Baba’s Explainer – Turkey’s peace with Sweden and Finland joining NATO

  • IASbaba
  • July 4, 2022
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International Relations
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  • GS-2: Policies and politics of developed and developing countries.
  • GS-2: Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate.

Context: On June 28,2022 the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary-General announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Turkey, Finland and Sweden in a trilateral meeting held in Madrid, Spain.

  • The MoU was signed once the Finland and Sweden agreed to address the national security concerns of Turkey.
What is NATO?
  • NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – is a military alliance. It was formed in 1949 by 12 countries, including the US, UK, Canada and France.
  • NATO’s original aim was to counter Russian expansion in Europe after World War Two. NATO’s essential and enduring purpose is to safeguard the freedom and security of all its members by political and military means
  • Following the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, many of its former Eastern European allies joined NATO.
  • They must also provide military support to the alliance. NATO members agree to spend 2% of their GDP on defence
  • NATO is based on Collective defence principle enshrined in “Article 5” of NATO’s founding Treaty (Washington Treaty).
    • This principle views an attack on one member as an attack on all.
    • NATO has only once invoked Article 5, on September 12, 2001 following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in the US.
  • NATO has its headquarters in Brussels but is dominated by the massive military and nuclear missile power of the US.
  • The Treaty states that NATO membership is open to any “European state in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area”. It states that any decision on enlargement (new members) must be made “by unanimous agreement”.
    • In order to join NATO, countries must be democracies, treat minorities fairly and commit to resolving conflicts peacefully.

There are currently 30 members in NATO

  • Its original members were Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
  • Joining the original signatories were
    • Greece and Turkey (1952)
    • West Germany (1955, from 1990 as Germany)
    • Spain (1982)
    • Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland (1999)
    • Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia (2004)
    • Albania and Croatia (2009)
    • Montenegro (2017)
    • North Macedonia (2020).

