Istanbul, Turkey – The last-minute deal between Turkey, Sweden and Finland to pave the way for Nordic countries to join NATO has been described as Ankara standing firmly with its Western allies in the face of aggression from Russia.
In recent years, the debate has raged over whether Turkey is turning away from the West, fueled by episodes such as Ankara’s acquisition of Russian missiles three years ago and, more recently, its refusal to join the sanctions against Russia for its war in Ukraine.
When Turkey announced in May that it would veto Sweden and Finland’s NATO bids unless they met a series of demands, many saw it as further proof of the reputation of Ankara as a partner that was increasingly charting its own course within NATO.
But last week’s deal – addressing Turkish concerns over the activities of groups it has designated as “terrorist” organizations in Nordic states, extraditing suspects and removing restrictions on arms sales to Turkey – has seen President Recep Tayyip Erdogan celebrated as a loyal and supportive ally. at the NATO summit in Madrid.
“The agreement is a very positive and historic development for Turkey’s relations with Sweden and Finland and NATO as a whole,” said Ali Bakeer, assistant professor at the Ibn Khaldon Center for Humanities and Social Sciences at Qatar University.
“This shows Turkey’s commitment to supporting NATO unity and expansion…It is a win-win situation and NATO is emerging stronger as a collective security organization in the face of growing threats and to Russia.”
Ankara joined NATO in 1952 in the alliance’s first wave of enlargement, having sent troops to fight under the United Nations banner in the Korean War two years earlier. At the time, Turkey and Norway were the only NATO states whose lands bordered the Soviet Union.
Turkey, which has NATO’s second-largest army after the United States, has provided a vital southern flank to the alliance.
Potential issues ahead
Despite the positive reaction to the Turkey-Sweden-Finland deal, there are signs that enlargement could still pose challenges for NATO.
Erdogan has signaled that Turkey could block the process if Sweden and Finland do not “fulfill [the] obligations” described in the agreement in 10 articles. The northern enlargement must also be ratified by the parliaments of the 30 NATO members.
“Turkey got much of what it asked for, but there are potential pitfalls for the ratification process,” said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director of the German Marshall Fund in Ankara.
“Turkey, Sweden and Finland are not on the same page when it comes to the definition of terrorism. Individuals whom Turkey considers to be terrorists may not be considered as such by Sweden and Finland and when Turkey requests their extradition, it can always be refused.
“I can imagine Turkey further delaying the ratification process on the grounds that Sweden and Finland are not respecting the written agreement… But, having said that, they managed to get the box out on the road and maybe d other solutions can be developed in the meantime.
Ankara has played a crucial role in averting a crisis within the alliance at a time when Europe faces its greatest threat since the Cold War.
“The biggest victory of this agreement is the fact that there is no crisis in the relations between Turkey and NATO,” said Galip Dalay, associate researcher in the Middle East and North Africa program of the Chatham House in London.
“If there had been no agreement after this summit, which is perhaps the most important summit in decades, it would have led to a crisis. The fact that this crisis was avoided is a major victory for all parts of NATO.
After refining its position within NATO, Turkey will now seek to convince its allies of its vision of “terrorism”, according to analysts.
The Nordic deal saw Western countries acknowledge for the first time Ankara’s concerns over the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). The group – which has been instrumental in the fight against ISIL (ISIS) as part of the US-led coalition in Syria – is linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is leading an uprising armed against Turkey for 38 years.
Turkey is now likely to push other countries, which have widely argued that the PKK and YPG are separate entities, to take a similar stance.
Turkey has pledged to repeat its 2019 incursion into YPG-controlled northern Syria. The previous operation led to widespread Western condemnation and restrictions on defense sales to Ankara.
“Turkey will now expect Europe and the United States not to criticize [incursion] beyond lip service,” Unluhisarcikli said.
Dalay explained that Russia’s war in Ukraine would lead to greater convergence between Turkey and its NATO allies. Turkey is the only NATO member in direct competition with Russia in Syria and Libya – a situation that creates unique security threats for Ankara.
“Russian revisionism has always brought Turkey closer to the West,” Dalay said. “It was the case for the Ottoman Empire, it was the case when Turkey asked to join NATO and it is the case today.
“But as Turkey gradually converges with the West on geopolitical issues, it will try to do so in a way that will not upset Russia.”