America Is the Real Winner of Sweden’s NATO Ascension

America Is the Real Winner of Sweden’s NATO Ascension

While the invasion of Ukraine has certainly drawn the European continent closer together, it has also reinforced U.S. control over that increasingly solidified bloc.

 

In a somewhat surprising move, Turkey has decided to support the bid of Sweden to join NATO. Stockholm’s impending ascension will make it the 32nd country to join the transatlantic alliance.

Speaking on July 10, NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg announced that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had dropped (or at least put aside) his previous reservations and “agreed to forward the accession protocol for Sweden to the Grand National Assembly as soon as possible, and work closely with the Assembly to ensure ratification.” This news was unexpected by many, especially considering the fact that only several hours earlier Erdoğan was demanding EU membership for Turkey as a precondition for its support of Sweden’s NATO ascension.

 

Stockholm’s initial bid to join the alliance was put forward in May 2022 as a response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, Ankara was hesitant to back the Scandinavian country’s application due to the latter’s perceived failure to crack down on members of the PKK (Kurdish Worker’s Party). Sweden has some of the most generous asylum laws in the EU and has accepted millions of refugees over the last several decades, including many Kurds. Ankara claims that some of these individuals have ties to the PKK and are subsequently operating out of Sweden to plot attacks and sow political chaos in Turkey. Erdoğan has also criticized Sweden’s refusal to resolutely condemn nationalist demonstrations that feature the burning of the Quran.

But the various obstructions were apparently cleared up after Stoltenberg met with both Erdoğan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson later in the day. There have not been any subsequent announcements regarding Turkey’s desire to join the EU. It instead appears that the other factor influencing Ankara’s decision to stall Sweden’s bid—the desire to secure a deal for F-16 jets from the United States in return for promises that they will not be used to threaten Greece—has played a larger role. The Biden administration had been working on a four-country deal that would clear the way for F-16 sales, so progress on that front could certainly have been used as leverage for getting Turkey to sign on to Sweden’s NATO membership.

The geopolitical haggling should come as no surprise and is simply a reaffirmation of the age-old maxim that something is never had for anything. More importantly, though, Sweden’s impending ascension is proof of the increased commitment to collective security that has swept across Europe in the wake of Russia’s invasion. Sweden brings with it a population of 10 million, a GDP of well over $500 billion, and has recently committed to increasing its defense spending to at least 2 percent (a benchmark that every NATO member is supposed to be meeting).

Unfortunately, this fact will have no impact on encouraging the United States to divest itself from Europe and support the creation of a more independent security framework for the latter. The collective GDP of Non-U.S. NATO currently stands at $20.1 trillion compared to Russia’s $1.6 trillion, and its population is 585 million (dwarfing Russia’s 146 million). Despite another economically developed member state signing onto the transatlantic alliance, Sweden’s additional inputs amount to a mere drop in NATO’s already massive resource pool. The logic of an independent Europe has existed since 1991, but the political will to reduce the United States’ wildly inflated defense role on the continent is as much lacking in Washington as it is in Berlin or Brussels.

The discussion over F-16 sales in this regard is more consequential than the simple process of back-and-forth compromise that is inevitably a part of every international deal. Rather, the weight of U.S. arms sales and the prospect of securing favorable terms on the part of Ankara is indicative of a major factor dictating U.S. security engagement with Europe in particular and the world more generally. U.S. military spending currently stands somewhere around $800 billion in comparison to non-U.S. NATO’s $300 billion. Still, of the portion of non-U.S. NATO spending and resources, Turkey is far and away the largest contributor. Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 surface-to-air missiles back in 2019 was a major snub to Washington. It also resulted in sanctions being placed on Turkey.

The prospect of EU membership is undoubtedly a strong economic incentive for Turkey, but getting back in the good graces of the United States may have also played a role. It is not outlandish to imagine the United States telling Erdoğan to shelve the EU talk for the time being, accept some political posturing from Sweden, be content with general statements against Islamophobia, and subsequently receive a favorable deal for U.S. jets. Shortly after Turkey gave the okay to Sweden’s ascension, the Biden administration announced the completion of the F-16 deal, as well as U.S. support of Ankara’s military modernization efforts.

No one, including those in the halls of power, is trying to hide the role of U.S. defense sales in dictating broader transatlantic policy. Moral qualms aside, there is nothing inherently shady about Washington selling arms to exert geopolitical influence; however, it is important to acknowledge this dynamic if one wants to understand international developments in their entirety.

There can be no doubt regarding the reality of U.S. hegemonic control over the European security environment. That is not to discount Washington’s ideological ties to the continent, nor is it to approach the commitment to liberal democracy with cynicism—the borderline brinkmanship of U.S. and European support of Ukraine should dispel any doubts over whether or not the West is genuine in the belief of its principles. But the unfolding of events suggests that it is Washington that walks away the true winner, both economically as well as ideologically.

From the artic edges of Scandinavia through the continental heartland and onto the edges of Anatolia, there has been an outpouring of newfound commitments to defending the principle of national sovereignty. But while the invasion of Ukraine has certainly drawn the European continent closer together, it has also reinforced U.S. control over that increasingly solidified bloc. Whether or not this is of any real benefit to the United States’ citizenry—the only citizenry to which its government is constitutionally beholden—is, of course, another issue entirely.

Dominick Sansone is a Ph.D. student at the Hillsdale College Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship. Previously a Fulbright recipient to Bulgaria, his writing on politics in the Black Sea region has been published by The National Interest, the Euromaidan Press, The American Conservative, and RealClear Defense, among other publications. He also previously wrote as a contributing columnist focusing on Russia-China relations at The Epoch Times.

Image: NATO/Flickr.