Skip to main content

Inside Turkey's three dimensions for changing tune on Sweden's NATO bid

Turkey’s surprise decision on the Swedish NATO bid seems to be underpinned by considerations on defense and economic areas.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) shakes hands with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson during their meeting ahead of the NATO Summit on July 11, 2023 in Vilnius, Lithuania. The summit is bringing together NATO members and partner countries heads of state from July 11-12 to chart the alliance's future, with Sweden's application for membership and Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine as major topics on the summit agenda. (Photo by Filip Singer - Pool/Getty Images)

ANKARA — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s surprise greenlight to Sweden’s membership in NATO is likely calculated to bring economic and defense gains. 

Turkey has been dragging its feet, citing the Swedish government’s perceived tolerance toward the activities of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the network of the Pennsylvania-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen on its territory. Erdogan insisted that successive Swedish governments should clamp down on pro-PKK cadres and Gulenists. A series of Quran-burning protests in the Swedish capital over the past months have further complicated the talks between Ankara and Stockholm. 

Yet in a surprising twist, after two rounds of trilateral meetings with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, Erdogan announced on Wednesday that he will refer the Swedish application to the Turkish parliament for ratification. The press release of the meeting called for the removal of restrictions on defense trade among member nations, as well as the creation of a new NATO special coordinator for counterterrorism. Erdogan is likely to push for a Turkish diplomat in that post to increase his influence within the alliance. The statement also said Stockholm would help Turkey to update its customs union with the European Union and provide visa liberalization for Turkish citizens traveling to Europe. 

Defense, economic gains

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.