Turkey Must Allow Sweden Into NATO

If it isn’t a member before the July Vilnius summit, Erdoğan and Orbán shouldn’t be welcome.

By Mark T. Esper and Evelyn Farkas. (Everyn is a Fletcher alumna.)

With Turkey’s presidential election now decided, it is time for the two holdouts, Turkey and Hungary, to approve Sweden’s application to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Stockholm deserves accession, which is overdue. With NATO’s next major summit scheduled for mid-July in Lithuania, there are only a few weeks for the alliance to consummate its goal of including both Finland and Sweden. Any further delay will dilute (or even undermine) the message to Vladimir Putin: that his illegal war against Ukraine has both united and expanded the alliance against Moscow’s aggression.

Finland joined the alliance in April, but its Nordic neighbor was left out, a hostage to Turkey’s shifting objections. Hungary has also refused to approve Sweden’s accession but has signaled it will once Turkey does. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had several items for Stockholm to address. Among them was ensuring that Sweden wasn’t a haven for terrorist groups such as the PKK, also known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. 

The Swedes responded by changing their constitution and passing new antiterrorism legislation. This new law takes effect June 1, removing what should be the final sticking point with Turkey. 

During our visit last week to Stockholm, we found a genuine commitment among the country’s most senior officials to addressing their Turkish counterparts’ legitimate concerns, including after Sweden is admitted to NATO. We were struck by their eagerness to join the alliance and strengthen its security.

Like Finland, which we also visited, Sweden will be a valuable member of the alliance. Sweden’s 2023 budget proposal commits spending 2% of its gross domestic product on defense, as NATO expects, by 2026. We would prefer this to happen sooner, but we’re confident that it will happen, which can’t be said for many longtime members.

Sweden also brings favorable geography for countering the Russian threat in the Baltic Sea, valuable intelligence insights on Moscow, a robust defense industry, laudable maritime capabilities (especially undersea), and Arctic Council membership. 

Despite all this, it isn’t clear how quickly Turkey will act. The recent accession of Finland was a blow to Mr. Putin and his expansionist agenda. Any delay in full membership beyond the Vilnius summit would encourage the Kremlin and undermine NATO. It would also give more time to those trying to derail Sweden’s membership and discourage other NATO aspirants. With Russia reeling from broad-based sanctions, diplomatic isolation and setbacks on the battlefield, this is no time to show disunity. 

The U.S. must press Turkey and Hungary to approve Sweden’s membership immediately and get other allies to apply the same pressure. Stockholm has done everything it can to meet Mr. Erdoğan’s demands. He should be out of excuses. Meanwhile, Washington and other key capitals, such as Berlin and Madrid, should offer the appropriate carrots (and privately threaten the right sticks) to ensure accession happens. President Biden could offer to approve sales of F-16 aircraft to Turkey or a White House visit for Mr. Erdoğan, for example.

Other allies could offer to support Turkey’s reconstruction following the massive earthquake earlier this year and provide incentives to help its beleaguered economy. At the same time, NATO members should make clear that Mr. Erdoğan and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán won’t be welcome in Vilnius if Sweden isn’t a member by the summit’s start. 

The most senior Finnish government officials told us that their security isn’t maximized without Sweden as a NATO ally. That is certainly Moscow’s belief as well. The last thing NATO should do is give Mr. Putin an opportunity to regain his footing. We have come too far, and the Ukrainians have sacrificed too much, to let that happen.

(This post is republished from WSJ Opinion.)

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