In October 2021, Türkiye sent its F-16 deal to the United States’ Department of Defense through its Ministry of National Defense, for which decision has been under assessment regarding its formal notification to the Congress by the Biden Administration.
Following the formal notification, Congress has a right to block the deal via a joint resolution of disapproval under the AECA within 15 days of formal notice. Currently, two distinct positions have been allocated between the US executive (positive) and the legislative branch (unfavorable).
The politicization of the deal by a few policymakers in the US could cause a confidential Administration-Congress consultation process within the detailed technical and geopolitical reasonings of the NATO Integrated Air Defense System.
The November 2024 US Presidential Elections put the Administration in a difficult position for taking risks in domestic politics due to the Democratic Party presidential primaries. In this interconnected environment, the F-16 negotiations between the USA and Türkiye are going in a delicate balance affected by domestic and foreign developments.
It is highly expected that Türkiye could put Sweden’s membership on its legislative agenda when it begins its working period in Fall 2023. In this vein, Sweden’s accession process will be conducted through Article 90 of the Turkish Constitution, which must be applied during the ratification process of international treaties in the Grand National Assembly.
US Congress versus Biden Administration in Türkiye’s F-16 Deal
‘‘F-16 negotiations between Biden and the Erdogan administrations are in a delicate balance affected by domestic and foreign developments.’’
In October 2021, Türkiye’s Ministry of National Defense requested 40 new 4.5-generation F-16s from the United States and an order for 79 kits to modernize the 4.0-generation F-16s in its inventory. This proposal of Türkiye has led to the origination of differentiating stances among the legislative and the executive branches which are the key responsible institutions for decision making in the United States. Current content and financial size of the F-16 proposal compels the executive branch to take the approval of the Congress under the Arms Export Control Act (AECA).
In terms of differentiating stances within the US political system, while the US executive branch of the Biden Administration continues to support the sale of F-16s to Türkiye, Congress, which represents the legislative branch, sustains its opposition to the deal through some of its members mainly influenced by Pro-Armenian lobbies. As the bureaucratic reflection of the executive branch’s support for the deal in contrast to legislatives, informally Biden notified Congress pertinent to the possible deal of F-16s back in January 2023. Biden’s informal notification through the relevant Ministries follows the verbal explanation of White House that renewed its optimistic view on the sale of F-16s in the context of NATO’s interoperability structure.
Under the current law, the formal notification process is expected to begin after the executive branch officially informs the US Congress about the deal. Following the formal notification of the executive branch, Congress has a right to block the deal via a joint resolution of disapproval under the AECA within 15 days of formal notice. At this stage, this is the main reason why the Biden Administration does not formally notify Congress due to the possibility of losing political credit in the public realm in the case of Congress’s rejection of the F-16 deal.
Some Congress members such as Gregory Meeks (Ranking Member) and Jim Risch (Ranking Member) expressed their opposing views on the sale of F-16s just after Biden ordered the relevant informal notification. On the other hand, the resignation of Robert Menendez as Chairperson of the Foreign Relations Committee due to corruption allegations and the election of Senator Ben Cardin, who seems to be moderate on the F-16 deal, could assist the reduction of opposition. Congress members who still oppose the Turkish Army’s F-16 proposal mainly instrumentalize discourses of Sweden’s NATO membership and airspace violations between Turkey and Greece in the Aegean, which are not direct issues of Turkish–American relations.
The November 2024 US Presidential Elections put the Administration in a difficult position for taking risks in domestic politics due to the Democratic Party presidential primaries. As part of the presidential primaries, there will be potential challengers for the Biden Administration who will be searching for any arguments to criticize them with political aims. Therefore, the F-16 negotiations between Biden and the Erdogan administrations are in a delicate balance affected by domestic and foreign developments. This interconnected complex policy environment also brings to the forefront the legislative process in Türkiye’s Grand National Assembly for Sweden's bid to join NATO.
Grand National Assembly (GNA) of Türkiye and its Legislative Role in the Swedish Accession to NATO
‘‘It is expected that Türkiye will closely engage with NATO's newly established position of Special Coordinator for Counterterrorism.’’
For Sweden’s accession for NATO membership to be ratified, all alliance countries must approve Sweden’s application in their national parliaments. As of September 2023, all alliance members except Türkiye and Hungary had approved the membership bid. Accordingly, it is highly expected that Türkiye could put Sweden’s membership on its GNA’s agenda when it begins its legislative working period in Fall 2023. Under the maintaining legislative process, Sweden’s accession process will be carried out through Article 90 of the Turkish Constitution, which must be applied during the ratification process of international treaties in the Grand National Assembly’.
