Turkey Lifts Objections to Swedish, Finnish NATO Membership

A three-way agreement signed in Madrid paves the way for alliance expansion—at a cost.

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Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a meeting on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Madrid on June 28.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a meeting on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Madrid on June 28.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a meeting on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Madrid on June 28. Hendrik Montgomery/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images

Turkey has reached a deal to support Finland’s and Sweden’s bids to join NATO, breaking a monthlong diplomatic deadlock for the alliance as it crafts its response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

After weeks of stalled diplomatic talks between the two Nordic countries and Turkey, top officials from all three countries signed a joint memorandum on Tuesday pledging “full support against threats to each other’s security” and paving the way for Turkey to support the latest round of NATO expansion, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto announced in a statement on Tuesday.

According to a copy of the 10-point trilateral memorandum shared by a Reuters reporter on Twitter, Finland and Sweden agreed to address Ankara’s pending requests to expedite suspected terrorists. The two Nordic nations also agreed not to provide any support to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)—which has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union—or to the Gulenist movement, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for many of his domestic woes.

Turkey has reached a deal to support Finland’s and Sweden’s bids to join NATO, breaking a monthlong diplomatic deadlock for the alliance as it crafts its response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

After weeks of stalled diplomatic talks between the two Nordic countries and Turkey, top officials from all three countries signed a joint memorandum on Tuesday pledging “full support against threats to each other’s security” and paving the way for Turkey to support the latest round of NATO expansion, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto announced in a statement on Tuesday.

According to a copy of the 10-point trilateral memorandum shared by a Reuters reporter on Twitter, Finland and Sweden agreed to address Ankara’s pending requests to expedite suspected terrorists. The two Nordic nations also agreed not to provide any support to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)—which has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union—or to the Gulenist movement, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for many of his domestic woes.

The agreement prompted questions for NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg about whether Ankara dictated terms to the alliance. Finland and Sweden also agreed not to provide support to the so-called Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) in Syria, which forms the backbone of the U.S.-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the leading fighting force against the Islamic State. Sweden also agreed to end an arms embargo against Turkey that dated back to its 2019 incursion into Syria.

But Stoltenberg said Finland’s and Sweden’s likely invites into the alliance, which he termed the quickest in history, was a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin that the alliance is growing, despite the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

“The door is open. The joining of Finland and Sweden to our alliance is something that will take place,” Stoltenberg said. “It sends a very clear message to Putin. We are demonstrating that NATO’s doors are open.”

Adding new members to NATO requires unanimous consent from all 30 NATO members. Turkey, which has been a NATO member since 1952, voiced initial objections to Finland and Sweden joining, calling for more support in Turkey’s fight against Kurdish separatist groups it views as terrorist organizations.

In his statement, Niinisto appeared to hint that the final agreement with Turkey could include a lifting of the arms embargo and extradition of alleged Kurdish terrorists from the Nordic countries to Turkey. “As we enhance our cooperation on counterterrorism, arms exports and extraditions, Finland naturally continues to operate according to its national legislation,” he said.

Finland’s and Sweden’s moves to join the alliance buck a 70-year trend of neutrality from the Nordic countries, which sought to take a middle path between the United States and the then-Soviet Union during the Cold War, a policy that continued even after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“What’s happened in Finland and Sweden over the last few months is just a dramatic shift in decades of policy and decades of public opinion,” said Rachel Rizzo, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. “If you had asked most people, I think, at the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, whether or not public opinion would shift so greatly in both of those countries that they would seek to join the alliance, I think most people would have said no. I certainly said no.”

Tuesday’s memorandum heads off a potential protracted fight over Finland’s and Sweden’s membership that Western officials feared could drag out for months. Stoltenberg said dealing with the PKK is an alliance priority, but experts have worried that it could set a precedent for Turkey to go after Kurdish linkages to other NATO partners, such as the U.S. military’s reliance on the SDF.

Clara Gutman contributed to this report. 

Jack Detsch is Foreign Policy’s Pentagon and national security reporter. Twitter: @JackDetsch

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

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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