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Sweden, Türkiye, and NATO: Rational choices leading to a breakdown in negotiations?

Written by Manfred Sintorn

Edited by Miguel Andres Reyes Castro

Supervised by Ginevra Bertamini

Sweden’s NATO application looks as if it is on the cusp of derailing once more after 21 August comments from Türkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In the context of Sweden’s NATO application, Erdoğan asserted that “Sweden must first of all take care of the streets of Stockholm. If they don’t take care of their streets, if these attacks on the things we hold sacred continue, then they shouldn’t blame us” (Hacaoglu, 2023, para. 2). This statement follows a summer of Qur’an burnings that have soured Sweden’s relations with most of the Muslim world, Türkiye included (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation [OIC], 2023), severely increased the risk of terror attacks on Sweden and motivated direct threats by militant Islamist groups (Swedish Security Service, 2023; Johnson & Ahlander, 2023). 

These developments have led Sweden’s prime minister to describe the current security environment as “the most serious security-political setting since the second world war[1]” (Alström, 2023, para. 1). The rise of anti-Swedish sentiment is also suspected to be magnified by malign actors, especially those with an interest in derailing Sweden’s NATO process (Nyberg, 2023).  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the rise in this sentiment has been specifically tied to actors supported by Russia, whose purported aim is to disturb Swedish foreign relations, its NATO application process, and stoke religion-based tensions within Sweden (Nyberg, 2023). 

[1] “Vi befinner oss i det allvarligaste säkerhetspolitiska läget sedan andra världskriget”