January 25, 2024 | Policy Brief

Turkey’s Parliament Ratifies Sweden’s NATO Application

January 25, 2024 | Policy Brief

Turkey’s Parliament Ratifies Sweden’s NATO Application

Turkey’s parliament decided by a vote of 287-55 on Tuesday to ratify Sweden’s accession to NATO. Ankara had been holding up the Swedish application for 20 months, hoping to leverage it to extract concessions from Washington, which now has an opportunity to make clear that it will not succumb to Turkish blackmail.

For Stockholm to join the trans-Atlantic alliance, all 32 member states need to provide approval. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan consistently cited numerous “security concerns” that he wanted the Swedish government to resolve prior to instructing parliament to debate. In order to complete the ratification process, Erdogan is required to sign the parliamentary approval and publish it in Turkey’s official gazette.

Erdogan’s concerns centered around what he perceived as widespread accommodation granted by Sweden to members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a group designated as a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States. Turkey accused the Swedish government of harboring known PKK terrorists and allowing the organization to broadcast its political message via media outlets. Stockholm’s bid was further delayed by instances of Quran burning in Sweden, which Ankara strongly protested, arguing that Sweden should prosecute the perpetrators.

To appease Ankara, Swedish authorities in 2023 deported several PKK members but stopped short of extraditing more than 100 alleged PKK members whom Turkey initially demanded. Stockholm said that extradition without due process would compromise Sweden’s democratic process.

While these deliberations delayed the approval process, the real reason Ankara declined to approve Sweden’s NATO membership is based on Turkey’s aspiration to effect policy changes in Washington. Since the United States removed Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program in 2019 for acquiring the S-400 missile defense system from Russia, Ankara has desperately tried to gain U.S. approval to acquire 40 new F-16 fighter jets and upgrade its existing fleet.

The U.S. Congress has consistently opposed the sale of jets to Turkey, citing Turkey’s aggressive stance toward NATO ally Greece, Ankara’s poor human rights record, and Erdogan’s refusal to approve Sweden’s NATO membership bid. In response to congressional objections, Erdogan proceeded to make his approval of Swedish accession to NATO contingent upon Washington’s willingness to sell fighter jets to Turkey.

Erdogan’s decision to instruct parliament to approve Sweden’s accession is based on assurances the White House appears to have given him. Upon Erdogan formalizing Turkey’s ratification, President Biden will ask Congress to authorize and proceed with the sale “without delay,” according to a letter he sent U.S. lawmakers.

Biden should reconsider this decision. In addition, the Biden administration should insist that Turkey satisfy Washington’s outstanding demands from Ankara. Specifically, Biden should demand Erdogan’s public commitment not to threaten allies such as Greece and Cyprus with war over territorial disputes in the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey needs to respect their sovereignty and advance its goals with diplomacy.

Likewise, Washington should demand that Ankara stop the material support it provides to Hamas. Following Hamas’s October 7 massacre of Israeli civilians, Erdogan said, “Hamas is not a terrorist organization” but “a liberation group, ‘mujahideen’ waging a battle to protect its lands and people.”

Until Ankara takes all these steps, Washington must refrain from capitulating to Erdogan’s demands.

Sinan Ciddi is a non-resident senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he contributes to FDD’s Turkey Program and Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP). For more analysis from Sinan, the Turkey Program, and CMPP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Sinan on X @SinanCiddi. Follow FDD on X @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.


International Organizations Turkey