In a significant development, NATO has escalated its pressure on Turkey, a member nation, to withdraw its objections to Sweden’s membership within the alliance. The military organization is determined to resolve this issue before the upcoming meeting of U.S. President Joe Biden and other world leaders next month.
Apart from addressing Sweden’s potential membership, the 31-member alliance is actively exploring options to enhance Ukraine’s non-member status within NATO and establish a comprehensive security framework that can be implemented once the conflict with Russia comes to an end.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg emphasized the alliance’s goal of integrating Sweden into its ranks before the meeting of allied leaders in Lithuania scheduled for July 11-12. During the same event, they also aim to make significant progress on long-term funding and formulate a robust security plan for Ukraine.
Stoltenberg reiterated the allies’ consensus on Ukraine eventually becoming a NATO member. In the meantime, the alliance must provide Ukraine with security commitments and substantial new funding.
Speaking on the matter, Stoltenberg stressed the need for credible arrangements to guarantee Ukraine’s security in the future and put an end to Russia’s cycle of aggression. While the duration of the conflict remains uncertain, it is crucial to be prepared.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken highlighted the allies’ focus on assisting Ukraine in building its medium- and long-term security capacity. The objective is to equip Ukraine with the necessary capabilities to deter future aggression once the ongoing conflict subsides.
Blinken further emphasized NATO’s role in helping Ukraine meet the organization’s standards but refrained from providing specific details.
The concerns of being targeted by Moscow following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year prompted Sweden and Finland to abandon their traditional positions of military nonalignment and seek protection under NATO’s security umbrella. Finland officially became NATO’s 31st member country in April.
For a country to join NATO, unanimous agreement among all member states is required. Turkey’s government has accused Sweden of being lenient toward terrorist organizations and security threats, including militant Kurdish groups and individuals associated with a failed coup attempt in 2016. Hungary has also delayed its approval, although the reasons for doing so have not been publicly disclosed.
Stoltenberg revealed plans to travel to Ankara in the near future to continue discussions on ensuring Sweden’s accession to NATO at the earliest opportunity. He confirmed that his staff and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s team were working on finalizing the trip’s dates.
Stoltenberg expressed his belief that Sweden’s membership should be ratified, and he was confident that Hungary would also approve the accession protocol. The German Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, emphasized the importance of welcoming Sweden as the 32nd member of NATO, affirming the Swedish government’s full support.
Sweden’s Foreign Minister, Tobias Billström, urged Turkey and Hungary to initiate the ratification process for Sweden’s NATO membership, cautioning that any obstacles preventing Sweden from joining NATO would be viewed as a victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Over the past months, Sweden, Finland, and Turkey engaged in discussions to address Ankara’s concerns. Billström expressed his expectation that clarity would be achieved during an upcoming meeting of the “permanent joint mechanism” in the coming weeks.
Billström highlighted that Sweden had recently tightened its anti-terrorism laws, including measures such as making it illegal to finance, recruit for, or publicly support terrorist organizations, as well as travel abroad with the intention of joining such groups.