I was puzzled by this move by Turkey to block swift approval of Sweden and Finland to NATO

Finland and Sweden formally applied to join NATO on Wednesday in another step toward the Western military alliance’s expansion. The full accession process could take a year, and the countries will need to overcome objections from Turkey, which blocked swift approval of their applications.

Why is Turkey objecting to their NATO entry?

  • 33
    Keep in mind that the official reason is not necessarily the actual reason. I've heard a few speculations in the media that Turkey sees this as an opportunity to get concessions. E.g., the US has blocked them from buying fighter jets after they bought military equipment (if I remember correctly, an air defence system) from Russia ...
    – Roland
    Commented May 19, 2022 at 5:34
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    @Roland It was Turkey's purchase of Russia's S-400 surface-to-air missiles that led the US to block Turkey from buying US F-35 fighter jets, and later sanction Turkey further. I have read multiple sources that claim that Turkey's stated rationale is being used behind the scenes as leverage to lift US sanctions on Turkey, which are much broader than Turkey's ejection from the F-35 program. A side problem is that Greece might object to restoring Turkey to the F-35 program, which might well make Greece object to Sweden and Finland so it can get leverage to stop that restoration. Commented May 19, 2022 at 9:25
  • 1
    Explained here.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented May 19, 2022 at 10:55
  • 22
    They're not objecting, they're trying to abuse the NATO rules to squeeze a benefit for themselves...
    – ilkkachu
    Commented May 19, 2022 at 12:24

3 Answers 3


According to Turkey's President Erdoğan, they will not immediately approve the enlargement unless Turkey's own security concerns are considered.

In general, Erdoğan believes that they have not received their fair share of support from NATO in protecting Turkey's borders or handling refugees. More specifically he believes that various NATO and non-NATO nations are directly or indirectly supporting the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the People's Defense Units (YPG), which Turkey considers terrorist organizations.

A summary of a recent address by Erdoğan to a parliamentary meeting with his party can be found here, and some relevant quotes from Erdoğan:

"The fact that the humanity has come to the brink of a great confrontation yet again after the Second World War as made visible by the war on Ukrainian territory has brought security balances to the forefront. NATO is in pursuit of strengthening its eastern borders. Accordingly, various steps are being taken with a view to enlargement"

Pointing to Türkiye’s sensitivity regarding the protection of its borders against terrorist organizations’ attacks, President Erdoğan said: “Because of this, we have had a lot of sufferings and casualties for years and have paid heavy prices. We still pay. Unfortunately, almost none of our allies has respected this sensitivity of ours in the manner or to the extent we have expected, let along [sic] give us support. We have not forgotten the days when air defense systems were dismantled and taken away from our country at a time when the PKK and DAESH were charging towards our borders.”

"Today as well, we are one of the top countries that actively support the Alliance’s activities. Yet, this doesn’t mean that we will say ‘yes’ to every proposal brought before us. NATO's enlargement is meaningful to us only to the extent that our sensitivities are respected. Asking us for support for NATO membership while providing every kind of support to the PKK/YPG terrorist organization amounts to incoherence to say the least."

President Erdoğan continued his remarks as follows: “The things that have been done in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Sweden... Are we supposed to not see these? The things that have lately been done in Sweden, and we have wanted 30 terrorists. They said, ‘We don’t give.’ You don’t give us terrorists but then ask us for NATO membership. NATO is a security establishment. It is a security organization and therefore we cannot say ‘yes’ to depriving this security organization of security."

  • 19
    To add more context, this is the group commonly known as the Kurds. The US protected them in Iraq after the 1st gulf war, considered them valued allies in the second, and again in the fight against ISIS. So that quote seems about right -- almost none of Turkey's allies respect their sensitivity about the Kurds. It's not a unique Swedish/Finnish issue. Commented May 19, 2022 at 12:33
  • 60
    I'd just note that Turkish "sensitivity about the Kurds" is a fairly Turkey-centered phrasing. Turkey has understandable objections to Kurdish armed separatism & terrorism within its borders; but it's tough to disentangle that from Turkey's desire for the Kurds cease existing as an ethnic or linguistic group--through plenty of domestic human rights abuses & killings over the last century; or internationally through bombings and attacks on Kurdish populations in Syria and Iraq.
    – Tiercelet
    Commented May 19, 2022 at 14:24
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    The official reason is almost never the real reason of the "objections". Commented May 20, 2022 at 7:01
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    @ypercubeᵀᴹ That's true, but we can't speculate as to what the "real" reason might be, because we can't read Erdogan's mind. We can only go by what's officially been said.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented May 20, 2022 at 8:13
  • 6
    I agree that your answer is good and answers the question (what are Turkey's objections). But I'd change that "Erdogan believes" to something else (Erdogan "states" or "argues"). We can't really know what they believe. Commented May 20, 2022 at 8:26

Relations between the countries don't explain the hard stance Erdogan is taking. For example, Sweden and Turkey have many connections: https://www.mfa.gov.tr/relations-between-turkey-and-sweden.en.mfa and so do Finland and Turkey: https://www.mfa.gov.tr/relations-between-turkey-and-finland.en.mfa

But Turkey has an election next year and Erdogan's popularity is dropping due to bad economic situations, corruption scandals and a bunch of other issues. He desperately needs something to prop himself up again. His war in Syria isn't bringing results that can be sold to the public, and the crackdown on any opposition is causing more and more unrest.

The NATO thing just conveniently arrived. Since NATO must accept new members unanimous, he can leverage this to press other countries into concessions, which he can use a) directly by showing how powerful and strong he is and b) indirectly with whatever economic or other benefits he manages to press out of his allies.


Finland and Sweden provide asylum to Kurds from the PKK (militant arm of the Turkish Kurds) and the YPG (ditto for Syria).

Turkey considers these groups to be terrorists worse than ISIS (not suggesting this is correct, just that this is the opinion of the Turkish government).

For an analogy, if e.g. Morocco was sheltering Basque terrorists, suddenly wanted to join NATO, it is in the geopolitical interests of the other NATO members for them to do so, but Spain could veto the process, would Spain do so?

  • 6
    I don't think that what you're stating be incorrect; I just want to point out that it would be great if you could add references to support it.
    – Jan
    Commented May 20, 2022 at 11:33
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    Terrible analogy. Commented May 20, 2022 at 12:13
  • 3
    @MDevelopment care to explain why?
    – Eugene
    Commented May 20, 2022 at 17:22
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    PKK is recognized and classified as a terrorist organization by all Western countries including the European Parliament and the Council of Europe as well as the United States, not only by Turkey.
    – GokcenG
    Commented May 21, 2022 at 13:54
  • I am downvoting this. As seen by the latest extradition of two PKK terrorists, Sweden does not provide asylum to PKK terrorists. It should be noted that Erdogan has a broader definition of terrorists than the EU. svt.se/nyheter/utrikes/…
    – ghellquist
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 19:48

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