NATO members rallied around Finland and Sweden on Sunday after they announced plans to join the alliance, marking another dramatic shift in Europe’s security architecture triggered by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Meeting in Berlin over the weekend, the majority of NATO foreign ministers supported the bloc’s expansion to the north, a process that requires unanimity among the 30 allies. The only country to express concern was Turkey, with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu unhappy that Finland and, in particular, Sweden have had relations with Kurdish militants who have been active in eastern Turkey.
Sweden will send a team of diplomats to Ankara for talks this week and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said he hopes to resolve last-minute problems in the enlargement plan.
“Turkey has made it clear that its intention is not to block membership,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Berlin. He said that he was confident that Turkey’s concerns would not delay the membership procedure and that his aspiration “is still to have a fast and speedy process.”
The Helsinki and Stockholm governments are set to deliver their formal requests to NATO headquarters in Brussels by the end of the week, once their respective parliaments have signed.
Turkey caused an aftershock of anxiety among the two new applicants on Friday when it suddenly drew attention to what it called its support for Kurdish “terrorists.” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government had previously indicated that it would view his candidacy favorably.
Turkey has long complained about insufficient cooperation from NATO and European allies in its fight with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is classified as a terrorist organization by the US and the European Union, and the YPG, a related group operating primarily in Syria.
“Turkey conveyed its concerns during the NATO expansion meeting,” Cavusoglu told reporters in Berlin. “To be specific, the representatives of these two countries held meetings with members of the PKK and the YPG and Sweden also provided weapons.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he is “very confident” allies will agree to support the expansion. Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said “the opportunity is greater than any bilateral problem” and called for a speedy process to admit applicants.
The move is another pillar in the transformation of the European security landscape after Russia’s attack on Ukraine prompted Germany to abandon its postwar reticence about defense spending and embark on a massive revamp of its military.
“It is hard to imagine a greater change in the security environment than our neighboring country attacking a nation of 40 million people to violently overthrow its government,” Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said on Sunday. “That showed us that the security architecture that we rely on in Europe, like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, didn’t work and couldn’t prevent war.”
In Finland and Sweden, the February 24 invasion sparked a shift in public opposition to NATO membership almost overnight, despite Russia warning they could face consequences.
Once the formal requests have been submitted, NATO must decide whether to consider the request. He will then hold talks with the countries on their membership obligations before the NATO council signs a possible accession protocol. The longest step is ratification by the 30 national parliaments and the whole process could take up to a year.
Stoltenberg said NATO would look for ways to protect the two countries while his request is ratified.
At the end of that process, NATO will get two modern and sophisticated armies with equipment that is already compatible with the equipment used in the bloc and an improved ability to defend the three Baltic states: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Finland guards a border with Russia that is about 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) long, has a reserve of 900,000 soldiers, and can deploy 280,000 of them in times of war. It clings to a conscription-based system in which most men and some women undergo military training that lasts from six months to a year.
The two have been partners and have trained with NATO forces in the past, although they remained outside the reach of their collective security guarantees. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock went so far as to say on Sunday that they are already “de facto NATO members, just without membership cards.”
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