Ankara getting Russian jets if thwarted on F-16s is not an actual dilemma,’ says HALC head
Arguing that if Ankara doesn’t get the F-16s it wants from the United States, it will get Russian jets is tantamount to accepting Turkey’s hostage politics, says Endy Zemenides, executive director of the American Leadership Council (HALC), explaining that “this is not an actual dilemma.”
Zemenides details the reasons why the US, having very strong negotiating leverage, should not proceed with such a sale unless it gets significant trade-offs and a substantial policy change from Ankara.
There is this theory that if Ankara does not get what it wants from the US, it will buy more Russian weapons systems. You argue that this is not an actual dilemma. Can you explain your reasoning?
This theory accepts the premise of Turkey’s hostage politics. It essentially legitimizes the Turkish blackmail: “Give us the F-16s or we will buy Russian planes.” This is not an actual dilemma, this is not the choice before us. It is the argument used by Turkey’s agents – both registered and unregistered – and its apologists. We should not present Russian jets as the only alternative the Turks have. That is not accurate. Let me remind you that back in September, [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s spokesperson, Ibrahim Kalin, stated that Turkey is considering the possibility of Eurofighter Typhoons. So when we say that “Turkey will either get American jets or Russian ones,” we are just making assumptions. And we are making the same argument that Turkey’s supporters in Washington are using to achieve this particular sale and upgrade. Also, Turkey is not ready to accept, nor is there any indication that a different government in Ankara will be ready to accept, the conditions that Congress seeks to impose.
The prevailing opinion, however, is that it is in the interest of Greece that Turkey is monitored by the US, and that this can only be achieved if Ankara uses American weapons. Do you disagree?
‘Even if Turkey’s lean towards Russia is not a foregone conclusion, it is clear that its relations with the West are transactional and not based on shared values and interests’
Again, this speculation is not based on either history or present reality. What American monitoring are we talking about here? Let me remind you that Turkey uses American weapons to occupy Cyprus and to challenge Greek sovereignty in the Aegean. It lends its F-16s to Azerbaijan to fight against Armenia and Artsakh. The same is happening in Syria. Also, the argument that Turkey should have the F-16s instead of Russian jets is debatable. What if they get the upgraded F-16s – which share certain elements with the F35s – without having to relinquish Russian S400s? Wouldn’t that give them the opportunity to test their S400s against upgraded F16s technology and thus make both Greece’s upgraded F-16s and its potential F35 fleet more vulnerable? This is not a well-thought-out position. Also the whole point of the Pappas Amendment and the conditions that Senator Menendez insists on is for Turkish policy – and behavior – to change before the transfer of advanced American weapons.
So, is HALC’s position that the United States should abandon Turkey to Russia?
Of course not. But once again, that is not the choice before us. There is a consensus among Turkey experts that the country’s Eurasianists have prevailed over the Atlantacists. So even if Turkey’s lean towards Russia is not a foregone conclusion, it is clear that its relations with the West are transactional and not based on shared values and interests. HALC’s position is that if Turkey wants to reestablish its privileged relationship with the US arms industry, it needs to become a reliable NATO ally, honor democratic rights and human rights, and use American weapons to promote the Western alliance and its values – not to work against them.
But since these conditions that you describe cannot be met at this stage by Turkey, what if we see the purchase of Russian aircraft without the conditions that could be applied in the case of the sale of the F-16s?
An additional purchase of Russian weapons systems would be against the CAATSA Act and would put Turkey under the pressure of even more US sanctions. Second, the Turkish Air Force fleet consists entirely of F-16s, so replacing them with Russian aircraft would be an extremely expensive endeavor and would require drastic retraining of its pilots. Finally, NATO would never allow Russian jets to integrate into NATO systems. Turkey’s shift to the Russian option would make the potential Greek qualitative advantage in terms of air power greater. It might even add a short-term quantitative advantage. The transition from US fighter jets would also require redesigning the platform for Turkey’s homegrown fighter jet – its real long-term goal. Once again, this adds time and cost to Turkey’s efforts and lengthens the margin of any Greek advantage.
Let’s not forget that the last time Turkey faced restrictions on the transfer of American weapons (the Patriot missile system) it chose a Russian alternative (S400). This was ultimately not beneficial for Ankara. The United States has significant negotiating leverage and should not agree to any F-16 sales without significant trade-offs and policy changes to Turkey.
There also seems to be a misunderstanding over the conditions that Senator Menendez is setting in order to green-light such a sale.
Senator Menendez never said that he would allow the sale of F-16s only under the condition that Turkey would halt the overflights in the Aegean. Senator Menendez insists on that condition, but far more than that. There is also the case of Senator [James] Risch, whom you yourself interviewed for Kathimerini. They both have a whole host of issues that have to be resolved before this sale moves forward. The various letters from Congress to the Administration on this issue make it clear that the issue of the S400s, Sweden’s and Finland’s accession to NATO, Turkey’s belligerence against the Kurds, its continued occupation of Cyprus with American weapons, are all issues, in addition to the Aegean, that must be addressed. All these are substantial problems, beyond the problem in the Aegean.