You are here

Turkiye Leverages Sweden’s NATO Accession Bid

Mr Abhishek Yadav is a Research Analyst in the West Asia Centre at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • February 28, 2024


    Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a presidential decree on 25 January 2024 approving the ratification law passed by the Turkish Grand National Assembly to allow Sweden to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).1 This decree formally promulgated Turkiye’s ratification of Sweden’s NATO accession agreement that the Turkish Parliament adopted on 23 January 2024. Turkiye though extracted substantial concessions from Sweden and other nations in exchange for approving Sweden’s bid to join NATO. While Turkiye supports NATO expansion to counter Russian aggression, it leveraged its position as an existing member with veto power to negotiate benefits aligned with its national interests.

    Arms Embargo

    Turkiye initially opposed Sweden’s bid when Sweden formally decided to pursue NATO membership in May 2022 in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. To secure Ankara’s support, Sweden authorised military equipment deliveries to Turkiye in September 2022, reversing restrictions imposed in October 2019.2 These included electronic systems, software and technical assistance from Swedish defence companies. The licensing decision by Sweden was taken in consultations with the cross-party Export Control Council to ensure broad political support. This decision reflected the changed defence and security circumstances based on Sweden’s NATO membership bid and the importance of cooperation with NATO allies like Turkiye. Sweden assessed cooperation with Turkiye through NATO as essential for national and mutual security interests.

    PKK Concerns

    One specific condition Turkiye set for approving Sweden’s NATO membership bid was that Sweden stop providing support to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). As per Turkiye’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, over its more than 35 years of insurgency against the Turkish State, PKK, designated as a terrorist organisation by Turkiye, the US, the UK and the European Union, has been responsible for over 40,000 fatalities through its violent tactics to advance the Kurdish nationalist cause.3 Turkiye had accused Sweden of harbouring PKK members and allowing PKK fundraising and recruiting on its soil. To address Turkiye’s concerns, Sweden amended its constitution, changed counter-terrorism laws, and expanded counter-terrorism cooperation against the PKK as per the 2022 Trilateral Memorandum between Sweden, Finland and Turkiye.4

    The Swedish Government adopted a new comprehensive national strategy to address the evolving threat from violent extremism and terrorism.5 This updated comprehensive strategy will mobilise various security agencies, including the Swedish Security Service, Police, Contingencies Agency and the Swedish Centre for Preventing Violent Extremism. Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson justified the shift due to the insufficient nature of the previous framework given the heightened risks, signifying a strategic priority to reinforce counter-terrorism policies and institutions against violent groups.6

    In July 2023, Sweden and Turkiye agreed to continue cooperation through the Permanent Joint Mechanism established at the 2022 Madrid NATO Summit, as well as a new bilateral Security Compact that will meet annually at the ministerial level and create working groups as needed.7 After a series of negotiations and commitments from Sweden to crack down on PKK activities, Turkiye declared that Sweden had adequately satisfied this membership criterion related to the militant Kurdish group.

    With this PKK-related stipulation met to Turkiye’s satisfaction alongside security assurances, Turkiye formally ratified Sweden’s accession to the NATO alliance.8 However, as per media reports, there is a prevailing sense of discontent within the Swedish Kurdish community. Members of the sizeable Kurdish population, comprising an estimated 50,000–100,000 individuals, hailing from Turkiye, Iran, Iraq and Syria, feel targeted by the Swedish authorities amid efforts to appease Erdogan’s demands.9

    US Approves F-16 Aircraft

    On 26 January 2024, the US State Department authorised a potential Foreign Military Sale to Turkiye involving the purchase of 40 new F-16 aircraft and the modernisation of 79 existing F-16s to V-Configuration at an approximate cost of US$ 23 billion. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) officially informed Congress of this prospective sale.10 The proposed sale aims to assist Turkiye, a NATO ally, in expanding and modernising its F-16 fleet, addressing the impending retirement of older aircraft. By acquiring these new and upgraded aircraft, Turkiye seeks to bolster its defence capabilities, contribute to NATO missions for regional security, defend NATO allies, and uphold interoperability with US and NATO forces.

