The regular summer summit of NATO is going to be held on Tuesday and Wednesday in Vilnius, the capital of the Baltic state of Lithuania. NATO summits have always been important, but the 2023 edition has become all the more important because of the Ukraine war and NATO’s enlargement.
The agenda of this summit is full of important items. Increasing NATO support for Ukraine is one of them. There is a visible difference between the support extended to NATO by the Baltic and Eastern European countries and the remainder of the European NATO countries in general.
Some 3,000 government representatives from 50 countries are expected to participate in the summit.
Another group of 2,000 media and nongovernmental organization representatives are expected to arrive in Vilnius. For a city of just half a million inhabitants, it will definitely cause some congestion, but the Lithuanian government is taking measures to accommodate all of the delegates. This summit will be the biggest meeting that Lithuania has ever hosted. Schengen practices were suspended on the borders of Lithuania one week ahead of the summit. And air traffic will be suspended on the days the meeting takes place.
Last month’s failed march to Moscow by the Russian mercenaries of Wagner, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, demonstrated that there are intriguing aspects to this affair. Prigozhin last week resurfaced with the release of a voice message. Prigozhin’s whereabouts remain a mystery. As the Ukraine war unfolds, we may face other surprises in this crisis. The NATO leaders will assess all aspects of the war, including Prigozhin’s last move.
Military measures to strengthen the eastern borders of the alliance will be one of the most important subjects of the summit. When I worked at NATO headquarters in the mid-1970s, the question of increasing the target share of national gross domestic product to be spent on the military to a figure above 2 percent was a permanent item on the NATO agenda. The chairman of the military committee used to say that the figure he proposed was an “irreducible minimum,” but many countries ignored it and continued to keep the proportion of their military budget below 2 percent. I do not think this attitude is likely to change any time soon.
In 2023, only 11 out of 31 member states will fulfill their promise to keep their defense budget above 2 percent of GDP. They are the US, the UK, the three Baltic countries (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia), Finland, Poland, Greece, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania. They are largely the countries that are exposed to the Russian threat.
Turkiye’s military budget share of GDP is below 2 percent. According to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, there is a declining trend in Turkiye’s defense spending. We will see whether the European members of NATO will agree to increase their defense spending in light of the Ukraine war.
Military measures to strengthen the eastern borders of the alliance will be one of the most important subjects.
Meanwhile, deliberate acts of inciting religious sensitivities continue unabated in Sweden, hampering the country’s efforts to win over Turkiye and gain accession to the alliance. In addition to the act of burning pages of the Holy Qur’an in front of the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm last month, a new similar act was committed in front of a mosque, again in the Swedish capital. In the first act, Turkiye was at the forefront because the pages of the Qur’an were burned near the Turkish Embassy. This time, the fanatic chose a holy day and did it in front of a mosque.
The Swedish courts may find such acts of offending the feelings of the adherents of other religions to be legitimate. However, they do not serve any useful purpose; on the contrary, they incite enmity between nations.
The Turkish-Swedish feud has become one of the most important questions on the NATO agenda.
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom referred to the law that the Swedish parliament passed recently, which recognizes the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is known as the PKK, as a terrorist organization. The Swedish courts have made efforts to soften Turkiye’s stance. They extradited a Turkish citizen who had been convicted of drug smuggling. Another law related to the fight against terror entered into force on June 1 this year.
But the biggest surprise came from former Foreign Minister Ann Linde. She made a statement that changed the parameters of the Turkish-Swedish divide. Contrary to what the Swedish authorities used to claim, Linde said on a TV program that Sweden heavily supported the activities of the PKK in the country, adding that she understood Turkiye’s concerns over terrorism and acknowledged that Stockholm was involved in financing the PKK. She said the Swedish government made available to the PKK a sum of $376 million.
This confession changes entirely the parameters of the Turkish-Swedish feud on whether the PKK benefited from the tolerance of the Swedish authorities.
Linde continued by saying: “I think that Turkiye is seriously exposed to terrorist attacks and we are not taking it seriously. Sweden needs to do more to address Turkiye’s security concerns before gaining membership, including its failure to take a stand against terror groups threatening Turkiye and tolerating or even supporting such groups on its soil. (President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan is rightly criticizing Sweden for not taking the threats by the terrorist organization PKK seriously.”
These confessions must have relieved the Turkish delegation to the NATO Summit to a very large extent. Erdogan plans to meet Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson in Vilnius. He will no longer need to persuade Kristersson that the Swedish government financially helped the PKK in Sweden.
We do not know whether, after Linde’s confession, Sweden will be able to continue to extend financial assistance to the terrorist organizations operating on Swedish soil.
• Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkiye and founding member of the ruling AK Party.