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In a sudden reversal, Turkey agrees to back Sweden's bid to join NATO


In a sudden reversal at the NATO summit, Turkey has agreed to back Sweden's bid to join the alliance. The decision has to be ratified at the Turkish Parliament, but it is seen as a major step forward after Ankara spent months blocking Sweden's application. Another issue that NATO's leadership hopes to resolve at the summit is the budget. In 2014, the allies had pledged to increase their minimum defense spending to 2% of each country's national GDP. Those goals have not been met. Joining me to add some insight into all this is Daniel Fata. He's a public policy expert and a former senior defense official for Europe and NATO. We reached him at the summit in Lithuania. Now, Mr. Fata, thanks so much for joining us.

DANIEL FATA: Good morning.

MARTIN: So we've been reporting on Turkey's opposition to letting Sweden join for more than a year now. Just yesterday, Turkish President Erdogan had demanded EU membership for Turkey in exchange for Sweden's admission to NATO. So what do you think prompted Turkey to change positions? It seems rather abrupt.

FATA: It is abrupt, but it's also a part of a pattern. If you look at the past few summits, President Erdogan has been a holdout for many things, and he uses this as a negotiating tactic. I think having a path for EU membership has been important for him, and there really hasn't been a lot of traction within recent years. So I think, you know, if you are him, you leverage this appropriately to try to get concessions that matter to him because Sweden obviously matters to the rest of the alliance, including Turkey.

MARTIN: So what role do you think the U.S. played in getting Turkey and Sweden to agree? I'm just noting that the Swedish prime minister was recently in Washington meeting with President Biden before he left for the summit. Did the U.S. play some role here?

FATA: With regard to the EU, I'm not sure. But I do believe what we're going to hear - and you can see the White House statement that came out yesterday, which is lacking details - is there was a role that the White House played with President Erdogan. President Erdogan has wanted more advanced F-16 fighter jets. He was in the F-35 program. He's not because of some decisions to buy Russian equipment. So I believe, and what we're hearing here on the ground, is that one of the things that helped put this over the edge was the U.S. agreeing to sell advanced fighter craft to Turkey.

MARTIN: I want to mention that Finland was also recently admitted to the alliance. What does adding two Nordic countries strategically add for the NATO alliance?

FATA: Great question. Both companies - both countries - sorry - bring a lot of capability. Both were neutral countries in many ways, and both had to provide for their own defense. The Finlands have - the Finns have a long history with Russia, and so they bring a lot of immediate capability and an understanding of how Russia operates. And the Swedes bring a lot of naval power into this greater Nordic-Baltic area. So it really does help that part of Europe become more secure.

MARTIN: I want to ask about the budget, another issue that NATO is hoping to resolve. There are reports that NATO allies have agreed to raise military spending to at least 2% for each country. But, you know, it's not a secret that the war in Ukraine has put a strain on many European economies and that increasing the defense budget could add additional strains. What are you hearing about this at the summit?

FATA: All the presidents and prime ministers will meet in what's called the North Atlantic Council session, and they will start to unveil all the - we can call them deliverables, but all the announcements. One of the major announcements - and it might well - if it's not Ukraine first, it'll be this - is that all nations have agreed now to spend 2% of GDP as the minimum, so as the floor. Ten years - or nine years ago at the Wales summit in the U.K., allies agreed to the goal should be 2%. Now here you're going to see that it's going to be the floor, so no less than 2%. And all 31 allies will agree to that.

MARTIN: Does this represent a compromise of sorts, or does this - something that you really feel that there's agreement on?

FATA: I think it's something that there is real agreement on. Earlier today, a bunch of the prime ministers were here. And the prime minister of Estonia offered a couple interesting statistics of - one of which I'll mention. She said in 1988 - so a year to two years before the wall fell down - allies were spending 2% because there was a threat. Today, we see only 11 members spend 2%. I think what you're seeing is a recognition of the threat, and that's what's going to drive us to all get to 2%.

MARTIN: That's Daniel Fata. Daniel, thanks so much for sharing this expertise with us.

FATA: Great. Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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