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Turkey Opposes New NATO Memberships

What’s happening?

This week, Finland and Sweden formally applied for NATO membership—a move that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan opposes. Turkey’s stance is likely to roadblock what would normally be a smooth alliance expansion. Turkey is one of NATO’s 30 member states and new memberships are decided unanimously. 

The pushback has come as a surprise for NATO, Sweden, and Finland. According to Finland’s President, Erdogan expressed support for Finland’s membership in early April. Turkey has also historically supported NATO expansion, including possible memberships for Ukraine and Georgia.

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Why are Finland and Sweden applying?

Article 5 of NATO’s treaty states that an attack on one member is an attack on all, committing members to mutual defense. Until now, Finland and Sweden have refrained from joining the alliance, maintaining positions of neutrality and non-alignment. This is partly to avoid provoking Russia, a major regional power, with which Finland shares a 1300 km land border.

However, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has drastically shifted Europe’s security landscape. Finland and Sweden’s Prime Ministers have stated that the war has “dramatically shaped mindsets” in Nordic countries. Joining NATO would ensure security guarantees for the two countries—an appealing scenario considering Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

Why does Turkey oppose their membership?

Turkey claims Finland and Sweden’s alleged support for Kurdish militants is to blame. Sweden and Finland halted weapons exports to Turkey in 2019 after Turkey sent troops to Syria to attack Kurdish soldiers. Many Kurdish people have also relocated to Sweden in recent years. 

While Sweden supports Kurdish fighters in Syria against the Islamic State, Turkey views Sweden’s ties as support for the PKK. The PKK is designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US, and the EU.

Turkey’s opposition is also a likely response to military restrictions. This includes restrictions on military sales to Turkey since its 2019 incursion in Syria. The US also suspended Turkey from its F-35 fighter jet program after Turkey obtained Russian defense systems.

What’s the impact?

If approved, the new memberships would strengthen NATO’s resources in northern Europe and significantly alter the region’s security landscape. Finland’s long land border with Russia would be a huge asset to security and stability in the region for NATO, especially as the war in Ukraine continues.

However, the change might also escalate tensions with Russia and spark further retaliation. Potential repercussions could include:

  • Russian-backed disinformation campaigns intended to create division in Nordic countries.
  • Increased Russian military presence in the Baltic region.
  • The threat of nuclear war. Russia’s deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council recently said that nuclear weapons may be deployed in the Baltic Sea if Finland and Sweden join NATO. 
  • Escalation of the war in Ukraine.

Turkey may also leverage an opportunity for negotiations, making demands in exchange for the Nordic countries’ membership. This could mean agreements to minimize Kurdish support, re-admittance to the F-35 fighter jet program, and eased restrictions on other military sales to Turkey. 

Erdogan’s resistance to NATO’s expansion will also likely change how other NATO states view Turkey, potentially complicating relationships within the alliance. Turkey has maintained both military support with Ukraine and political support with Russia. According to Soner Cagaptay, a Turkey expert at the Washington Institute, “[t]here is no scenario under which Turkey does not end up being seen as (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s mole inside NATO.”

How Can OSINT Help?

Turkey Nato Screenshot

NATO is prioritizing capabilities for information environment assessments (IEA) to better understand friendly and adversarial activities. IEAs support strategic communications, early threat identification, and self-assessment for NATO’s own information environment activities. This is crucial for navigating outcomes related to Finland and Sweden’s membership—as well as any fallout should Russia retaliate.

Information environment assessments are supported by open-source intelligence (OSINT), relying on publicly-available data sources like social media. These sources can support NATO initiatives by:

  • Identifying early warning indicators for a variety of use cases, like tracking disinformation, evaluating public sentiment, and monitoring on-the-ground activities.
  • Providing real-time information so that analysts can keep pace with rapidly evolving information environments.
  • Using data sources specific to regions of interest—like northern Europe, Russia, and Turkey—to gather more accurate insights.

Specialized OSINT tools can help organizations like NATO generate faster, more comprehensive information environment assessments. Reach out to Echosec Systems to learn more about which data sources and software capabilities are currently valuable in target regions of interest, such as Europe.