Turkey withdrew its veto on the entry of Finland and Sweden into NATO. This paved the way for the admission of the two Scandinavian countries as members of the alliance, breaking with historic policies of neutrality. From the beginning, the supposed Turkish veto was not definitive, with the country seeking to bargain, “creating the difficulty to sell the facility”, in the popular saying. In the end, what did Turkey win and what are the possible catches in this final bargain?
According to the memorandum signed by the three foreign ministries, Sweden and Finland will not embargo arms sales to Turkey, they will support Turkey’s entry into the PESCO mechanism, they will stop “support” for Kurdish groups, they will change their laws on terrorism and extradite them. “suspects” of terrorism. The three countries will share intelligence and establish a “joint mechanism” for consultations on justice and security.
At a glance, it seems that Erdogan’s Turkey got everything it wanted, but on a closer look, it turns out that much of it is a prank, made for popular consumption. Selling to the public as a great victory what is practically a formality or just, in good Portuguese, a scene game. First, the so-called “arms embargo”. In the Finnish case, it did not even exist in practice, only in theory.
Sweden even vetoed some exports of sensitive equipment to Turkey, but when the three countries become members of NATO, they are on the same level as members of the alliance. The country that initiated the blockade of some arms exports to Turkey was the US, not Sweden or Finland. This blockade is due to both the Turkish acquisition of Russian systems and the Turkish offensive in Syria.
The interruption of “support” for Kurdish groups was made in an intentionally subjective spelling, and Sweden has classified Kurdish groups as terrorists since the 1980s. Extradition of “suspects” of terrorism? This is a judicial process, to be decided by the courts of both countries, it is not something that the Executive can guarantee. Share intelligence? Well, something else that would already happen, since the countries will be allies within the scope of NATO.
In the coming months, we will certainly have a sequence of events similar to the following. Turkey requests extradition of Kurdish militant refugee in Scandinavian country. The Turkish government has already provided a list, naming 33 people who were part of Kurdish organizations accused of terrorism and who are currently either in Sweden or Finland.
After the Turkish request, the government of the Scandinavian country receives the request and forwards it to its Judiciary. In a rather lengthy process, the court “sits” on the request and, at length, decides against extradition, either for the right to refuge, or because it considers that Turkey does not meet any extradition requirement. The decision prompts a complaint from the Turkish government.
The Scandinavian government will claim that it has done what it can and that it needs to respect the autonomy of the judiciary, and Turkey will accept the decision under protest. All this while everyone is sitting at the same NATO table, in a theater for different audiences. Turkey, of course, will still maintain the position that it can veto both countries, but it has already managed to maintain the appearance of having won.
It may even be that one or another activist is actually extradited if he is responsible for some serious and objective crime, such as murder. The main “facility” that Turkey wanted to sell is thinking about the supply of armaments. In this case, Sweden and Finland served as cards in the Turkish sleeve for talks with NATO’s main partner and the world’s greatest military power, the US.
Erdogan had a bilateral meeting with Joe Biden, in which the US president publicly said that he “supports Turkish efforts to modernize its air force”. In plain English, the US government will likely comply with the Turkish request to buy 40 new F-16 fighter jets, plus 80 modernization kits for the F-16s already in service in Turkey.
That sale had been frozen by the US since 2019, when Washington also pulled Turkey from the F-35 next-generation fighter program, both decisions in retaliation for Turkey having acquired Russian anti-aircraft systems. Turkey knows that it will hardly be able to return to the F-35 program in the short term, especially with the current war, but it is an important first step.
The next step will be to guarantee the supply of western components that Turkey wants to incorporate into its own arms industry. An important detail is that Washington will maintain its traditional policy of balancing sales of military equipment, and Turkey’s historic rivals, Greece, will also be “contemplated”, being able to acquire up to 20 F-35 fighter jets, the same of the last generation that the Turkey “lost”.
At the end of the day, Finland and Sweden will be NATO members, as they wish. Turkey will lift part of the arms sales embargoes and its government will be able to sell the public a diplomatic victory. The US maintains its role as the liaison for the alliance and acquires a large arms sales contract. Far from being a “Turkish victory”, in fact, virtually everyone involved gained something.
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