OPINION - Did Sweden get into NATO?

OPINION - Did Sweden get into NATO?

NATO summit’s Western media blitz gave a different impression despite Turkish President Erdogan making clear that Sweden is still far from membership

By Dr. Adam McConnel

- The author teaches Turkish history at Sabanci University in Istanbul. He holds an MA and Ph.D. in history from the same university.

ISTANBUL (AA) - “But don’t let appearances fool you. There’s always only one reality.” [1]

In the coming weeks and months, I imagine that Europeans and North Americans who concern themselves with international politics will experience conversations along the following lines:

Person 1: “… so when Sweden joins NATO, Europe will have a unified deterrent against Putin.”

Person 2: “Wait, I thought Sweden was in NATO?”

Person 1: “Not exactly. The Turkish parliament still needs to approve their accession.”

Person 2: “But I thought Sweden was accepted to NATO during the Vilnius conference?”

Person 1: “Not exactly. The press and most NATO officials tried to make it look like that, but actually Sweden was not accepted to NATO. In fact, not much changed at all.”

Now that almost two weeks have gone by after the media frenzy over NATO’s Vilnius conference, I wonder if anyone in the Western press has begun to wonder: “Did I dream all of last week?”

Overwhelmed by the glad-handing and brilliant smiles, the glitzy 24/7 Western press coverage, and the hyperbolic but vague language, casual observers could be forgiven for thinking that Sweden was now a full-fledged NATO member. Even the New York Times stated openly that “Sweden joined NATO” on its main web page on Wednesday, July 12. [2]

However, if one takes a moment and goes to the member list on NATO’s official website, they will notice that Sweden’s name is not there. [3]

- The Vilnius media show

The Vilnius NATO conference’s full-throated Western media blitz seemed to be a bizarre effort by North American and European governments and international press organizations to create a “fait accompli” atmosphere around Sweden’s NATO candidacy.

That campaign played out in the following manner. In the days before the conference, Turkish officials engaged in a number of high-level conversations with American, European, and NATO officials.

That same period was also characterized by numerous Western officials and press articles mentioning that NATO, Washington, and Brussels all expected the immediate finalization of Sweden’s NATO membership, and that Türkiye was the malcontent ruining the party. [4]

The diplomatic traffic was so frenetic that when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan connected Türkiye’s EU accession process to Sweden’s NATO membership - which had a bombshell effect on the international news wires - the first thought to come to my mind was that some sort of deal had been struck over the preceding days.

That was late Sunday and early Monday on July 9-10; President Erdogan traveled to Vilnius after providing press comments that Monday morning.

Starting the same day, amid the head-spinning diplomacy, various American and European officials announced that Türkiye had “green-lighted” Sweden’s NATO accession. [5] That elicited a flood of official statements and news flashes which utilized rhetoric implying that Sweden had been accepted to NATO.

For around 36 hours, the world press went with that interpretation, while the domestic Turkish press remained calm and focused on the continuing diplomacy. During those 36 hours, an interesting gap emerged between the mirage presented by the international press and the reality presented by the Turkish press.

Only on the evening of July 12, when President Erdogan gave his closing remarks, did the gap begin to close. In his statements, President Erdogan made clear that nothing had changed, and that Sweden still had responsibilities to fulfill before the Turkish parliament would consider approving Stockholm’s membership. [6] In fact, that had been the case for the past year.

- What just happened?

Given the non-stop news cycle, the Vilnius conference now seems like distant history, and the press narrative concerning Sweden’s NATO accession has largely returned to the status quo ante. But another interesting Western press narrative did emerge from last week’s NATO conference, which presented itself for differing interpretations: “Türkiye is reorienting itself to the West.”

That theme originated in the afternoon of July 10, after President Erdogan’s comments concerning Türkiye’s EU accession that morning. [7] It was then expanded upon, sometimes in a nearly plagiaristic manner, by other writers. [8] However, not even a week elapsed before President Erdogan set off on a tour of the Gulf states.

Such patent misinterpretations of short-term Turkish political developments are, unfortunately, entirely normal for Western press commentators struggling to interpret the Turkish scene for their readers. Something as profound as the reorientation of a country’s political tack can only be identified over the mid- to long-term, and over multiple events and decisions.

For those reasons, the most immediate question that emerges regarding the international media’s behavior during the Vilnius NATO conference is exactly why all of this “sound and fury” was deemed necessary.

Journalists, of course, write according to what they identify as interesting and to what their editors want or allow; the interpretations of both journalists and editors are affected by numerous factors, including prejudices and political contacts.

Maybe NATO officials felt a need to create a positive atmosphere in an otherwise extremely distressing time, something which all NATO governments and citizens can appreciate.

A Potemkin facade of unity and harmony to present to the rest of the world, to provide some positive public relations vibes in an era of war, internal discord, and rising international tensions, would be an important element in that effort.

Maybe some NATO officials or politicians were delusional enough to think that they could pressure Turkish officials into concessions. Or was the actual target the US Congress?

Whatever the case, journalists who got caught up in the charade, whether willingly or unknowingly, should not forget the advice given to Aomame by the taxi driver in 1Q84’s opening pages.

The reality is that Sweden must definitively act against the PKK and FETO terrorist organizations and other terrorist groups present in Sweden, to end those organizations’ ability to operate on Swedish soil. And only the Turkish parliament will decide whether Sweden has fulfilled those conditions or not.

[1] Haruki Murakami. 1Q84, Chapter 1. Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel, translators.

[2] Later the same day, the NYT tacitly admitted the error by publishing this article: Erdogan Says Yes, but Not So Fast, to Sweden’s NATO Bid - The New York Times (nytimes.com)

[3] https://www.nato.int/nato-welcome/index.html

[4] For example: NATO’s Welcome Party for Sweden Is Back on Ice - The New York Times (nytimes.com)

[5] European leaders welcome Türkiye’s green light for Sweden’s NATO bid (aa.com.tr); Turkey Clears the Way for Sweden’s Entry to NATO on the Eve of Summit - The New York Times (nytimes.com)

[6] Sweden’s accession to NATO at discretion of Turkish parliament: President Erdogan (aa.com.tr)

[7] Why is Erdogan linking Sweden’s NATO bid to Turkey’s EU membership? - Middle East Eye

[8] For example: Erdogan’s Flip on Sweden Signals Mending of Ties With U.S. - The New York Times (nytimes.com)

* Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu.

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