January 23, 2023 | Policy Brief

Congress Questions Biden Plan to Sell F-16s to Turkey

January 23, 2023 | Policy Brief

Congress Questions Biden Plan to Sell F-16s to Turkey

The Biden administration informally notified Congress of its intention to sell 40 new F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, along with 79 upgrade kits to modernize the Turkish Air Force’s existing F-16 fleet. Some congressional leaders have objected strongly to the sale, citing Turkey’s human rights violations, intimidation of its neighbors — especially Greece — and obstruction of Sweden and Finland’s applications to join NATO.

Ankara has long sought to modernize its aging fleet of fighter jets. Until 2019, Turkey was on track to receive about 100 F-35 fighters, the most advanced fighter America produces. However, Washington removed Ankara from the F-35 program because it acquired the Russian S-400 air and missile defense system, which also resulted in sanctions on Turkey under the Countering of America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

The proposed sale to Turkey has a total value of $20 billion. In addition to the F-16s and upgrade kits, the sale reportedly includes 900 air-to-air missiles and 800 bombs. The administration also plans to sell at least 30 F-35s to Greece. Since Turkish threats against Greece have provoked congressional ire, the pairing suggests an effort to address lawmakers’ concerns. Yet hostility toward Athens is just one of Erdogan’s provocations, which range from protecting Hamas leaders to helping Iran move billions of dollars in contravention of U.S. sanctions.

Once the administration formally notifies Congress of its intent to sell weapons to Ankara, lawmakers have 15 days to try to block the sale with a joint resolution of disapproval before the administration can proceed. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), has opposed the sale of jets to Ankara, citing Ankara’s aggressive stance towards NATO ally Greece, the country’s poor human rights record, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s continued refusal to approve Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership bid.

Lawmakers have never succeeded in blocking a foreign weapons sale by passing a joint resolution of disapproval. In 2019, Donald Trump vetoed a set of resolutions Congress passed in an attempt to block the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The current give and take between Congress and the administration could influence the White House’s decision whether to submit a formal notification to proceed with the F-16 sale. The Congressional Research Service observes, “Congress has, by expressing strong opposition to prospective arms sales, during consultations with the executive branch, affected the timing and the composition of some arms sales, and may have dissuaded the President from formally proposing certain arms sales.”

It is unclear whether Biden will press ahead with a formal notification of the F-16 sale. Even if the White House decides to proceed with the sale, it will have to address the impact of the sanctions Washington has imposed on Turkey’s Defence Industry Agency (SSB), which manages Ankara’s supply of military technology.

If Biden brushes aside lawmakers’ objections, he would put the White House in direct confrontation with congressional allies, primarily for the sake of patching up troubled relations with Turkey. Congress should once again stress to the administration its strong reservations, insisting Turkey must start upholding its obligations as a NATO ally prior to receiving the F-16s. This should include, but not be limited to, immediately ratifying Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership bid, providing written guarantees that end Turkey’s overt threats to seize sovereign Greek territory in the Aegean Sea, and taking steps to ensure free and fair elections in Turkey in May, especially the approval of international monitoring missions.

Sinan Ciddi is a non-resident senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he contributes to FDD’s Turkey Program and Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP). For more analysis from Sinan, the Turkey Program, and CMPP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Sinan on Twitter @SinanCiddi. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.


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