Last week, the Turkish Parliament voted in favor of Sweden’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a presidential decree supporting Sweden’s NATO accession. Sweden abandoned its previously held position of military nonalignment to seek protection under NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Sweden’s difficult progress to NATO accession illuminates the pitfalls of NATO’s accession requirements under Article 10. Turkey and Hungary’s blockades of Sweden’s NATO accession, intended to leverage concessions from member states, erodes NATO’s solidarity and devolves the organization into a battle of political gamesmanship. In response, the United States and its allies should work with NATO candidates to solidify their alliance and commitments to collective security, thereby strengthening resolve against Russian aggression.
NATO’s Article 10, Explained
The North Atlantic Treaty, signed by 11 European countries, Canada, and the United States on April 4, 1949, established the guidelines for NATO membership requirements and obligations for collective defense. Outlining the membership process is Article 10, which stipulates that member states must unanimously consent to invite and approve other select European nations for them to accede to NATO.
Article 10 has been instrumental in facilitating NATO’s expansion through the Cold War and into the present day. Greece and Turkey acceded in 1952, and West Germany acceded in 1955 to buttress Western European security against the Soviet Union. Following the end of Soviet rule in 1991, various former Soviet Republics acceded, including Poland and Hungary. Montenegro and North Macedonia joined in 2017 and 2020, respectively, and Finland joined in 2023, bolstering European security capabilities amidst fears of heightened military engagement from Russia during the Russian-Ukrainian War.
The Pitfalls of Article 10
As international security threats pertaining to Russian military aggression persist, experts are raising concerns regarding how certain countries are taking advantage of Article 10’s unanimous approval stipulation to gain political and economic concessions.
As NATO’s swing state, Turkey pivots between supporting the Western alliance and Russia, thereby attempting to elevate the nation as a powerbroker. Before the 2023 NATO Summit, Erdogan pledged Turkish support for Sweden’s NATO accession, only to backpedal two days later by saying the plan needed to be approved by the Parliament. Erdogan further demanded that the United States sell $23 billion in American F-16 aircraft and modernization kits before Turkey approved of Swedish accession. The Biden administration approved of the sale after overcoming objections from congressional representatives, like Senator Ben Cardin, over Turkey’s human rights record. Instead of considering the collective security of the alliance, Turkey calculated to take advantage of Article 10 to solely benefit its own security, thereby leaving NATO more susceptible to political divisions that can hamper collective defense efforts.
Hungary is currently the only remaining roadblock to Sweden’s accession. Although Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban endorsed Sweden’s NATO accession and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg expressed optimism that such accession will occur by the end of February 2024, Hungarian parliamentary leader Laszlo Kover claimed that he does not “feel any particular urgency” to expedite Sweden’s accession.
This gamesmanship presents further dangers when considering potential consequences on internal NATO solidarity. By enabling these states to legitimize their actions, Article 10 risks undermining NATO’s founding principle of democratic security and initiative to “safeguard the freedom and security of all its members by political and military means.” NATO’s mission relies on commitments to collective security and democratic institutions, and one commitment cannot be maintained if the other is undermined.
As Russia continues intensifying its invasion of Ukraine, the United States and its fellow NATO members need to work together to balance its objective of collective security without alienating core NATO allies like Turkey and Hungary. The United States should also continue to promote NATO by working with countries on their plans to allocate 2% of their Gross Domestic Product to defense spending to adhere to NATO commitments. The United States and its allies should ultimately make it clear that NATO is critically important to not only serve the interests of its members, but of the international community.