U.S. lawmakers in the Congressional Caucus for Hellenic Issues on Tuesday formed a united front to ensure that the Biden government does not proceed with the sale of F-16 aircraft to Turkey or the kits to upgrade of its existing fleet of F-16 fighter planes.
To this end, they have submitted a bipartisan amendment to the annual U.S. defence budget (NDAA) that forbids the U.S. president from transferring weapons to any NATO member that has in the last year repeatedly violated another NATO member state’s airspace, sovereignty or territorial integrity.
The amendment leaves a window that allows the president to overcome the restrictions, provided that he affirms that this is vital for U.S. national security and also provides a detailed breakdown of the measures to ensure that U.S. weapons are not used to violate the sovereignty of another NATO member.
In a joint statement, congressional representatives Chris Pappas, Charlie Crist, Carolyn B. Maloney, Dina Titus, Frank Pallone, and John Sarbanes noted that, while Turkey relenting over the issue of Finland and Sweden joining NATO was a welcome development, there were still too many outstanding issues to move forward with the transfer of F-16s. In the last decade, they noted, Turkey has not been a “productive member of NATO or a reliable ally to the United States”:
“ Turkey, specifically their Presidencies of Defense Industries, remains under sanctions through the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) as a result of their purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense system. The Biden Administration has not provided answers to how Turkey would qualify to be exempt from these sanctions and how the Administration would mitigate the risks of co-locating F-16s and modernisation kits with a Russian weapons system, which is why Turkey was removed from the F-35 program.
“ Since the beginning of 2022 Turkey has violated the airspace of fellow NATO ally Greece over 2,377 times, including 120 overflights over Greek territory. Turkey’s antagonistic actions in the Aegean Sea, as well as their hostile stance towards the Greek government, make it clear that they do not intend to suspend these aggressive and destabilizing actions soon. If the United States were to proceed with the sale of F-16s, American-made warplanes would undoubtedly be used to enter Greek airspace. This would violate the Arms Export Control Act, which only allows the transfer of equipment for legitimate self-defense operations. Over the past seven months, none of Turkey’s actions in the Aegean Sea related to Greece could be classified as defensive but rather are simply intimidation. The Administration has provided no information as to how they are working to have Turkey cease these antagonistic actions toward a U.S. ally.
“ Finally, in addition to Turkey’s aggression in the Eastern Mediterranean, President Erdoğan has announced he is on the verge of reinvading Syria with the specific intention of targeting Kurdish forces in the North. Many of these forces have previously fought alongside and assisted U.S. operations in the region. If Turkey were to obtain F-16 fighter systems, they would clearly be used in this new offensive against our Syrian Kurdish allies. The Administration has provided no information on how it would ensure these individuals, whom we have relied on in the past and may need to do so in the future, will be protected from U.S.-developed weaponry.
“ Until the Administration can provide suitable answers on how they intended to mitigate the above-listed concerns, we will continue to object to this weapons transfer and do everything we can to ensure that these F-16s are not delivered to the Turkish government.”
Members of the U.S. Congress, with democratic representative Frank Pallone playing a key role, also express concern that such a move will reward Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for not meeting Turkey’s commitments to either the U.S. or to NATO.
They noted that Erdogan elected to put personal gain above the collective good of the Alliance, opting to block the entry of Finland and Sweden until he received unreasonable assurances. This made it clear that “he has done nothing to reinforce NATO since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sparked the greatest crisis faced by the Alliance for decades,” the representatives said in a letter.
They noted that these actions, which were contrary to the good of the Alliance, “were no surprise” given that Ankara has repeatedly used its military might to engage in a series of destabilising actions that extend from the Eastern Mediterranean to the Middle East and North Africa. They also pointed out that Turkey and the forces supported by Turkey have used U.S.-manufactured equipment in these invasions to commit war crimes that included the bombardment of civilians and targets such as hospitals and schools in Iraq, Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh, in addition to repeated violations of the territorial integrity of NATO allies and partners Greece and Cyprus.
In light of the above, the U.S. congress members noted, the sale of advanced fighter aircraft to Turkey gives Erdogan no incentive to change his behaviour and become a good ally but may instead lead to more deaths and destruction in the wider region. Noting concerns arising from Turkey’s use of the S-400 missile system, they said they will do everything in their power to prevent the sale of F-16 modernisation kits and said that the U.S. must not further support Turkey’s military until steps are taken to end the destabilising actions and violations of international law by Turkey.