Sweden decided to apply for NATO membership on May 16, 2022 and signed the Accession Protocol on July 5, 2022. Its membership was pending ratification by all NATO members given its status as an invitee country. Subsequently, on March 8, 2023, the Government submitted the bill of its membership to the Riksdag and approved it on March 22.
Sweden’s membership was halted due to opposition from Turkey and Hungary, who did not ratify its bid to join. Recently, in December 2023, the Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee gave its consent to Sweden’s membership in NATO. Turkey had delayed its ratification for over a year as it was contentious of Sweden being “too lenient towards groups that it regards as threats to Turkish security. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Prime Minister of Turkey, lifted his objections in July 2023 when Sweden and Finland, both countries looking to join NATO, agreed to a trilateral memorandum to address Turkish concerns on Kurdish activities.
Erdoğan had also linked its ratification of Sweden’s membership with the US approval of sales of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. Subsequently, the US President, Joe Bident stated this month that Washington was considering the ratification to decide on this request.
At present, the Turkish Parliamentary Committee approved Sweden’s membership application. Now, the final step remains for the Turkish parliament general assembly to ratify the bid.
Economic Partnership between NATO and Sweden
According to the Government of Sweden, joining NATO is crucial for its security following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Government Offices of Sweden stated, “The country will be expected to provide staff to NATO’s political and military structures. Moreover, Sweden will be expected to contribute approximately SEK 600–700 million per year to NATO’s common budget”.
Additionally, the members must commit a minimum of 2 per cent of GDP to defence spending as per NATO’s Defence Investment Pledge adopted at the Wales Summit in 2014. The Government of Sweden has planned to achieve this target by 2026 and contribute at least 20 per cent of defence spending for material and research and development.
Turkey’s opposition to Sweden’s membership was rooted in a variety of reasons. Among them, the parliament’s foreign affairs committee submitted a motion for postponement because its negotiations with Sweden had not “matured” enough. Deputy Foreign Minister Burak Akcapar noted the steps that Sweden had taken to meet Turkish demands, including lifting restrictions on defence industry sales and amending anti-terrorism laws. He stated, “It is unrealistic to expect that the Swedish authorities will immediately fulfil all of our demands. This is a process, and this process requires long-term and consistent effort” clarifying that Turkey will continue to monitor Sweden’s progress. Eventually, the head of the foreign relations committee, Fuat Oktay, informed lawmakers that the government was “pleased” with Swedish efforts to halt the financing of terrorism.
Sweden will officially become a member of NATO once all member states give their approval. NATO Secretary General will then invite Sweden to join the North Atlantic Treaty, NATO’s founding document.
Sweden will benefit from its membership as part of the collective defence and mutual defence guarantees under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. Article 5 states, “An armed attack against one or more of the Allies in Europe or North America will be considered an attack against them all”. Sweden’s instrument of accession will then be deposited with the Government of the United States of America.
Subsequently, Sweden will gradually be integrated into NATO’s activities. However, it will not decide on matters concerning nuclear weapons and will not have the right to vote. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg met with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson; “Following the submission of the ratification documents, I now count on a speedy ratification by the Turkish parliament”. Noting NATO’s recommitment to the fight against terrorism Stoltenberg stressed that Sweden had also met its commitments, “Sweden has amended its constitution, changed its laws, expanded counter-terrorism cooperation, and resumed arms exports to Türkiye”.
Further steps by the Swedish government include improved customs arrangements and visa-free European travel for Turkish citizens to enable Turkish support for its membership.
The process of Sweden’s accession remains far from reality. Apart from Turkey, Hungary also expressed its opposition to Sweden’s membership. Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán said, “There is no great willingness from Hungarian lawmakers to approve it”. It is now the last country, pending Turkey’s parliamentary approval, that has not ratified the Swedish membership request. It is also contested that Hungary is using “its potential veto power over Sweden’s accession to leverage concessions from the European Union which has frozen billions in funds to Budapest over concerns over minority rights and the rule of law”. Yet, opposition leaders in Hungary argued that the Orbán government is simply following in Turkey’s footsteps and will soon also ratify Sweden’s membership request.
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