Opinion & Analysis

What Benefits and Disadvantages do Sweden and Finland get from NATO?


This Info Flash will first examine the international relations between Sweden, Hungary and Türkiye, which have been tense since Sweden started its accession process to join NATO in the aftermath of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. With this context, the second part of the paper will conduct an analysis of the benefits and disadvantages for Sweden, Finland and NATO itself in accepting these new member states.


After the full-scale Russian attack on Ukraine, Finland and Sweden applied for NATO membership in May 2022. This decision broke with their usual reserved position regarding international organisations, especially NATO (Forsberg, 2023).

Both countries joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme in 1994 and the European Union shortly after in 1995 (Forsberg, 2023). Still, the government and the population felt as if NATO accession would provoke Russia; consequently, there was a perception that “the greater levels of deterrence and protection conferred by membership would be devalued by the increased Russian threat” (Forsberg, 2023, p. 90). However, both countries kept working together closely with NATO and “politically backed the goals of the alliance” (Forsberg, 2023, p. 89).

Sweden in NATO: a Complex Relationship

Why Türkiye does not want Sweden to become a member

Soon after Finland and Sweden announced their decision to apply for NATO membership, Türkiye reacted negatively to Sweden’s decision because, according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, neither Finland nor “especially Sweden, were doing enough to fight terrorism” (Forsberg, 2023, p. 23). However, it is known that Sweden has been criticizing Türkiye and some of its policies on human rights for some time (Reuters, 2020; SCF, 2021). And after Erdogan’s announcement, people protested in Stockholm, and an effigy representing Erdogan was publicly hanged upside down (Johnson, Hayatsever & Kauranen, 2023). These events worsened the relations between both states.

Sweden’s and Finland’s decision to apply for membership was, for most experts, a surprise, as they expected them to join for different reasons, for example, to simplify administration regarding military projects organized by NATO and the EU (Forsberg, 2023). In the end, after complex talks, Türkiye only agreed to backtrack on its veto decision on Swedish and Finnish accession through a so-called “trilateral memorandum of understanding” (Forsberg, 2022, p. 93). Still, the list of demands that President Erdoğan set up has only partially been fulfilled by Sweden, such as reforming terrorism and arms exports legislation (Ahlander & Johnson, 2022). Moreover, the demand to hand over a Turkish journalist who sought refuge in Sweden has been, until now, strictly declined (Ahlander & Johnson, 2022).

Why Hungary Does Not Want Sweden to Become a Member

The Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán also reacted negatively when Sweden and Finland announced their ambitions to join NATO. Orbán argued that both states “were spreading ‘outright lies’ about his country’s rule of law record” (Kottasová, 2023, para. 13). Later, Hungary and Türkiye softened their positions and agreed to Finland’s accession. But in Sweden’s case, as Hungarian Government Spokesman Zoltán Kovács publicly declared, “there is an ample amount of grievances that need to be addressed before the country’s admission is ratified.” (Than, Charlish & MacSwan, 2023, para. 5).

What is the Current Relationship Between Both States

At the end of March 2023, the Turkish parliament unanimously voted to approve Finland’s membership (Kottasová, 2023) and cleared the way for Finland to become a member officially. When Finland joined NATO on 4 April 2023, Türkiye did not show any resistance and showed no hostility towards Finland; however, it stands by its decision regarding Sweden’s accession. Consequently, this situation still presents a challenge, as Sweden cannot join without Turkish approval.

Nonetheless, despite Türkiye’s benefits to NATO, the country also presents some challenges to the alliance since it tends to disagree on various matters with the other members, for example, on the war in Syria (Coşkun, 2022; Bormann, 2015). The problem with Sweden is a very different one, as it concerns terrorism, and Erdoğan has demonstrated to be clear in his stance in several interviews, such as when he criticized Sweden and demanded the extradition of members of Kurdish groups (Tagesschau, 2023; Forsberg, 2023).

Consequently, discussions are currently stuck, and it seems as if this situation will continue after Erdogan’s reelection for a new five-year term on 28 May 2023. It was argued that Erdogan may benefit electorally, as the NATO discussion “may help divert voters’ attention away from a cost-of-living crisis” (Johnson, Hayatsever & Kauranen, 2023, “When Will Turkey Agree To Swedish NATO Membership?”, para. 14). The West still hopes that the inflation “and the likelihood that Mr Erdogan will have to concentrate on stabilizing finances and attracting foreign investment – could prove a soft spot to push for Sweden’s Nato accession as a quid pro quo [sic].” (Adler, 2023, para. 16).

Officials from the Hungarian Parliament, for their part, recently stated that there were still obstacles left regarding Sweden’s wish to join NATO and that they would not agree before these are removed, for example, the way Sweden is criticizing Hungary and their “erosion of the rule of law” (Cooper, 2023, para. 14). Other sources claim that Hungary will follow Türkiye in their policy towards Sweden, agreeing to its accession or refusing it (Korsche & Holderried, 2023).

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About the Author

 Louisa von Klinggräff is a research trainee at Finabel.