June 9, 2023 | 1945

Biden Should Demand More From Turkey Before Selling F-16s

June 9, 2023 | 1945

Biden Should Demand More From Turkey Before Selling F-16s

Turkey’s elections are over, and the scramble now begins to get Turkey to ratify Sweden’s NATO membership at the alliance’s Vilnius summit. U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his election to a third term as Turkey’s president and asked him to make good on Sweden’s accession.

NATO Accession Is a Starting Point

Turkey accepted in principle at the alliance’s Madrid summit in 2022 that Finland and Sweden should be able to join NATO. Since then, however, Erdogan has stalled the process on the grounds that Turkey has serious security concerns that it wants addressed. In reality, this was a delay tactic on the part of Erdogan, who used the NATO enlargement issue as campaign fodder for his re-election campaign. For a year, he has accused both Scandinavian countries of providing a haven for Kurdish militants affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Until measures were taken to satisfy Turkey, including the extradition of wanted individuals, NATO enlargement would not take place, Erdogan insisted. 

Under immense pressure from the West, Turkey approved Finland’s membership ahead of Turkey’s May elections. But Ankara continued applying pressure on Stockholm. Now that the elections are over, Erdogan has little to gain from holding up NATO expansion. He also wants to purchase brand new F-16 fighter jets from the United States — Turkey’s existing fleet is aging. For this to happen, however, Erdogan and the Biden team have to get congressional approval. To gain that go-ahead, Ankara at a minimum has to ratify Sweden’s NATO membership. Both Ankara and Washington insist that Swedish accession and the F-16 sale are not related, but this is not true. Secretary Blinken is rumored to be taking the pulse of powerful lawmakers such as Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, whose full approval is vital for the F-16 sale to succeed. 

Rightly so. However, Menendez likely has more demands from Erdogan than just approving Swedish accession to NATO. The U.S. has a long list of grievances that Menendez is not shy in voicing, and for good reason. Washington should demand more. Specifically, it should seek Erdogan’s public commitment to not threaten allies such as Greece and Cyprus with war. Turkey needs to respect their sovereignty, regardless of existing disputes, which it can address subsequently in the theater of diplomacy. 

Turkey Can Do So Much More

Washington should also demand more cooperation from Ankara in the realm of sanctions and terrorism financing. In 2022, cooperation between the U.S. Treasury and its Turkish counterpart succeeded in sanctioning known terrorism financiers linked to the Islamic State. While these are noteworthy and welcome developments, Ankara can and should go further. It should designate Hamas as a terrorist organization, expel all of its operatives from Turkey, and cooperate with the international community to undermine the group’s regional activities. Similarly, Erdogan should work more closely with its Western partners in implementing sanctions against Russia. More steps could be taken by Ankara to ensure that illicit and sanctioned Russian funds don’t “accidently” find deposit space in Turkish banks, allowing Putin’s oligarchs to continue accessing their ill-gotten wealth.

Turkey should be able to acquire new fighter jets, and better that they acquire them from the U.S. before looking elsewhere. However, Washington has a long list of requests from Ankara. Beyond the specifics, what Washington should be interested in is a fundamental change in the Erdogan administration’s demeanor, and a simple answer to a simple question: Are you an ally or not? If so, then work with us, so that we can work with you to ensure you secure much-needed defensive capabilities. Erdogan needs to give before he can take. 

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). Follow Sinan on Twitter @SinanCiddi. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


Military and Political Power Turkey U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy