Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg – before the NATO summit on July 10 in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Source of the photo: Filip Singer / WPA Pool / Getty Images
Erdogan has effectively increased Türkiye’s sphere of influence within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) through the utilization of assertive diplomatic strategies. With the primary objective in mind, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has consented to support Sweden’s endeavor to become a member of NATO, following a year of impeding the progression. Türkiye has capitalized on negotiation processes surrounding the alliance’s expansion to extract concessions from Western leaders. In anticipation of the forthcoming NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Jens Stoltenberg has verified that President Erdogan has consented to the inclusion of Sweden into NATO. Erdogan’s unexpected statement just before he left for a NATO summit has made Sweden’s desire to become the alliance’s 32nd member more likely. The trilateral negotiations involving Erdogan, Kristersson, and Stoltenberg culminated in a specific resolution, wherein Sweden has committed to enhance both bilateral trade and anti-terrorism cooperation with Türkiye. The inclusion of Sweden has been characterized as a significant milestone, as it is expected to enhance the strength and security of NATO allies.
The admission of Sweden and Finland into NATO would play a crucial role in advancing the geostrategic objectives of the military alliance. Sweden can facilitate the transportation of military equipment and resources to Finland and the Baltic states in the event of prospective hostilities. Moreover, it is worth noting that Finland has the longest border with Russia among all the countries on the European continent. Both countries possess an extensive coastline in the Baltic Sea. Due to their membership in the European Union, these countries have demonstrated ideological alignment with Western values while also pursuing a diplomatic strategy that avoids provoking Russia. After the beginning of the war between Russia and Ukraine in 2022, Finland and Sweden made a strategic decision and expressed their intention to seek membership in NATO. Growing worries about Russian aggression in the region of northern Europe served as the driving force behind this decision. As the war is ongoing, both Sweden and Finland made substantial investments in their defense capabilities. The inclusion of Sweden as a member of NATO would provide a significant enhancement to the security of the alliance. The inclusion of all Nordic countries in the NATO will have a significant impact on the security dynamics within the Nordic, Arctic, and Baltic regions. But the joining of a new member in the security alliance requires approval of all members. Here, Türkiye has played a significant role being a major NATO ally. Since the previous year, Türkiye approved Finland’s admission but has impeded Sweden’s NATO membership, alleging that it provides shelter and funding to Kurdish activists whom Ankara considers terrorists.
Erdogan’s decision to support Sweden’s accession to NATO, however, is based on a number of geopolitical factors that include economic, military, and security aspects. This particular phenomenon within the field of international relations can be illustrated through the neo-classical realism framework that seeks to provide an understanding. This theoretical framework integrates systemic factors, specifically the balance of threats, with domestic factors, encompassing decision-makers’ perceptions, interests, and ideologies, in order to determine foreign policy behavior. Erdogan’s foreign policy is indicative of his ideological inclination, characterized by a mixture of nationalism and Islamism. He has achieved equilibrium in his diplomatic interactions with Western nations by cultivating stronger alliances with non-western global players, including Russia, China, and Iran. Erdogan has escalated the situation by requesting the European Union to reinvigorate Türkiye’s stagnant membership application as a prerequisite for Sweden’s inclusion in NATO. For more than five decades, Türkiye has been in a state of anticipation regarding its potential accession to the European Union. It is worth noting that a significant majority of the member states within the NATO have already attained membership in the European Union. From a military perspective, Türkiye is focusing on strengthening defense capabilities and promoting deterrence in the Euro-Atlantic region. President Erdogan is actively advocating for the United States administration to consider a transaction involving the procurement of F-16 fighter jets for the Turkish armed forces, with the expectation that this gesture may influence a potential endorsement for Sweden. Türkiye has also made accusations against Swedish officials, alleging their involvement in Islamophobic demonstrations, including the act of burning the Quran, in order to uphold religious leadership.
Additionally, Türkiye is actively seeking assistance from Western nations in order to restructuring its vulnerable economy. The Turkish economy has experienced a period of decline, characterized by high inflation rates ranging from 37-80% over the past year. Additionally, the Turkish currency has depreciated against the US dollar within the last five years. Also, to approve Sweden’s entry to NATO, President Erdogan will collaborate closely with the Grand National Assembly in order to secure the ratification and admission of Sweden into NATO. In order to obtain Türkiye’s approval, Sweden has made revisions to its constitution, enacted legislative modifications, considerably enhanced its counter-terrorism collaboration targeting the PKK, and recommenced the export of arms to Türkiye. Sweden reiterated its position of controlling aid to Kurdish groups in the joint statement that the two countries released, and it reaffirmed its commitment to actively supporting initiatives aimed at reviving Türkiye’s EU accession process. The two nations have reached a mutual agreement to sustain their collaboration in counter-terrorism endeavors, with NATO set to establish a novel position of Special Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism.
From a geopolitical perspective, President Erdogan of Türkiye has implemented a pragmatic and assertive approach to foreign policy with the objective of bolstering Türkiye’s influence at both regional and global levels while simultaneously safeguarding its national interests and sovereignty. One of the primary challenges confronting President Erdogan pertains to the western question, which denotes Türkiye’s complex and contentious relations with Western nations, particularly the United States and the European Union. Ankara is pursuing a larger diplomatic strategy in which it aims to take advantage of its unique position to gain an advantage in its interactions with both Russia and NATO. In contrast, President Erdogan maintains a cordial relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, undertaking the role of a mediator between Russia and Ukraine while concurrently abstaining from endorsing Western-imposed sanctions on Russia. So, the potential accession of Sweden to NATO would have significant implications, as it would facilitate an expansion of the alliance’s influence across a vast territory spanning over 1,000 miles along the Baltic Sea. This development would potentially alter the power dynamics in northern Europe and establish a strategic chokepoint for Russian naval vessels and aircraft in the region. The accession of Sweden to NATO would result in substantial ramifications for the alliance’s military capabilities and a significant deployment of soldiers. However, it should be noted that it does not guarantee Sweden’s immediate accession to the alliance. Stoltenberg refrained from providing a precise time frame regarding the submission of the document by Erdogan to the Turkish Parliament, which subsequently necessitates a voting process for its approval. In addition, Hungary has not yet conducted a vote to accept Sweden’s membership. However, Hungary has expressed its intention to ratify Sweden’s bid in due course.
In conclusion, it can be noted that Erdogan’s stance towards Sweden enjoys widespread political backing within Türkiye. Hence, the charismatic role played by Erdogan in Turkish view of global politics can be interpreted as an endeavor to navigate an ever-evolving global system while simultaneously addressing domestic pressures and preferences. President Erdogan emerged victorious in a tightly contested presidential election held in May 2023 and is now preparing for another significant political challenge with this particular decision. Finally, Erdogan endeavors to optimize Türkiye’s power and security through strategic adjustments to evolving circumstances and opportunities in the region.
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About the author:
Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma is a Research Associate at BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD). She is a research analyst in security studies. She obtained her Master's and Bachelor's in International Relations from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org