The trap in the sale of F-16 to Türkiye

The trap in the sale of F-16 to Türkiye

The Turkish parliament gave its approval to Sweden’s NATO membership on 23 January.

This approval has been a precondition for the US to allow the sale of the 40 F-16 fighter jets to Türkiye. On 26 January, the US government approved the sale. But the process is not yet finalized. There seems to be a dispute between the US and Türkiye about where and for what purposes the F-16s can be used. The Greek newspaper Ekatimerini wrote that the US agreed to provide F-16s to Türkiye only under the condition that “they will only be used for NATO alliance purposes and not for overflights above Greek islands”.

On January 30, US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland visited Türkiye. She brought up in the S-400 issue in her talks: Obviously, if we could get through this S-400 issue, which we would like to do, the US would be delighted to welcome Turkey back into the F-35 family. But we have to settle this other issue first.

In short, in recent days, talks and negotiations between the two countries on Sweden’s approval to NATO and weapon systems have gained momentum.

UWI author Dr Mehmet Perinçek’s evaluated these developments and their possible consequences for Türkiye as below.

Strategic contradiction between Türkiye and NATO

I will evaluate this issue in three dimensions.

Firstly, Türkiye’s security and security policies should never be a subject of negotiation. There is a strategic contradiction between Türkiye on the one side and NATO and NATO countries on the other. Therefore, whatever Türkiye may gain from the negotiation, that gain does not and will not compensate for the harm or threats posed to Türkiye by NATO’s expansion. Hence, there is a significant gap between the gain from possible receiving F-16s and the harm of NATO’s expansion, which directly debilitates Türkiye’s security. In this regard, Türkiye’s security should never, under any circumstances, be a matter of negotiation.

Defense and weapon systems strategically independent of NATO and the US

Secondly, even if Türkiye were to acquire the F-16s – which is uncertain and, even if it happens, would take a long time – it would not be possible for Türkiye to use them for its own security. The threats Türkiye faces, threats from the US-backed terrorist organizations in Syria, the American bases in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Aegean and Thrace, and the possibility of encirclement of Türkiye through the Black Sea, are all NATO and US-sourced threats. In potential conflicts in these regions, Türkiye will not have the opportunity to use defense technologies dependent on the US and NATO. According to a recent report in a Greek newspaper, Ekatimerini, the US agreed to provide F-16s to Türkiye only under the condition that “they will only be used for NATO alliance purposes and not for overflights above Greek islands”. In essence, Türkiye needs to have defense and weapon systems that are strategically independent of NATO and the US.

Trap to Türkiye

Thirdly, in fact, Türkiye does not gain an advantage by acquiring F-16s in exchange for Sweden’s NATO membership approval. There is no “carrot part” of the US’ carrot and stick policy towards Türkiye, quite the contrary. It is a very dangerous trap to Türkiye. Because it is stated that the sale of F-16s to Türkiye will take at least 2–3 years. And in the news report by the Greek newspaper, we see that is subject to certain conditions that I mentioned.

Therefore, during this 2–3-year period, the issue of F-16s will hang over Ankara’s head like a sword of Damocles. So, the US will have the leverage to direct Türkiye’s security and foreign policies through the issue of F-16 sales. The US will use this as a blackmail tool when faced with any steps Türkiye might take against the US, or to force Türkiye to take the steps the US wants. “If you don’t do this, I won’t deliver the F-16s” and “If you do this, I won’t deliver the F-16s” etc. The US will use this when Türkiye launches operations against the PKK/PYD in Syria without US knowledge or when it defends its rights in the Eastern Mediterranean.

More vulnerable to Western and American threats

In fact, with Victoria Nuland’s visit, there is now a new trap for Türkiye. The US says, “Leave the S-400s, and we’ll include you in the F-35 program.” The US is trying to hinder Türkiye’s possible shift towards independent weapon systems crucial for its vital interests. Thus, Türkiye and the Turkish military are essentially being left defenseless against the US. And with each passing day is working against Türkiye. Transitioning to new defense systems is a time-consuming process in terms of training personnel and so on. Every moment lost makes Türkiye more vulnerable to Western and American threats.

Three-dimensional winner

Therefore, the US emerges as the three-dimensional winner in the “negotiations” with Türkiye. This is not a win-win negotiation, because only one side, the US, has won. The US has not only brought Sweden into NATO, but also, through the F-16s, has prevented Türkiye from turning to alternative defense and weapon systems as well as put a mortgage on Türkiye’s security policies.

Mehmet Perinçek

Historian and political scientist (Türkiye)

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June 2024