Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom speaks during a news conference at the State Department, in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022.InternationalIndiaAfricaFinland and Sweden jointly applied for NATO membership in May 2022, abandoning their long-standing non-alignment policy. While both nations originally intended to walk down the NATO aisle together, Sweden’s bid has stalled, whereas the Finnish one appears more promising, sparking a rift between the Nordic neighbors.Despite the recent delay in admission, Sweden has no alternative to joining NATO, the country’s Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom has proclaimed.
"It would have been very unfortunate if you were to talk about a plan B at all, as it would undermine the whole point of becoming a NATO member," he said in a statement.
So far, the Swedish application has been approved by 28 of the bloc’s 30 countries, except for Hungary and Turkiye. Ankara initially voiced strong opposition to both bids over Finland and Sweden’s “leniency” toward the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkish authorities consider to be a terrorist organization, yet softened its approach to Helsinki following months of negotiations. Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkiye’s parliament would start ratifying Finland’s accession. Hungary has meanwhile indicated that it would approve Finland’s bid on March 27, signifying that Sweden’s application will be discussed at a later date.Sweden’s already troubled NATO talks were complicated further at the start of 2023 by a string of high-profile provocations, which include Turkish President Recep Erdogan hanged in effigy in Stockholm, a Quran-burning, ostensibly intended as a “lesson in free speech” for Turkiye, and, lastly, a cartoon contest held by a Swedish newspaper specifically to mock the Turkish leader.Billstrom admitted that his country “has a longer way to go than Finland,” yet said he was “completely convinced” that Sweden would join the US-led military bloc during the alliance’s summit in Vilnius, Lithuania in July.WorldPKK Getting ‘Significant’ Financial Support in Sweden, Stockholm Admits27 February, 06:47 GMTHelsinki and Stockholm jointly applied for membership in May 2022, abandoning their long-standing non-alignment principle and citing changes in Europe’s security situation due to Russia’s special operation in Ukraine. Since then, the leadership of both nations has emphasized the importance of the two Nordic neighbors, Finland and Sweden, “walking together.” That, however, has appeared all the more unlikely, as ordinary Finns, the country’s political parties and even the nation’s top leadership are all increasingly in favor of going at it alone.Among others, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto confirmed that Helsinki may join NATO before Sweden. Niinisto noted that holding off and saying “no” to Turkiye’s willingness was “far-fetched” and would have put Finland “in a very difficult position.” Meanwhile, he assured that Sweden wouldn’t be worse off in the meantime, citing bilateral agreements with the US and its Nordic peers.With that said, Sweden’s floundering NATO bid has sparked criticism from both allies of the minority government led by the liberal-conservative Moderates and the opposition. Among others, the Sweden Democrats, their right-wing rivals-turned-allies lambasted the Turkish head of state as an “Islamist dictator” and cautioned the government against going too far in trying to please him. Most recently Former Prime Minister and currently the leader of the opposition Social Democrats Magdalena Andersson argued that Billstrom himself may have made the NATO process more difficult by allowing himself to be pressured by the Turkish president.“The risk is that you send a signal that you are prepared to give more,” Andersson told Swedish media.Stockholm’s NATO quandary continues despite the government’s apparent readiness to jump through hoops to accommodate Erdogan’s demands, even at the cost of sacrificing what it previously presented as matters of principle and human rights causes. Among others, Sweden disavowed any support to the PPK, greenlit arms exports to Turkiye and extradited several people on Ankara’s wishlist.