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Türkiye and Hungary Capitulate: Sweden's NATO Accession Redefining Alliances

Updated: May 23

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 22nd, the Kremlin posited the need to eliminate a potential NATO threat on Europe’s eastern flank. Now, Russia faces an even further expanded NATO as two new countries, Finland and Sweden, have joined NATO. So, how did we get here? Well, nothing about this is black-and-white. Many religious, political, and bilateral hurdles needed to be jumped before such an arrangement could come into being. 

Initially, Swedish Prime Minister Andersson had been hesitant to submit an application to join NATO, citing the country's foreign policy initiatives of abstaining and avoiding military conflict. However, that sentiment quickly died down when calls from the opposition became the popular narrative in Sweden's parliament. Finally, on May 15th, both Sweden and Finland submitted their applications to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

On June 28, 2022, Finland, Sweden, and Türkiye made a significant agreement during a NATO summit in Madrid,  pledging to collaborate on issues relating to Kurdish militia groups in Iraq and Syria. The agreement also included plans to handle such groups within the domestic setting. This agreement showed a joint effort to address security concerns and highlighted the scope of diplomatic endeavor that had to be undertaken to receive full NATO admission.

However, it was clear from the beginning that becoming a NATO member would be no easy task. Hungary and Türkiye, amongst others, were demanding political and legal concessions from the Nordic countries. Even threatening to slow down the application process over even the slightest scent of political disobedience. Sweden, in particular, found itself squarely caught in the crosshairs of this dilemma.

While some issues were indeed minor, a particular incident that reverberated globally and sparked outrage within the Muslim world was the notorious Quran-burning scandal. This event significantly jeopardised the likelihood of Turkey's approval given its status as a predominantly Muslim-majority country. Another significant incident unfolded on January 12, 2023, when protesters from the Swedish Solidarity Committee of Rojava hung an effigy of Erdogan; this act prompted swift condemnation from the Swedish Prime Minister and led to Turkey summoning the Swedish ambassador. These high-profile incidents added further complication to Sweden's NATO accession journey.

Turkey adopted a notably assertive stance, emphasising its military concerns and exerting pressure on Stockholm to extradite individuals labelled as "Kurdish terrorists," whilst also urging the removal of the arms embargo. In contrast, Hungary's grievances appeared less centred on military issues and more on what were perceived as trivial matters. Their primary objection focused on Sweden's curriculum and rhetoric, particularly the debate over democratic backsliding in Hungary. This distinct contrast underpins the diverse nature of the challenges faced by Sweden in managing diplomatic relations with both Türkiye and Hungary.

That said, Victor Orban, long considered to be a populist anti-establishment figure in European politics, has recently taken a surprising turn by endorsing Sweden's entry into NATO. Having previously obstructed Sweden's membership, many speculated that his reluctance was tied to his good relations with Putin, drawing comparisons with Erdogan's Türkiye. Despite these suspicions, Orban's decision to allow Sweden into NATO signals a significant shift in his political stance. Nato is now stronger; more unified than ever in its entire history.

Thus, amidst diplomatic negotiations, contentious political debates, and unforeseen incidents, the accession of Sweden into NATO, facilitated by the eventual diplomatic capitulation of Türkiye and Hungary, not only redefines the contours of alliance politics in the region but also illustrates the resilience and adaptability of international institutions in the face of evolving global threats.

Image: U.S. Department of State

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