WASHINGTON, DC — The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) is deeply concerned about the Biden Administration’s position regarding the sale of F-16 jets to Turkey.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan announced on July 11, 2023, that the Biden Administration “intends to move forward” with selling the latest version of the Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jet to the government of Turkey.
This came amid the latest NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, which took place from July 11-12, 2023. Accordingly, it would seem that the announcement from the Biden Administration is a direct result of Turkey indicating its approval of Sweden’s accession to join the NATO alliance.
Collective defense, which underpins the fundamental concept of NATO, is achieved by implementing cooperative security measures among the member states to deter potential aggressors. Cooperative security measures encompass military cooperation, the principles of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law. The United States is vital and indispensable to NATO, and NATO cohesion can only exist if the United States acts to maintain and enhance cooperative security measures. President Biden has frequently highlighted NATO as a centerpiece of US foreign policy, and the AHI supports efforts by the current Administration (and any U.S. Administration) to strengthen and bolster NATO.
While we understand that, most likely, there were complicated discussions between countries within NATO regarding the sale of arms to Turkey, we continue to have our reservations.
As we have expressed in the years since AHI was founded in 1974, Turkey has consistently acted to undermine the fundamental principles of NATO. The most egregious act was when Turkey purchased the S-400 missiles from Russia in 2017, resulting in U.S. sanctions and Turkey’s removal from the F-35 fighter jet program. Almost equally egregious is the fact that Turkey deliberately violates US laws on how Turkey can use arms which the US has supplied; under the Armed Export Control Act (AECA), Turkey can use US-supplied arms only for legitimate self-defense. For decades, Turkey has regularly sortied its F-16 fighters into the sovereign airspace of Greece without any act by Greece which could be remotely described as aggressive. Every time that Turkey uses U.S.-supplied aircraft to infringe on Greek airspace, it violates U.S. law, and in particular the AECA, by breaching the terms that apply to the sale and use of U.S. military equipment to foreign countries.
Moreover, in 1974, Turkey violated US law when it used US-supplied arms to unlawfully invade the Republic of Cyprus, has continuously occupied one-third of the territory of the Republic of Cyprus, and forcibly removed the rightful owners of property located in the occupied territory. As a result, in 1975, AHI successfully spearheaded a congressional arms embargo imposed on Turkey for their invasion of Cyprus and violation of the rule of law. AHI argued that Turkey violated the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (FAA) and the Foreign Military Sales Act (FMSA) in its invasion of Cyprus with the illegal use of American supplied arms and equipment. Forty-Nine years later, Turkey has not removed one soldier from the occupied part of Cyprus.
As such, AHI opposes the sale of F-16s to Turkey as a matter of principle, and most importantly, U.S. law. Turkey, unfortunately, has continuously displayed itself as not being a reliable and faithful ally, and there is no guarantee they will change course in the future.
To this day, the United States continues to maintain CAATSA sanctions on Turkey’s Defence Industry Agency (formerly Presidency of Defence Industries) for their purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems. As such, the U.S. transfer of F-16 jets to Turkey would not be appropriate, unless conditions are added and the jets are given to an entity other than Turkey’s Defence Industry Agency. Otherwise, this could potentially lead to an inappropriate undermining of the intent and authority of Congress.
Furthermore, in a broader context, Turkey, under President Erdogan, has promoted an aggressive, expansionist policy, pushing for hegemony in North Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Middle East. Enabling President Erdogan’s irredentist ambitions by supplying him with additional weapons is against the United States’ own interest.
We applaud the current détente in tensions between Greece and Turkey in the aftermath of the February, 2023 Turkey-Syria earthquake. Many have claimed this has ushered in a new ‘earthquake diplomacy’ between Greece and Turkey. In addition, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, where they purportedly had a positive discussion. In addition, President Erdogan and Prime Minister Mitsotakis have agreed to re-convene the High-Level Cooperation Council, which was inaugurated in 2010 and last met in 2016. The Council is composed of ministerial level officials from each country. The agenda items of the Council have included refugee/immigration policies, press, tourism, sports, and health.
However, temporary circumstances are not future guarantees. And in the case of President Erdogan, President Ronald Reagan’s maxim ‘trust but verify’ holds true. Given how unpredictable President Erdogan is, we must understand that his behavior can change at any moment. Let us not forget that President Erdogan talked about better relations with Greece in the spring of 2022, and then became erratic and belligerent after Prime Minister Mitsotakis addressed a Joint Meeting of Congress in May of 2022. In December 2022, President Erdogan went so far as to threaten to launch missiles at Greece. In 2022 alone, Turkey had violated Greek airspace over 11,000 times.
Turkey has blocked the accession of Sweden not in a good faith effort to benefit or enhance the policies and principles of NATO, but rather to cause the US to supply F-16s, the sale of which is unlawful under the AECA. At the NATO Summit, President Erdogan purportedly agreed to the accession of Sweden, yet no such agreement has yet occurred, as it needs to be ratified by the Turkish Parliament which does not meet until October. President Erdogan has strong influence over the Turkish Parliament, which provides him with more opportunities to leverage the accession of Sweden under the guise that the Turkish Parliament requires further concessions.
At least for the moment, Members of Congress have acted responsibly by opposing the sale of the F-16s unless Turkey complies with certain generally phrased conditions which are intended to protect the integrity of Greek sovereignty. However, the details of these conditions have not been specified, so whether these conditions will be effective, and to what extent, cannot yet be analyzed.
Two decades ago, Turkey refused to allow the United States military transit rights to open a northern front against Saddam Hussein unless it was given thirty-two billion dollars. At that time, a Bush administration official called Turkey’s negotiating tactics ‘extortion in the name of alliance.’ Today’s situation with NATO enlargement is no different. The United States must not repeat the mistakes of the past.