On countering terror, Sweden is rightly on the ropes
Sweden has no big choice but to own up to the reality that it is impossible for Turkiye to look the other way when militants are readily encouraged, and headway is denied through state support.
When it comes to cracking down on Turkiye-focused terrorist outfits and their known affiliates, Sweden has fallen well short of expectations. Its lax progress on extraditing affiliates to Ankara, for instance, has been a major point of division in bilateral relations. Turkiye has long kept the door open for peace and trusted Sweden’s resolve to deliver in time. But it is the right call to put that generosity to the side for a nation that is visibly committed to sheltering terrorists, anti-Turkiye radicals as well as far-right outfits.
It is a fact that Stockholm’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) membership prospect is on thin ice, and there is zero space for Sweden to extend any kind of refuge to PKK (Kurdish) militant outfits on its soil. The outlawed group has made it its mission to target Turkiye’s sovereignty, and Sweden’s lax controls signal tacit support rather than tangible counterterrorism gains. Thus, Ankara is looking at a heightened prospect of Swedish complicity in anti-Turkiye violence, and not the kind of counterterrorism upside that Stockholm has sought to communicate through its Western handlers.
At present, the world hasn’t witnessed much movement from Sweden on the extradition front. This is despite significant pressure from Ankara, and it took a widely condemned PKK/YPG terrorist attack to trigger alarms beyond Turkish borders. The latter continues to give Sweden time to make amends, despite the glaring threat of terrorists seeking refuge in that country – often counting on the legal system to bend their way. The gaps in Stockholm’s anti-militancy resolve are also evidenced on many other fronts. For instance, it includes a reluctance to handover the desired number of Turkiye-focused militants directly to Ankara, breaching the very requirements of meaningful extradition. But despite Sweden committing in tone that it would cater to the core interests of Ankara – a prospective NATO ally – it has little to show for it thus far. Time to callout this reluctance for what it is: endangering peace and security through conscious choices.
Instead, banned Kurdish militant groups have overtly stepped-up efforts to target Turkiye’s sovereignty, making it a must to pursue decisive action against their affiliates in Sweden. In Ankara’s policy space, there is also a legitimate and heightened sense of alarm over coordinated attack risks in the future. One cannot even ignore the multiple levels of coordinated Turkish counterterrorism operations that are underway against Kurdish (PKK) militant hideouts, making it a surprising sight for Sweden to frustrate cooperation when desired most.
Make no mistake: persisting with such a soft spot for militancy will make it difficult for Sweden’s own NATO membership prospects to come through. After all, any sovereign country that vows to protect its people against terrorism will find external support for groups and personnel unacceptable. That is the message from Turkiye, and the weight of its NATO vote could put Sweden on the ropes. Even Finland is having second thoughts on moving for NATO membership in lockstep with Sweden, understanding that the stakes are too high.
Interestingly, Stockholm’s push to secure NATO membership cannot materialize in complete isolation from Turkiye and its evolving security interests. The membership process itself demands credibility from all members within the alliance, making it imperative to focus scrutiny inwards to court Ankara’s vote. Doing so also demands sober recognition that terror group affiliates in Sweden are capable of coordinating anti-state activities against Turkiye, and have done so in the past.
In effect, Sweden has no big choice but to own up to the reality that it is impossible for Turkiye to look the other way when militants are readily encouraged, and headway is denied through state support. Turkiye’s hard-fought intelligence-based gains against major terror outfits have also successfully tempered the challenge of militant activities, and should be seen as a favor to Sweden’s own sovereignty as militancy is not confined to borders alone. Is it then in good taste for Sweden to look the other way on Turkiye’s legitimate security demands?
Only if the goal is to move past complacency, Stockholm may deliver tangible gains. But it’s inadequate movement on freezing terrorist assets as requested by Ankara, as well as an extradition process that has been spun legally and politically, make it all an exercise in self-inflicted damage. These facts will eventually demand a reckoning, making it prudent to prioritize action from the outset and get its house in order.
A trilateral agreement signed between the two offered clues on how Stockholm could regain lost ground. Implementing it remains critical to reducing trust deficit with Ankara on the counterterrorism front. It is also a useful lever to eliminate the impression of inaction against PKK militants, which could ultimately backfire on Sweden’s NATO membership dreams and is a test of credibility. For instance, the inclusion of Finland in that same pact offers a chance to expand Sweden’s security coordination in a two-track approach involving Turkish and Finnish intelligence support.
But given how Sweden’s foreign minister has gone on record to tout so-called “concrete” state progress on the agreement, the stakes are high for it to put such rhetoric into action or bite the bullet on NATO. So far, the latter appears true. There is no lenient lifeline on terrorism.