Senators to Biden: No F-16s for Turkey Until Finland and Sweden Join NATO

Senators to Biden: No F-16s for Turkey Until Finland and Sweden Join NATO
A U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter taking part in the U.S.-led Saber Strike exercise flies over Estonia on June 6, 2018. (Ints Kalnins/Reuters)
Naveen Athrappully

A group of bipartisan U.S. lawmakers led by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Thursday asking that he hold off on selling F-16 jets to Turkey until the country agrees to ratify Sweden and Finland as new members of NATO.

The letter (pdf) talks about the senators’ concern regarding Turkey’s refusal to allow Sweden and Finland to join the military alliance.

“A failure by Türkiye to uphold its commitments made under the trilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Türkiye, Finland, and Sweden should be taken into consideration, as Congress cannot consider future support for Türkiye, including the sale of F-16 fighter jets, until Türkiye completes ratification of the accession protocols.”

Such a failure on Turkey’s part “threatens the Alliance’s unity at a key moment in history, as Russia continues its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.”

At the June 2022 NATO Summit in Madrid, Turkey signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Sweden and Finland, saying the two nations needed to address some security concerns before Turkey would ratify them for membership.

Since that agreement, both Sweden and Finland have “worked to implement concerns outlined in that Memorandum,” the senators said. Despite efforts put in by Sweden and Finland to fulfill Turkey’s demands, Turkey is holding out and is “unwilling to commit to a timeline” to fulfill it.

America’s continued support for Turkey on a number of security policies, including the sale of F-16 fighter jets, is based on a “shared understanding of support for our democratic allies,” the letter noted.

“Once the NATO accession protocols are ratified by Türkiye, Congress can consider the sale of F16 fighter jets. A failure to do so, however, would call into question this pending sale.”

The Turkey MOU

In the MOU, Turkey asked Sweden and Finland to boost efforts to combat the Kurdistan Workers Party, which is listed as a terrorist organization in both European nations and in the United States. Turkey also wanted Finland and Sweden to bolster extraditions and deportations to Ankara.

The two European nations have begun a review of their regulatory framework for arms exports as part of the deal.

“Sweden recently granted one of its first export licenses from the Swedish defense industry to deliver military equipment to Türkiye since 2019. Finland is also considering granting export licenses,” the senators’ letter notes.

Turkey has been holding off Sweden’s ratification as Ankara is reportedly unhappy with Sweden’s pace in meeting extradition requests.

“From time to time, Turkey mentions individuals that they want to see extradited from Sweden. My reply is that those issues are handled according to Swedish law. Swedish citizens will never be extradited to another country at all,” Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said during a security conference in January.

“There are a lot of factors at play here, domestic political factors as well as Sweden’s ability to prove that we’re serious about what we’ve said," Kristersson said.

In late January, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cast further doubts about Sweden’s NATO membership after Danish-Swedish politician Rasmus Paludan burned the Quran in a protest.

F-16 Deal and NATO Accession

The Biden administration has mostly refused to link the F-16 sale to Turkey with Sweden and Finland’s NATO accession, and has repeatedly said that it supports such a sale. Some Democrat senators have taken a hard stance against the sale to Turkey.
During a recent event hosted by Al-Monitor, a news outlet covering the Middle East, U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) called Turkey an “unfaithful ally” and said the United States should consider sanctioning Ankara if Erdogan thwarts Sweden’s efforts to join NATO.

“There are going to be no F-16s going to Turkey if Turkey is not admitting Sweden and Finland,” Van Hollen said.

In January, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said that he was “strongly” opposed to the Biden administration’s proposed sale of F-16 jets to Turkey. He pledged to stand against the deal “until Erdogan ceases his threats, improves his human rights record at home—including by releasing journalists and political opposition—and begins to act like a trusted ally should.”

Sweden and Finland’s NATO accession have been ratified by 28 out of the 30 NATO member states, including the United States.

The two countries that are yet to ratify are Hungary and Turkey. Hungary has committed to ratification when its legislators reconvene in February.