Sweden took a giant step towards becoming the 32nd NATO member after the Turkish parliament approved its admission into the military grouping yesterday.
Finland and Sweden, who have long maintained neutrality, changed their politics amid heightened security concerns after Russia launched its war on Ukraine in February 2022.
The two Nordic countries officially applied for NATO membership in May 2022, and all member countries approved its admission apart from Turkey and Hungary. Finland met Anakra and Budapest's conditions and became NATO's 31st member on April 2023.
However, Sweden’s membership bid was more complicated.
Ankara — while supporting NATO's "open door" policy — conditioned its approval of Sweden's admission, asking Stockholm to take several concrete steps, including halting its support to groups that Turkey has designated terror organisations and harbouring their members.
Apart from that, an incident where a man was allowed to burn the holy Quran in the Swedish capital infuriated Turkey, further complicating matters.
Ankara conditioned its approval of Sweden's admission, asking Stockholm to take several concrete steps, including halting its support to groups that Turkey has designated terror organisations.
F-16 fighter jet sale
Last but not least, Ankara insisted that the US greenlight the sale of F-16 fighter jets before accepting Sweden's bid. The US Congress had blocked Turkey's bid to buy 40 Block 70 F-16 fighter jets and 80 modernisation kits for its existing fleet — a package worth $20bn.
Former Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Senator Bob Menendez, who was the main figure to stand in the way of the deal, is now gone on charges of corruption, but his successor is still denying the sale.
Because of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's tough stance, a green light to Sweden under the circumstances seemed impossible.
However, the vote in the Turkish parliament yesterday — 287 in favour, 55 against and four abstentions, and the debates leading to it — shows that tough government rhetoric has turned out to be just 'big talk'.
The ruling AKP and its partner MHP —Nationalist Action Party— voted yes. The main opposition party, CHP — Republican People's Party — also voted in favour, ostensibly because it supports NATO's "open door policy". Still, it heavily criticised the U-turn, along with other political parties, saying that Turkey did not get anything in return.
On its part, the government justified its decision by declaring that Sweden had fulfilled Turkey's conditions. It said that Stockholm had imposed restrictions on the activities of the PKK terrorist organisation, adopted a new terrorism law and lifted restrictions on the sale of defence equipment to Turkey.
Some of this is true, but Turkey was not able to get any of the extraditions that it had requested. Some legal arrangements have been made, and the terrorism law has been altered, but the real question is how it will be implemented, as Turkey and Sweden define terrorism and terrorist activities differently.
The general sentiment among analysts is that Turkey did get a few concessions that it could point to as a victory, but, overall, it has fallen short of expectations.
One more obstacle
Still, Sweden's challenges are not over, as Hungary — the other NATO holdout on its bid for membership — also has to approve its admission.
It is also unclear whether the US administration will keep its word and convince Congress to lift its objections to the F-16 sale to Turkey.
Each time there is a high-level contact between Turkey and the US, the Turkish public is informed that the US side has assured that the Biden administration fully supports the sale of F-16s and that Congress could fast-track it if Sweden's membership bid were approved.
Now that the Swedish membership problem is out of the way, and if the US administration can deliver on its promises of securing the fighter jets, this could, in turn, open up cooperation in Syria and Gaza, where the two NATO allies have mostly been at odds with each other.