The U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation on July 14 that can be regarded as living proof of the anti-Türkiye sentiment in the Congress. The House approved the measure with the amendment that would bar the U.S to sell or transfer the jets to Türkiye including a description of concrete steps taken to ensure that they are not used for repeated unauthorized overflights of Greece.
According to the Pallone/Pappas amendment bill, which was named after the representatives of the Armenian and Greek lobbies in the US House, the F-16 should be sold to Türkiye only if it ensures Greece not to violate its airspace.
This means to ask Türkiye to acknowledge the airspace, which Greece has been struggling to make Türkiye acknowledge for decades, through the US Congress, in return for F-16 aircraft. But that is not all. It also indicates a will to put a pledge on Türkiye’s sovereign rights. It’s unacceptable. It is unthinkable that not only President Tayyip Erdogan but also any Turkish politician would accept such a condition or give such ensurance. Since American politicians have the experience to know this, this move may have two purposes: to provoke Türkiye and to blackmail Biden over his grassroots groups ahead of the elections in November.
Would Biden ask this from Erdoğan?
This demand, which will mean political and military capitulation, is not strictly binding for the US President. Even if the Senate decides accordingly, Biden can veto it.
Voting in the Senate can only be made after it has been voted and approved by the Foreign Relations Committee. According to American law, if even a senator exercises their right to object which is called “hold”, that motion cannot be voted on in the General Assembly. The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is Bob Menendez, one of the powerful names of the Greek lobby in the US Congress, who has already openly opposed the sale.
Would Biden, who during the Madrid NATO Summit promised Erdogan to overcome the Congressional obstacle for the sale of the F-16, ask Menendez, or other senators who are members of the Committee, not to exercise their right to object? What would he want in return? Or would he ask Erdogan for a Greek commitment for the sale of the F-16s and ensure approval and thus fill the air force deficit in NATO’s Southeast flank that resulted from Türkiye’s expulsion from the F-35 program by the United States? Can he ask even though he more or less knows what answer he will get?
The S-400 was purchased against the F-35 threat
It did not stop Erdogan from purchasing S-400s from Russia when he was threatened of being removed from the F-35. Do you think he would hesitate to reject such condition on such a strategic issue for Türkiye, such as Greek airspace?
In this case, would Türkiye choose not to approve the NATO memberships of Sweden and Finland? He may. It should not be forgotten that Greece vetoed its NATO membership for years before Macedonia’s name changed to North Macedonia. Of course, we are now in the middle of the Russia-Ukraine war, which is a source of global political and economic crisis, and the crisis of NATO’s expansion towards the East, towards Russia, which the USA so desires. It was Türkiye that brought together the Russian and Ukrainian delegations under the supervision of the UN and opened the door for a solution to the grain export problem, which gave rise to the worldwide food crisis.
The lobbies of Greece and Armenia in the US Congress are aware of this advantage of Türkiye, so they want to prevent Ankara from taking advantage of this opportunity and strengthening its air force with F-16s until puting the aircraft they will manufacture into operation.
Is this an unprecedented situation?
No, it is not unprecedented. Türkiye has experienced something similar. Mehmet Ali Bayar, who served as Foreign Affairs Advisor during Former President Süleyman Demirel’s term and held a diplomatic mission at the Turkish Embassy in Washington, summarized that a similar difficulty had been experienced for years in Demirel’s time.
- “In the 1990s, Paul Sarbanes, of Greek origin, voted against the warships, which the Bush Administration decided to sell to Türkiye, in the Committee for nearly ten years, and he single-handedly prevented the sale. Among its conditions was to resume negotiations about the Cyprus problem.
- “Rauf Denktas, the president of Northern Cyprus at that time, decided to return to the table in 1999, went to New York for a day and negotiations started. Sarbanes also lifted his veto on our warships with a prior agreement and the ships were given to Türkiye. It was Denktaş’s condition to return to the talks; this was also Türkiye’s condition. The US President of the time Bill Clinton had convinced Sarbanes of this condition from the beginning.
- “It was because of the fact that when Clinton came to Türkiye, he wanted to start the Cyprus talks. Demirel and (then Prime Minister) Bülent Ecevit were directly involved in this side of the process. Türkiye’s main goal was to gain the status of Candidate Country at the Helsinki EU Summit and to start full membership negotiations.”
First, Denktaş’s return to the Cyprus talks is not the same thing as Türkiye’s promise to the US to accept Greece’s airspace demands in exchange for weapons. The former was a tactical issue of political technique, and it took close to ten years to resolve it. However, the latter is a strategic issue regarding current sovereign rights.
Secondly, John Sarbanes, the son of Paul Sarbanes who prevented Türkiye from receiving the ships it paid for for nearly ten years and finally got what he wanted, is still a member of the House of Representatives and is trying to prevent the sale of F-16s to Türkiye in the footsteps of his father.
Not getting the F-16s weakens Türkiye’s and NATO’s Southeast air defenses, but it doesn’t kill Türkiye. However, promising to accept the Greek condition in return for F-16s would damage not only Erdogan but also Türkiye’s strategic interests.
I left the third for last. The idea of Türkiye’s National Ship Project (MİLGEM) was put forward in the mid-1990s when the Greek lobby in the US Congress prevented the purchase of ships. The project started to work in 2000 with the arrival of the ships, and in 2004, with the establishment of MİLGEM Project Office, the process to design and construction of the corvette began.
Not beneficial for the US or NATO
As a result of the anti-Türkiye lobbies in the US Congress preventing the sale of armed drones, Türkiye today manufactures and exports its own UAVs and UCAVs. In that respect, Türkiye owes the rapid growth of the domestic arms industry to the Greek lobby in the USA.
If Biden does not keep his word and the sale of the F-16 is blocked, it will not help Türkiye-US relations or strengthen NATO against Russia, but it will benefit the further development of the defense industry in Türkiye.
However, at this point, it would also be beneficial for President Erdoğan and his team of advisors, as well as Minister of National Defense Hulusi Akar and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to take a step back and to ask themselves, “if we have made a mistake somewhere?”.
Thanks to Bayar, we gave an example of what happened in the past. There are surely some other examples that haven’t been revealed yet. It is inevitable to experience such impasse if one acts with current political reactions instead of taking lessons based on the State memory and acting according to strategies that are on the ground. Impasses are not always tackled in an easy way.