Why didn’t Finland and Sweden not join NATO before?
  • Prevent Provocation of Russia: Both considered that joining the alliance would represent an unnecessary provocation of Russia, and so have long pursued policies of neutrality, and then non-alignment, to avoid antagonising a major regional power.
  • Pragmatic necessity of Finland’s for Peaceful Border: Finland’s concerns have been largely practical: it shares an 810-mile (1,300km) border with Russia, declared independence in 1917 after more than a century of rule by Russia, and its army twice fought off Soviet forces during the second world war before ceding about 10% of its territory.
    • A 1948 agreement of friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance with Russia isolated Finland militarily from western Europe, though the breakup of the Soviet Union and EU membership have since allowed it to step out of Russia’s shadow.
  • Ideological Opposition by Sweden: Sweden’s opposition to Nato membership has been more ideological. Its postwar foreign policy has focused on multilateral dialogue and nuclear disarmament and it has long seen itself as a mediator on the international stage, running down its military after the end of the cold war.
Why was Turkey against Sweden & Finland joining NATO?
  • Though there were no direct bilateral issues between Turkey with Sweden and Finland, Turkey was against the latter for their position on the Kurdish issue and extradition of activists.
  • Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is an organisation in Turkey that has launched an armed struggle against the Turkish government in 1984, calling for an independent Kurdish state within Turkey.
  • Turkey views PKK as terrorist organisation with an aim to de-stabilising Turkey and hence wants international support for cracking down of PKK.
  • Turkey had accused Finland and Sweden being home to Kurdish activists and militant organisations and being sympathetic to Kurdish cause.
  • Finland and Sweden had considered Turkey as an authoritarian nation against democratic norms and rights. Their positions on Turkey and support to Kurdish activists was based more on their principles relating to democracy, the rule of law etc.
  • Sweden and Finland had also imposed arms embargo on Turkey (i.e. these countries were not selling their weaponry to Turkey).
  • All these had made the relationship between Turkey and Sweden-Finland tense and hence Turkey had opposed their membership into NATO.
    • Since, enlargement of NATO’s membership is through unanimous agreement of all its members, Turkey’s approval is crucial for Sweden & Finland to joing NATO.
What are the key provisions of the MoU signed recently by three countries?
  • Joint commitment between Turkey, Finland, and Sweden to counter terrorism (i.e. common understanding on fighting Kurdish activists);
  • Addressing the pending extradition of terror suspects through a bilateral legal framework (i.e. Kurdish activists in Sweden & Finland will be sent back to Turkey),
  • Investigating any financing and recruitment activities of the PKK and all other terrorist organisations. (i.e. ensuring that financing of Kurdish activities is also cracked down)
  • Finland and Sweden have also agreed to lift arms embargo on Turkey (i.e. these countries will start selling weapons to Turkey)
  • Both countries also promised to stand against disinformation and to fully commit to EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy.
  • Since Finland and Sweden have addressed all the primary concerns of Turkey, Turkey will be supporting Sweden & Finland for joining NATO.
What factor made Sweden & Finland to join NATO?
  • The security threat from Russia looms large in Finland and Sweden today as Russia’s military aggression on Ukraine continues.
  • The fear of their own national security has pushed both nations to join NATO which in turn has made them agree to Turkey’s conditions.
What are the implications On Russia?
  • Russia while referring to the relations with Sweden & Finland as being respectful and mutually friendly cautioned these countries against joining NATO.
  • Russia had underlined that there are no territorial disputes with these two countries; hence they should not worry about any security threat from Russia.
  • If Sweden and Finland join NATO, it means an enlarged presence of the latter around the west and north of Russia.
  • This would go against the very objective of Russia interfering in Ukraine — maintaining Russian influence in its immediate neighbourhood.
  • For Russia, Finland and Sweden joining NATO not only means an increased NATO presence in its neighbourhood but also questions its Arctic interests.
    • Both Sweden and Finland are part of the Arctic States
    • Russia currently holds the Arctic Council chair and will remain the chair until 2023
What are the implications on NATO?
  • Strengthens Alliance: Both Finland and Sweden which have followed the non-alignment principle have broken from their natural rule and decided to join NATO. This does not only mean guarantee of security against Russia but it also gives NATO the power to engage.
  • Gain strategic ground to counter Russia. The addition of more allies means a steady expansion of the NATO towards the East, through which it will now be able to exercise its military operations both on land and in the Baltic Sea, where Russia holds a strategic position
  • Pushes Russia for negotiation: With NATO encircling Russia from the West, Russia might consider the option to meet at the negotiating table at a later stage for larger rapprochement between Russia & West.
  • More secured Euro-Atlantic: NATO presence in the region will securitise and safeguard the Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which were earlier at risk due to their close proximity to Russia and Russian attacks.
  • Can Alter War Dynamics in Ukraine: This will enable NATO to bring in advanced weapons such as fifth-generation aircraft, technological weapon systems that can help Ukraine win the war.
Has the position of NATO improved?

NATO was facing existential challenges before the war

  • NATO appeared to be weakened during the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump, who frequently threatened to exclude from the U.S.’s protective umbrella any member states that did not pay enough for that privilege.
  • A further blow came when U.S. President Joe Biden pulled his country’s troops out of Afghanistan, a NATO military mission, more or less unilaterally.
  • Meanwhile, Russia had steadily been upping the ante against NATO publicly, since the late 2000s, criticising against NATO expansion, and since its annexation of Crimea in 2014, threatening further territorial expansion into Ukrainian territory.

However, the recent developments have strengthened NATO

  • Financial Commitment enhanced: Firstly, NATO allies other than the U.S. remained firmly committed to financing the organisation’s military needs. Their combined defence investments have jumped by $130 billion from 2014-19, in part driven by Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
    • Now, given the prolonged conflict in Ukraine, NATO has announced that it will increase its forces at “high readiness” from 40,000 to over 3,00,000 troops by mid-2023.
  • Expansion: Second, after decades of maintaining a position of neutrality, Finland and Sweden are set to join NATO possibly within a year, in a large part driven by the strategic insecurity they face from Russia.
    • The main point of such an expansion would be to tap into the military support that the two countries would provide to the alliance, the fact that Finland has a 1,340 km border with Russia and that both countries will, as required by NATO, spend 2% of their GDP on defence.

Mains Practice Question –Finland and Sweden joining NATO will further polarise Europe and endanger not just regional security but also global security. Discuss.

Note: Write answers to this question in the comment section.


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