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Why Turkey Is Imperiling NATO Enlargement

Turkey’s current negative stance toward Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership applications should not be seen as a categorical decision to block the two Nordic countries’ accession. But political leaders in Helsinki, Stockholm, and Ankara must now prepare their respective publics for an inevitably flawed agreement.

ISTANBUL – One of the key geopolitical consequences of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine has been the return of hard security concerns to mainstream European politics. In some European countries, like Germany, Putin’s invasion has triggered a commitment to increase defense expenditures. In traditionally neutral Finland and Sweden, a surge in public support for NATO membership was followed by applications to join the alliance. NATO’s Madrid summit at the end of June has thus quickly been transformed into a milestone event heralding the alliance’s further enlargement.

But NATO enlargement requires the consent of all member countries, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated that his country is “not of a favorable opinion” regarding the Swedish and Finnish applications. Erdoğan’s negative stance, which he justified on the grounds that the two countries are harboring Kurdish terrorists, is imperiling further NATO enlargement at a time of great geopolitical uncertainty.

On the other hand, Turkey has traditionally supported NATO’s open-door policy toward potential new members, and Erdoğan’s statement should not be read as a categorical decision to block the two Nordic countries’ accession. In fact, it advances two other objectives.