After a 22-month delay marked by repeated attempts by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to extort concessions from Sweden and the United States, the Turkish parliament approved Sweden’s NATO accession.
The saga is not over — Erdogan still needs to sign the legislation — but it appears he believes he has maximized his profit, and there is no financial benefit to himself personally or Turkey of further delay.
From Sweden, Erdogan demanded it accept his classification that intellectual activity by Kurdish and Turkish dissidents equates to terrorism. In effect, he chilled free speech in a country that was once its bastion and signaled that the Swedish government sees its Kurdish minority as separate, unequal, and expendable.
Swedish authorities may celebrate NATO accession should Hungary also lift its hold, but it will nevertheless mark a dark day for Swedish democracy.
The price Erdogan expects from the United States is higher. Turkey lost its participation in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program because it endangered the technology by simultaneously purchasing S-400s from Russia.
As a consolation, national security adviser Jake Sullivan has long pushed a deal to provide Turkey with new F-16s and upgrades for its existing fleet. In addition, during his recent visit to Ankara, Secretary of State Antony Blinken reportedly promised Erdogan a White House visit.
Swedish accession or not, Congress should reject any F-16 package for Turkey for two reasons. First, Turkey is likely to use its F-16s not to further NATO’s interests but rather to undermine them and threaten neighbors. Second, Erdogan repeatedly brags about Turkey’s own domestic military industry.
urkey will reverse any weaponry the United States provides it in order to augment its own arsenal and exports minus safeguards. Indeed, this is the major reason why Erdogan held out for F-16s.
If the White House proceeds with an F-16 sale, Congress should attach conditions. In recent years, Turkey has harassed Greece with unauthorized overflights of its territory and regular violations of its airspace. To win F-16s, Turkey paused these flights, essentially positioning itself as the bully who deserves rewards for refraining from harassing classmates on the playground.
That pause should be permanent. Nothing at present prevents Turkey from resuming its provocations. When it does, the escalation could be dramatic, potentially leading to an intra-NATO war. At a minimum, any transfer of jets should occur over a decade. Any overflight should lead to an automatic pause if not cancellation of further F-16 deliveries.
The 50th anniversary of Turkey’s invasion and illegal ethnic cleansing and occupation of Cyprus is less than six months away. Far from seeking to resolve the conflict, Erdogan has increased Turkey’s illicit settlement, displacing many of the Cypriot Muslims he claims to represent. He has also transformed an airport in the occupied zone into a military base that threatens Israel, Egypt, and Greece.
At a minimum, the State Department should certify that Turkey does not use any weapon in violation of International Traffic in Arms Regulations restrictions to bolster its occupation of Cyprus. To the contrary, the State Department should calibrate deliveries to the dismantling and withdrawal of Turkey’s occupation infrastructure.
Turkey has exacerbated the possibility of an Islamic State resurgence by using world distractions about Hamas to attack Syrian Kurds holding the group at bay. The United States should provide no F-16s until Turkey agrees to stop using F-16s against Kurds, the backbone of the anti-Islamic State coalition.
Likewise, Congress must also demand restrictions on third-party transfers, especially after Turkey used F-16s during Azerbaijan’s 2020 assault on Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
Finally, given Turkey’s support for Hamas and its rhetorical support for the Houthis, Congress should require the State Department to certify Turkey is not assisting designated terrorist groups before any transfer of F-16s.
Few in Washington any longer deny how problematic Turkey’s behavior is. Instead, American officials say Turkey is not the problem; Erdogan is. If that is true, why not delay the delivery of F-16s until after Erdogan’s ouster? After all, the goal must remain Turkey’s defense, not Erdogan’s offense.
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