    Notably, in December 2020, the US imposed sanctions on Turkiye’s Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB) under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017 (CAATSA) legislation for procuring the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system.11 Despite repeated warnings from the US about security risks and boosting Russia’s defence sector, Turkiye decided to acquire the S-400. Consequently, Turkiye was suspended from the F-35 programme, given the S-400’s incompatibility with NATO systems.

    On 26 January 2024, US Senator Ben Cardin, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, highlighted that he had predicated approval of the F-16 sale to Turkiye on the condition that Ankara support Stockholm’s NATO accession bid. While acknowledging Turkiye’s strategic value as a regional NATO ally, Cardin specifically conveyed that ongoing discussions aimed to compel improvements in Turkiye’s human rights record on issues like the imprisonment of journalists and civil society leaders, cooperation on holding Russia accountable for aggression against Ukraine, and inflammatory rhetoric regarding the Middle East.12

    On 14 February 2024, US Ambassador to Turkiye Jeff Flake emphasised the importance of selling F-16 fighter jets to Turkiye, arguing it would strengthen NATO, ensure future interoperability between allies, and enhance Turkiye’s capacity to contribute to collective security, having the Alliance’s second-largest military.13 He contended that improved US–Turkiye relations would advance American security, power and prosperity interests across multiple fronts.

    Flake also highlighted Turkiye’s expanding domestic defence industry production of drones, components, engines and artillery as integral to the US defence supply chain and NATO strength. He cited a partnership with Turkish defence firms to increase diminished US munition stockpiles that have been heavily tapped to assist Ukraine against Russia’s invasion. Flake noted that new Texas production lines purchased from a Turkish defence company by 2025 are expected to supply 30 per cent of all American-made 155 mm artillery rounds, further exemplifying the benefits of US–Turkiye defence industry collaboration.

    Canada and Arms Exports

    The Canadian Government found credible evidence that some Canadian military goods and technologies exported to Turkiye, specifically sensors integrated into Turkish Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), have been utilised in the conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh, Libya and Syria, contrary to Canada’s export permit requirements and end-use assurances.14 Therefore, on 16 April 2020, Canada implemented a presumptive denial policy for applications to export or broker munitions to Turkiye.15 Notably, Canada is bound under the international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), as its Article 11 covering diversion specifies that State Parties take measures to prevent the diversion of conventional arms.16

    After Turkiye’s ratification of Sweden’s application to NATO membership, Canada lifted the presumptive denial policy for applications to export or broker munitions and related items to Turkiye on 29 January 2024. Applications will now be assessed on a case-by-case basis as per Canada’s risk assessment framework and ATT commitments. For items where Turkish government entities are the end user, exporters must obtain end-use assurances from the importer stating whether items will be re-exported outside NATO and outlining the permitted end use.17 An established notification procedure covers certain components, like the Wescam sensors used in Turkiye’s Bayraktar TB2 drones and specified dual-use goods and arms, as part of the lawful international arms trade18 to ensure accountability and transparency.

    Turkiye has expressed that it will soon achieve self-sufficiency in manufacturing key drone components currently imported from abroad.19 This includes achieving domestic production capabilities for specialised optical sensors and other technologies utilised in unmanned aerial systems like the Bayraktar TB2. By localising production, Turkiye aims to establish its own reliable and sovereign supply chain for strategic aerospace and defence equipment needs.


    Through a transactional approach tied to Sweden’s NATO accession process, Turkiye effectively leveraged concessions from Sweden and other NATO allies, including lifting of restrictions on arms exports and expanding security cooperation. Going forward, Turkiye will have to demonstrate greater accountability and transparency on issues like human rights, regional conflicts and end-user usage of arms to address concerns from the US, Canada and other NATO allies.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.