Paul to Force Vote on Biden’s Sale of F-16s to Turkey

Paul to Force Vote on Biden’s Sale of F-16s to Turkey

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has a resolution that aims to block a weapons sale worth $23 billion to Turkey.

Credit: Christopher Halloran

On Thursday afternoon, the Senate will vote on a resolution from Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky that would block a sale of F-16 fighter jets and other military supplies.

President Joe Biden’s administration approved the sale last month in what Paul described to The American Conservative in a phone interview as a “quid pro quo” between Washignton and Ankara for Sweden’s accession into NATO. The package, worth $23 billion, would provide Turkey with 40 F-16s, which would increase Turkey’s supply of fighter jets by nearly 50 percent.

For Paul, however, it’s less about the price or number of planes. “I think you quantify it in terms of the strategic possibility that in gaining new F-16s with new software and new technology on them, that these F-16s could be used to somehow test the S-400 Russian system [the Turks] have, and either find weaknesses of the F-16 against the S-400,” Paul told TAC. The biggest worry is that Turkey could “share that information with the Russians.”

“If any of this information is given to Russia it would be deleterious,” Paul stated. “It wouldn’t be good for our national security.”

Turkey, a NATO member since 1952, has also come under pressure from NATO allies over the last eight years for courting Russian defense systems and Russian energy. The way Ankara and Washington see the world has increasingly diverged since the attempted coup in 2016.

“I think that there’s many reasons to still be suspect of Turkey’s fidelity to the alliance, and Turkey’s fidelity to the west, frankly. And I think that their human rights record leaves much to be desired as well,” Paul claimed. As for Sweden’s entrance into NATO, Paul said, “I don’t think the trade off is really that great. I’m not sure Sweden adds much to defending Europe or defending NATO or defending us at all. It’s not that I’m against Sweden. I’m a big fan of a lot of things about Sweden, but I don’t think they add to our national security at all.”

Nevertheless, after 20 months of negotiations between Turkey, America, and other NATO allies, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed off on Sweden’s entrance into NATO. Previously, Turkey resisted adding Sweden into NATO because Sweden harbors groups that Erdogan’s Turkey considers “terrorist organizations.” Turkey has been critical of Sweden’s support for followers of the U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen (whom Erdogan blames for the attempted coup in 2016) and Kurdish militant groups like the PKK and the YPG.

Turkey’s relationship with Russia isn’t the only relationship that complicates the United State’s relationship to one of its oldest NATO allies. Turkey also has a working relationship with Hamas that’s potentially broader and deeper than Hamas’s relationship with Iran. 

Turkey provides financial, intelligence, and military support to Hamas. In 2012, for example, Hamas received a $300 million donation from Turkey as it set up operations in Turkey. NGOs with relationships to the Turkish government have been used as pass-throughs to take cash from Ankara to the Gaza Strip. In July 2023, Israeli authorities claimed 16 tons of seized explosive materials enroute to Gaza were sent from Turkey. Furthermore, there are claims that a Turkish private military contractor, SADAT, assists Hamas in military procurement and preparation.

“Any of their support for Hamas, obviously, will hurt them,” Paul said of Erdogan’s government. “There will be some in our caucus who vote against them for their support of Hamas,” he said of the impending vote.

Paul thinks voting in favor of the sale could follow Senators home. “I think this is one of those things where you go back to many of the red states and try to explain why you’re first selling F-16s to Turkey, which supports Hamas, has terrible human rights abuses in our country, and isn’t really a country that has free elections—there’s a lot of reasons not to be too excited about selling arms to Turkey,” Paul explained. “So I think this won’t be as popular of a vote as people think it will be at home. I think the position I’ll take will be the popular one at home.”

Nevertheless, Paul told TAC “winning is a long shot.”

Yet, the sale brings up crucial questions about the durability and usefulness of the NATO alliance. “There’s always the real question of whether Turkey is a reliable ally or not. And I think there’s a great deal of argument that they are fair weather friends, they’re sometimes with us and sometimes opposed to us,” Paul explained. But beyond questions of Turkey’s commitment to the alliance, Paul pointed out, “we also should be concerned because, even though many countries are paying a little bit more for their national defense, NATO still remains primarily funded by the U.S. Most of those countries in Europe that are now in NATO are small countries without much national defense. I think they serve more as tripwires to get us involved in regional squabbles, as opposed to actually being countries that would meaningfully defend us if the U.S. could be attacked.”

Furthermore, the weapons package could undermine Turkey’s ability to be a mediator in the negotiations that could put an end to the war in Ukraine, according to Paul. On Wednesday, Erdogan announced, on principle, it supports Ukraine’s 10-point peace plan and that Turkey is working with the United Nations to ensure the safety of commercial ships in the Black Sea. “I think it makes them less influential in any kind of peace agreement,” Paul said of the arms sale. “I think the peace agreement between Russia and Ukraine is more likely to happen if there is some sort of interlocutor that is of a more neutral mind, but it’s hard to find countries like that anymore.”

The post Paul to Force Vote on Biden’s Sale of F-16s to Turkey appeared first on The American Conservative.

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