GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 697, 2 April 2023

NATO: Turkey greenlights Finland’s membership
Padmashree Anandhan

NATO: Turkey greenlights Finland’s membership

What happened?

On 30 March, Turkey’s General Assembly voted in favour of Finland joining NATO. Turkey becomes the 30th NATO member to ratify the membership after Hungary approved the same on 27 March. According to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party’s legislator: “As a NATO member, we naturally had some expectations and requests regarding the security concerns of our country.” Finland and Sweden jointly applied for NATO membership in May 2022 and were blocked by Turkey and Hungary. They cited the reason being the extradition of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) categorised as terrorists by the EU and the US, concerns against terrorism, and cooperation over arms exports.

On 30 March, Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö said: “Finland will be a strong and capable Ally, committed to the security of the Alliance.” On the same NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg appreciated Turkey’s ratification: “I welcome the vote of the Grand National Assembly of Türkiye to complete the ratification of Finland’s accession. This will make the whole NATO family stronger & safer.”

Sweden’s membership is yet to be approved owing to the Swedish government's denial to extradite the PKK terrorists. Additionally, the burning of a Quran triggered gaps between the two countries and hence Turkey's disapproval of Sweden’s consolidation into NATO. The contentious relationship between Turkey and Sweden led Finland to pass legislation on 01 March to go ahead alone with the membership process.

What is the background?

First, Turkey’s pressure points. One of the key reasons behind the block was the denial of extradition of PKK terrorists by Sweden. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will face elections in May, and the extradition is necessary to keep the domestic criticism at bay. Furthermore, Turkey has a long-standing demand for F-16 fighter jets from the US which was retracted after Turkey purchased Russia’s S-400 missile system. Turkey’s complex but close relations with Russia make the approval difficult as they collaborate over matters of northern Syria, energy imports, and financial loans. While there has been a slight shift in past years upon Erdogan adopting a “transactional” foreign policy approach

Second, Finland’s membership in NATO. Finland which is known for military neutrality, especially during the cold war became a member of the EU and frequently collaborated with NATO in the peace programme and exercises. The Ukraine war made Finland reevaluate their stance as it shared a direct border with Russia. Although the goal was to join along with Sweden, considering the common security threat Finland, Turkey and Sweden face. They signed a trilateral memorandum to close down the negations to enter NATO. Due to a change in the bilateral relationship between Turkey and Sweden, Finland swiftly detached itself from Sweden to join NATO alone and convinced Turkey into accepting its bid. They were able to convince by introducing measures to combat terrorism and disinformation through new anti-terror laws, extradition of PKK individuals, granted the first commercial export license to Turkey for military material. Upon the ratification, with completing the remaining procedures Finland is set to join NATO soon.

Third, European security. Finland’s membership in NATO is not just to secure regional security but also to add 800 miles into NATO’s border extending into the Baltic Sea and the Arctic. Along with the ground advantage, Finland and Sweden are known for their “first-rate military forces,”, especially Finland’s artillery forces. Finland joining NATO met its immediate threat of securing its 1300 kilometres border with Russia through a “mutual defence” guarantee.

What does it mean?

First, a military advantage for NATO. Finland's membership places NATO in a militarily strategic position to expand its exercises across the Baltic Sea and the arctic. Although this heightens the risk of being on the direct border with Russia, and now NATO has to ensure to assemble measures to prevent escalation. Additionally, NATO’s access to Finland’s defence ministry and decision-making guarantee’s security of Finland.

Second, From the Ukraine war point of view, it would be backlash for Russia. As another country joins the allyship with Finland joining NATO strengthens the Ukrainian cause. Therefore, the new red lines will push for new possibilities and would require Russia to re-strategize its position in northern Europe and NATO’s operations in Finland.