Finland Is Set for NATO—if Turkey Plays Ball

Turkey’s objections to new NATO members are a speed bump, not a roadblock, says Finnish Foreign Minister.

By , a national security and intelligence reporter at Foreign Policy.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right) speaks during a news conference with Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto at the State Department in Washington on May 27.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right) speaks during a news conference with Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto at the State Department in Washington on May 27.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right) speaks during a news conference with Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto at the State Department in Washington on May 27. Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Putin’s War

Finland’s bid to join NATO, despite Turkey’s objections, is more likely to be resolved in a matter of “weeks than days,” Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said Friday. 

Officials from Helsinki and Stockholm were in Ankara on Wednesday in a bid to resolve Turkey’s objections to their accession to the military alliance. Turkey has thrown up objections based on the Nordic countries’ alleged support of Kurdish militants and other groups deemed a potential threat by Ankara. Turkey’s demands pose the biggest obstacle to what is otherwise expected to be a smooth accession process for two historically neutral countries that have edged closer to NATO thanks to Russia’s unchecked aggression.

In an interview with Foreign Policy in Washington, Haavisto said it was unclear whether the matter would be resolved before the NATO summit in Madrid in June but noted that conversations were ongoing and he was optimistic that a solution would be reached. A senior aide to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said this week that the country wanted to see “concrete steps” from the two Nordic countries to address Ankara’s concerns. 

Finland’s bid to join NATO, despite Turkey’s objections, is more likely to be resolved in a matter of “weeks than days,” Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said Friday. 

Officials from Helsinki and Stockholm were in Ankara on Wednesday in a bid to resolve Turkey’s objections to their accession to the military alliance. Turkey has thrown up objections based on the Nordic countries’ alleged support of Kurdish militants and other groups deemed a potential threat by Ankara. Turkey’s demands pose the biggest obstacle to what is otherwise expected to be a smooth accession process for two historically neutral countries that have edged closer to NATO thanks to Russia’s unchecked aggression.

In an interview with Foreign Policy in Washington, Haavisto said it was unclear whether the matter would be resolved before the NATO summit in Madrid in June but noted that conversations were ongoing and he was optimistic that a solution would be reached. A senior aide to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said this week that the country wanted to see “concrete steps” from the two Nordic countries to address Ankara’s concerns. 

Haavisto declined to go into detail about the discussions but said Turkey had raised concerns about specific individuals who they alleged have ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, better known as the PKK, as well as Erdogan foe Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania.

Turkish media has reported that the country requested the extradition of 33 people from Finland and Sweden alleged to have ties to the groups. Haavisto acknowledged that the issue would be difficult to address. “We have a judicial system in our country,” he said. “Politicians cannot even decide those issues.”

Finland and Sweden formally submitted NATO membership applications last week, after Russia’s invasion in Ukraine prompted a sea change in public opinion in both countries, bringing an end to their decades of military nonalignment. Before the war, around one-fifth of Finns supported the idea of joining the military alliance. By early May, public support for the move had skyrocketed to 76 percent. 

While NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has vowed to “fast-track” Helsinki’s and Stockholm’s applications, new members to the alliance first need to be approved by its decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council, before being ratified by the parliaments of each of the 30 member states. Haavisto said there was a growing competition of “who will ratify it first.” 

Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly previously said the country could approve Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO membership within days. On Tuesday, 82 members of the U.S. Senate wrote to U.S. President Joe Biden, urging his administration to ensure quick ratification of the new NATO members. 

Haavisto said Helsinki had not seen any “major negative reaction” from Moscow to Finland’s application to join NATO. Finland and Russia share 830 miles of border, and the country’s accession to NATO will double the military alliance’s shared frontier with Russia. 

Analysts had voiced concern that Russia may seek to try to destabilize Finland and Sweden during the NATO accession period, before the countries are covered by the bloc’s mutual defense obligations under NATO’s Article 5, which obliges each member state to come to the aid of any NATO state under threat.

”In the beginning, we were very concerned that some hiccups might happen along the way, and that was also the reason why we had a lot of bilateral discussions with the U.S., the U.K., and with other NATO countries about what kind of support could be given during this [accession] period,” said Haavisto, who said Finland had been reassured by security guarantees offered by individual NATO members. This month, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave written assurances to both Sweden and Finland, pledging support to their militaries in the event of an attack. The United States, France, Germany, and Poland have also made similar assurances.

Amy Mackinnon is a national security and intelligence reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @ak_mack

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