In the scenario of Türkiye’s approval voting of Swedish accession in GNA, it is expected to be a smooth process as the opposition parties have already announced their support for Sweden’s membership. Within the dynamism of Turkish domestic politics, there is a low possibility that the Nationalist Movement Party could postpone the process due to periodic bargaining within the ruling alliance. Nevertheless, this postponement will be regarding the timing of presenting the deal to GNA rather than the approval of Sweden’s accession to NATO.
In the current policy environment, Turkey will have two main expectations for approving Sweden’s membership to Alliance. One of them related to the attitude of Sweden on implementing changed anti-terrorism laws upon the request of the Turkish Government in its legal system. The second one is concerned with strengthening the agenda of countering terrorism in all its forms and manifestations in accordance with the NATO 2030 Strategic Concept. In this vein, it is expected that Türkiye will closely engage with NATO's newly established position of Special Coordinator for Counterterrorism.
Türkiye’s Regional Normalization Efforts with Respect to F-16 Deal
‘‘Regional normalization efforts could pave the way for Türkiye to overcome F-16 obstacles in the US Congress.’’
Following the May 2023 General Elections, high-level changes in the government cabinet have led to an effort to return to the Western-oriented traditional axis of Turkish Foreign Policy. As a clear example of this inclination towards the Transatlantic Alliance, Türkiye first increased its diplomatic and economic engagement with the Gulf countries while the new cabinet strived to expand its ties with Israel and Egypt within the Eastern Mediterranean through possible natural gas cooperation talks. In recent months, there has been a similarly constructive approach with Greece to build a positive common agenda between the two nations.
This policy will have positive economic and political reflections on relations with NATO and the EU within the mid-term. In this vein, the normalization agenda could assist in gaining the support of the Israeli interest groups in Congress while tranquilizing relations with Greece may alleviate some Congress member’s opposition to the F-16 deal. This could pave the way for Türkiye to overcome F-16 obstacles in the US Congress.
Expectations of the Turkish Defense Industry for the F-16 Deal
‘‘Completing the deal between Türkiye and the US will open new cooperation opportunities for the Turkish defense industry with US and the EU companies.’’
In 1987, the Foreign Military Sales Program of the United States authorized the Peace Onyx-1 deal for selling the F-16 Fighting Falcon to Turkish Air Forces through the TUSAS Aerospace Industries (TAI). The Turkish defense industry’s 36 years of acquaintance with the F-16 enables the localization of the necessary subsystem and military sustainment solutions. This close relationship with technical background served as a gateway to many reciprocal defense contracts between Türkiye and the United States.
Completing the deal between Türkiye and the US will open new cooperation opportunities for the Turkish defense industry with US and the EU companies. This kind of cooperation between the Turkish and foreign companies may also lead to the lifting of CAATSA sanctions on Türkiye’s Defense Industry Agency over time. It is vital to remind that the F-16 deal is not only about the strategic planning of the Turkish Air Force, but it also includes NATO's air defense structure and interoperability capacity.
In this context, the politicization of the deal by some policymakers in the US could cause a confidential Administration-Congress consultation process within the detailed technical and geopolitical reasonings of the NATO Integrated Air Defense System. It has been also observed that Biden Administration regularly linked Türkiye’s proposal with the national interest of the US. This framing of the deal enables confidential Administration-Congress consultations or closed-door meetings to convince relevant Congress members. Following these discussions, between the Administration and Congress, it is highly likely that Congress will not block the deal in line with the Turkish Air Force’s urgent needs, which are vital for the NATO’s air defense structure.
Mr. Arin Demir works as a Counsel at Herdem Attorneys at Law representing the London Office. Demir previously worked at the Global Relations Forum (GRF) in Istanbul on international security and defense issues. He was formerly NATO 2030 Global Fellow at the Turkish Heritage Organization (THO) & NATO Defense College Foundation, fully sponsored by NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division, working on developing the NATO 2030 strategic concept. He is currently Political Leadership Excellency Fellow at Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Türkiye. He participated in NATO’s Greek-Turkish Young Leaders Symposium (GTYLS) on Security as a member of the cohort. He is a founding member of Global Trade Forum, an industrial think tank. Previously he was a fellow at Stiftung Mercator’s Turkey Europe Future Forum Fellowship program (TEFF) and Friedrich Naumann Foundation’s (FNF) Turkish Israeli Civil Society Forum (TICSF). Arin earned his bachelor’s degree in political science & International Relations from TOBB University of Economics & Technology. He holds a Master of Science degree in Public Policy from the University of Bristol, Faculty of Law, and Social Sciences.