Turkish Parliament's Crucial Decision: Sweden's NATO Membership and the F-16 Factor



by SEDEDIN DEDOVIC

Turkish Parliament's Crucial Decision: Sweden's NATO Membership and the F-16 Factor
© Sean Gallup / Getty Images

The Turkish parliament is gearing up for a key debate this Tuesday afternoon, centered on ratifying Sweden's bid for NATO membership. The complex issue took an unexpected turn as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan linked it to Ankara's desire for the United States to sell F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.

The backdrop to the debate includes Sweden and Finland, which, breaking decades of military non-alignment, have expressed interest in joining a US-led defense alliance following Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year. While most NATO members immediately approved their membership requests, Turkey and Hungary were exceptions.

Finland finally became NATO's 31st member in April, leaving Turkey and Hungary as the only countries still to have ratified Sweden's bid, even 19 months after its application. The Turkish parliament's foreign affairs committee faced a deadlock in November when it failed to agree on a text for a parliamentary vote.

As the committee meets again on Tuesday afternoon, all eyes are on the decision that will shape the fate of Sweden's NATO membership.

A positive change in Swedish politics

President Erdogan's previous objections to Sweden's NATO membership were withdrawn in July, after Stockholm cracked down on Kurdish groups Ankara considers terrorists.

Fuat Oktay, an MP from Erdogan's ruling AKP party and head of the parliament's foreign affairs committee, acknowledged the shift in Swedish politics and expressed optimism about the developing situation. After the committee agrees on the text, there will be a parliamentary vote in which Erdogan's ruling coalition has a majority.

Pressure from NATO allies on Turkey has escalated, and France has gone so far as to question the alliance's credibility.

USA F16

Erdogan suggested in December that parliament would act on Sweden only if the US Congress approved Turkey's requested purchase of dozens of F-16 fighter jets and spare parts, and if other NATO allies, including Canada, lifted an arms embargo on Ankara.

"Positive developments from the United States regarding the F-16 and Canada fulfilling its promises will accelerate the positive attitude of our parliament (on Sweden's membership bid)," Erdogan said.

Nato Recep Tayyip Erdogan Washington