweden has also taken also concrete steps of its own to facilitate its NATO membership. A constitutional change was made in the late 2022 to open the way for tighter anti-terrorism laws, described as a ‘big step’ by Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson during his visit to Türkiye. Legislation to help achieve this passed in May 2023.
“We wanted to see the results of the changes. This is why Sweden has fallen behind of Finland” said Fuat Oktay, president of the Turkish Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Commission during the negotiations on the bid.
Washington has been pressing Ankara to ratify Sweden’s bid for NATO accession, too. However, Türkiye linked the ratification to American Congress’ approval for the sales of F16 fighter jets. Last month, Turkish President Erdogan talked with President Biden about the Turkish side’s demands. American Secretary of State Blinken, during his visit to Türkiye this month, repeated America’s position on the matter.
Hungary remains the only NATO state that still needs to ratify Sweden’s membership bid. Today, Prime Minister Orban stated that he has invited the Swedish Prime Minister to hold negotiations on the issue.
If Hungary approves Sweden’s accession, Sweden will become the 32nd member of NATO.
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