The US-Turkey F-16 Agreement: A Strategic Move in NATO Expansion


The US-Turkey F-16 Agreement: A Strategic Move in NATO Expansion
© Getty Images/Jared C. Tilton

The Biden administration has successfully navigated a complex international negotiation involving Turkey, Sweden, and NATO. The crux of the deal centers around the proposed sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, valued at $23 billion, following Turkey's consent to Sweden's accession to NATO.

A Strategic Exchange

This intricate series of negotiations has been unfolding for over a year, culminating in a crucial development last Thursday: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's approval of Sweden's NATO membership.

The State Department promptly sent Congress formal notifications about the F-16 sale to Turkey and another significant deal involving the sale of $8.6 billion worth of F-35s to Greece. These notifications came after Turkey formally ratified the necessary documents, signaling a major stride in diplomatic relations.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken played a pivotal role in these negotiations, engaging with both Turkish officials and US lawmakers. His efforts were focused on resolving Erdogan's initial resistance to Sweden's NATO bid in exchange for the fighter jets, a top request from Turkey.

The US had initially refrained from direct involvement in the NATO negotiations when Sweden, along with Finland, sought membership in May 2022. However, the US recognized the leverage it held with the F-16s, a point that became increasingly vital as discussions progressed.

Behind-the-Scenes Diplomacy

Blinken's strategic engagement was evident during his February 2023 visit to Turkey, where discussions with Erdogan centered on the conditional sale of the F-16s. Erdogan's demand for the jets was clear – they were a prerequisite for his approval of Sweden's NATO membership.

This stance prompted the US to use the fighter jets as a more direct bargaining tool. The diplomatic endeavor gained momentum with Hakan Fidan's appointment as Turkey's foreign minister, known for his closer ties to Erdogan.

Blinken and Fidan's meeting in London in June 2023 was crucial in outlining the potential deal. The intricate negotiations extended beyond Turkey, involving extensive discussions with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and US lawmakers, including then-Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez, a long-time opponent of the jet sale to Turkey.

The goal was to ensure Greece's support, given the historically tense Turkey-Greece relationship. After months of intense diplomacy, a breakthrough occurred at the NATO summit in Vilnius, with Erdogan publicly committing to Sweden's accession.

The concerted effort continued until the Turkish Parliament voted in favor of Sweden’s NATO accession, culminating in Erdogan's formal ratification. The final step involved the physical transfer of documents to the US, ensuring Congress that Turkey was fully committed to the agreement.

With this milestone achieved, the US has now officially proposed the sale of F-16s to Turkey, marking a significant diplomatic achievement.