WASHINGTON, D.C. — A bipartisan group of 27 senators have called on President Biden to postpone the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey until it ends its obstruction of the accession of Sweden and Finland to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
In a Thursday letter, the senators stated that Congress cannot consider future support for Turkey, including the sale of the F-16 jets, until Turkey completes the ratification of the NATO accession protocols for Sweden and Finland. Turkey and Hungary are the only NATO members who have not approved the prospective members’ bid to join the defensive alliance.
The Biden administration was previously reported to be seeking congressional approval for the sale of F-16s to Turkey, which would be one of the largest arms sales in recent years at approximately $20 billion USD.
In their letter, the senators acknowledged Turkey as a “valuable NATO ally amidst Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine” but stated that its blocking of Sweden and Finland joining NATO is detrimental to the defensive alliance and poses a threat to the security of its members and Europe.
Turkish Opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO
Last spring, Sweden and Finland formally applied to join NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. At the time, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared he would reject their application, alleging that the two countries were acting as “havens for terrorist organizations”.
As a part of an agreement with Turkey struck in Madrid in June, Finland and Sweden have agreed to increase their efforts in combating terrorism, with a focus on improving extradition and deportation procedures for suspected militants.
Since then, tensions between Sweden and Turkey have worsened.
Last Sunday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan went so far as to signal that Ankara may agree to Finland joining NATO ahead of Sweden.
“We may deliver Finland a different message (on their NATO application) and Sweden would be shocked when they see our message. But Finland should not make the same mistake Sweden did,” Erdogan said during a televised appearance.
Turkey has accused Sweden of providing refuge to individuals they claim are militants associated with the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), who have been in conflict with the Turkish state since 1984.
“We gave Sweden a list of 120 persons and told them to extradite those terrorists in their country. If you don’t extradite them, then sorry about that,” Erdogan said, referring to the Madrid agreement.
The new Swedish government’s attempts to appease Turkey with deportations has not only failed to win over Ankara but have generated significant criticism at home and abroad. While they may have been motivated by a desire to improve bilateral relations with Turkey, the attempted deportations have sparked heated discussions and sparked concern among human rights groups. The Swedish government has come under intense scrutiny for its handling of these cases and for its apparent willingness to compromise its principles in order to appease a foreign government.
The controversial burning of a Quran during a protest in Stockholm provided the Turkish government with the cover it needed to fully suspend talks with Sweden and Finland.
Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said his country wanted to restore NATO dialogue with Turkey, but Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday it was meaningless to restart talks.
“Those who allow such blasphemy in front of our embassy can no longer expect our support for their Nato membership,” Erdogan said in response to the book burning.
It has since been revealed that the permit for the protest organized by far-right politician, and dual Danish-Swedish national, Rasmus Paludan was paid for by a former contributor to the Kremlin-backed channel RT.
The Turkish government’s reasons for blocking Sweden and Finland from joining NATO may extend beyond security concerns or religious considerations, however.
In May, Turkey is scheduled to hold elections. Some analysts believe that Erdogan’s stance on NATO is an attempt to distract voters from the worsening economy and rising cost of living and to present himself as a global leader. Others suggest he may be using NATO ratification as a bargaining tool in his negotiations with the United States over sanctions and arms embargos.
Whatever the rationale behind Turkish obstruction, analysts do not expect further progress in accession talks until after the upcoming Turkish elections.
Even then, progress is likely to be slow, if progress is made at all. Years may pass before the tripartite agreement signed in Madrid is fully implemented, and Sweden has stated that some of Turkey’s other demands are impossible to meet.
“Turkey’s actions now benefit Putin and … that should be problematic for the alliance as a whole,” Paul Levin, director at the Institute for Turkish Studies at Stockholm University, said of the situation.