Jun 28, 2022 - World

Turkey lifts objection to Sweden and Finland's NATO membership

NATO Secretary General and leaders from Turkey, Finland and Sweden attend a signing ceremony of a memorandum on the Nordic countries' bids for NATO membership

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and leaders from Turkey, Finland and Sweden attend a signing ceremony of a memorandum on the Nordic countries' bids for NATO membership. Photo: TUR Presidency/ Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan agreed Tuesday to lift his objection to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, paving the way for the two Nordic nations to begin the accession process.

Driving the news: The leaders of the three countries signed a trilateral memorandum on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Madrid confirming Turkey would support Sweden and Finland's accession after weeks of negotiations over counterterrorism and arms exports.

The big picture: Sweden and Finland moved rapidly to apply to NATO in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, reversing decades of security policy and opening the door to the alliance's ninth expansion since 1949.

  • The accession of the two highly advanced militaries — which have already worked closely with NATO for years — was initially thought to be a fait accompli.
  • But Erdoğan, a strongman who has long caused headaches for the Western alliance, lodged a sudden objection in May, claiming the Nordic countries were home to Kurdish "terrorist organizations."
  • Both countries had also implemented a restrictive arms export policy with respect to Turkey, after Erdoğan launched an incursion against Kurdish militants in northeast Syria in 2019.

Flash forward: Weeks of obstinance appeared to dissipate suddenly at this week's NATO Summit, where President Biden is expected to meet with Erdoğan on Wednesday.

  • Experts viewed Turkey's rejection of Sweden and Finland's applications as leverage to extract concessions, including accelerating the purchase of F-16 fighter jets from the U.S.
  • The exact details of the trilateral deal have not been revealed.

What they're saying: "I am delighted to conclude this stage on Finland’s road to NATO membership. I now look forward to fruitful conversations on Finland’s role in NATO with our future Allies here in Madrid," Finland's President Sauli Niinistö said in a statement confirming the news.

  • "I strongly welcome the signing of this trilateral memorandum, and I strongly welcome the constructive approach all three countries have shown during the negotiations, " NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg said in a statement. "Finnish and Swedish membership of NATO is good for Finland and Sweden, it is good for NATO, and it is good for European security.”

Go deeper: Why NATO formed and why Finland and Sweden want to join the alliance

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