The US must not reward Erdogan’s aggression

NATO membership shouldn’t shield Turkey from being held responsible for actions, Greek-American Congressman tells Kathimerini

The US must not reward Erdogan’s aggression

Greek-American Congressman Chris Pappas feels confident that one of the amendments he submitted to the House to stop the sale of F-16 aircraft and modernization kits to Turkey may become law in the United States.

He argues that Turkey’s acquisition of modern, American F-16s while also being in possession of the Russian S-400 missile defense system engenders the exact same risks that got the country ejected from America’s F-35 program and believes that Congress will continue rejecting Ankara’s requests if it does not change tack.

You submitted a pair of bipartisan amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 (NDAA 2023) to limit the transfer of F-16s to Turkey. Can you walk us through those amendments?

The first amendment would prohibit the United States from selling F-16s and F-16 modernization kits and upgrade technologies to Turkey unless Congress receives certification that Turkey has not violated Greece’s sovereignty – specifically through territorial overflights or violations of Greece’s internationally recognized Flight Information Region. The second amendment would prohibit the United States from selling weapons to a NATO member that has repeatedly violated the airspace, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of another NATO member unless Congress receives certification that such country is no longer engaging in – and has not in the previous six months – such activity. Furthermore, the president must provide a detailed description of the concrete steps taken to ensure that American weapons are not used to repeatedly violate the airspace, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of another NATO member if the president chooses to waive the restriction due to national security concerns.

Can you explain why Turkey should not be allowed to buy the F-16s? Ι ask you that because we’ve been hearing lately that an upgraded Turkish military fleet would benefit NATO.

Turkey’s 2019 purchase and activation of the S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system from Russia violated United States law, resulting in its ejection from the F-35 program and the imposition of CAATSA sanctions. More than three years later, the Erdogan government has made it clear it has no intention of backing away from the S-400 system or addressing the underlying issues that led to its ejection from the F-35 program and the Congressional holds on purchases of American-made weapons by Turkey. In fact, President Erdogan has declared his intention to purchase additional S-400s multiple times since. One of the reasons Congress insisted on Turkey’s ejection from the F-35 program was because of the significant risks associated with collocating S-400s and F-35s. Experts have noted that providing Turkey F-16 modernization kits poses similar collocation risks if Ankara continues to possess Russian S-400s. Since upgraded F-16s still play such a significant role for us and our reliable allies, that is a risk that I do not find acceptable. To make matters worse, Turkey continues to fly the F-16s already in its possession over Greek islands and has violated Greece’s airspace thousands of times in recent months, with no end in sight. This isn’t a matter of “just or unjust” – we cannot reward the Erdogan government for its aggression or allow it to escape accountability for its continued violation of US law and the standards of the NATO Alliance.

‘Russia’s invasion of Ukraine illustrates the consequences of inaction in the face of a revisionist power intent on rewriting history’

What is the timeline moving forward? What is the legislative process until that amendment makes it to the final bill and becomes a US law? It is a long, difficult and uncertain process but I guess that you are optimistic, correct?

In the House, I’ve submitted my amendments for consideration, and we expect to consider the National Defense Authorization Act by the end of July. If the amendment is approved for consideration, I’m confident that it will pass on a bipartisan basis as part of the House NDAA. While it’s a long road from submitting my amendment to the NDAA being signed into law, I am optimistic that the amendment will make it across the finish line because of the diverse, bipartisan coalition of supporters we’re building in the House.

Should we expect a similar amendment to be introduced in the Senate?

I’m actively in discussions with Senate offices to have a similar amendment introduced for the Senate NDAA and I’m hopeful we’ll be able to secure bipartisan, bicameral support for this provision.

Are your colleagues in Congress fully aware of Turkey’s aggression in the Aegean and the open threats of war against Greece?

I don’t believe enough of my colleagues fully appreciate the threat Turkey’s actions and rhetoric toward Greece pose and the potential for conflict to erupt. Turkey repeatedly flies its F-16s over inhabited Greek islands, has launched a baseless campaign disputing Greece’s sovereignty in the Aegean Sea, and President Erdogan openly threatens armed conflict with Greece on a regular basis – as recently as last month. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine illustrates the consequences of inaction in the face of a revisionist power intent on rewriting history, violating the sovereignty of its neighbor, and forcibly changing borders through intimidation and outright threats of war. Turkey’s membership in NATO cannot and should not shield the Erdogan government from being held responsible for its behavior by US policymakers, and its increasingly belligerent rhetoric and behavior toward Greece – a truly reliable, democratic NATO ally – cannot be ignored.

Are you confident that your colleagues in the House will support the amendments?

I am confident my colleagues will support my amendments. The US-Greece relationship has exploded in recent years due in large part to the bipartisan support across administrations and in Congress for strengthening our bilateral cooperation. This cooperation is founded upon the recognition of Greece as a reliable, democratic NATO ally and pillar of stability in the Eastern Mediterranean. Meanwhile, Turkey was warned several times of the repercussions of violating CAATSA and given ample opportunities to pursue alternative options and still proceeded with the purchase and activation of the S-400 system. Without any meaningful change on Turkey’s part, I don’t see any reason for Congress to back off its opposition to requests from Turkey.

Your amendments also take measures to address Turkey’s destabilizing role inside NATO. How big of a problem has Turkey become as a NATO ally?

It’s unfortunate to see the path Turkey has taken under Erdogan’s government. Time and time again, President Erdogan has gone out of his way to weaken NATO solidarity and security. Turkey weaponized the flow of Syrian refugees into Europe as part of a strategy to blackmail its allies. Turkey continues to possess the S-400 missile system despite the threat it poses to our F-35s and NATO’s security architecture. And Erdogan has unwisely chosen to undermine NATO’s unity amid its response to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine by threatening Greece with war. This raises serious doubts, especially in Congress, over whether Erdogan can ever be a reliable ally.

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