NATO leader Jens Stoltenberg said there is no way to predict when Finland and Sweden will be able to join the alliance, despite initial expectations that the two Nordic nations would be swiftly accepted.
“We are working to find a solution as soon as possible, but when…several countries are involved, there’s no way to say exactly when these countries are going to be able to agree,” Stoltenberg said Monday at a press conference in Sweden.
Stoltenberg visited Finland and Sweden on Sunday and Monday to discuss the status of their applications to join NATO and the best way to address objections from Turkey. Talks between the three nations have continued, but Finnish President Sauli Niinisto suggested that not much progress has been made in meeting Ankara’s demands—that the countries take “concrete steps” to crack down on terrorism and allow arms sales to Turkey.
“The progress is maybe just the fact that we have open lines. We continue discussions,” he said during a press conference Sunday. “I don’t see any major differences in the way Finland deals with Turkey’s terrorism issue if you compare it to other existing NATO countries. So that makes [it] a bit difficult to understand that we are pointed out.”
Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO on May 18. The historic move after decades of neutrality was driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Joining the alliance will require the support of all 30 NATO members, but Turkey objected because of concerns that Sweden and Finland support a Kurdish group, the PKK, which is considered a terrorist group by Ankara. Turkish officials have called for the extradition of 40 terrorism suspects from Sweden and Finland as one condition to consider allowing the NATO applications to move forward.
Finland and Sweden are both advanced democracies that already train and operate with NATO with Western militaries, leading many to speculate the application process would move much faster for them than it did for former Soviet states, who needed years to learn Western military doctrine and transition to Western military equipment before joining the alliance. Even Stoltenberg said in April, before Turkey raised its objections, that he expected all allies to “easily” welcome them.
“We had reasons to believe this was going to be supported by all allies, then Turkey has raised some concerns,” Stoltenberg said Sunday in Finland.
NATO members are meeting in Madrid this month for a major summit to set the alliance’s strategic priorities for the next decade. Many had hoped Finland and Sweden could formally join NATO by the summit, but Stoltenberg said the meeting was never part of the timeline to consider the applications.
“The summit in Madrid was never a deadline,” Stoltenberg said Sunday in Finland. “At the same time, I would like to see this solved as soon as possible….When a vital, key ally as Turkey raises concerns on terrorism, then of course we have to sit down and take them seriously and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
Sweden and Finland are taking steps to show Turkey it takes combating terrorism seriously. A new anti-terrorism law will go into effect July 1 in Sweden, foreign minister Ann Linde said. Niinisto also said Finland is working on new legislation on the country’s fight against terrorism.
Stoltenberg added that NATO still has “the ambition of making this a decision that doesn’t drag out too long.”
Some experts feared that Russia may attack Sweden or Finland after they applied, but before they were members and therefore covered by NATO’s security guarantee, especially after Moscow threatened in May to respond “accordingly” if they tried to join the alliance. But Stoltenberg argued the nations are already “in a better place” for security than before they applied, since some nations, including the United States and United Kingdom, have offered both nations security assurances if they are attacked while their applications are pending.
“If Sweden was attacked, I deem it as unthinkable that NATO allies wouldn’t react,” Stoltenberg said Monday.