Turkey eyes $10 billion arms deal with UK as Biden Administration faces opposition to supply F-16 Fighter Jets to Erdogan
US President Joe Biden is unable to get Congress approval to sell F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. Image by DiGiFX Media

YEREVAN (CoinChapter.com) — Turkey is eyeing to ink a multibillion-dollar arms deal with the United Kingdom as the country looks to upgrade its outdated military arsenal. The deal, estimated at $10 billion, comes several months after the UK lifted the ban on arms sales to Turkey. Ankara has long been eyeing buying the much-coveted F-16 fighter jets from the United States. However, the Biden Administration in Washington faces stiff resistance from Capitol Hill in providing the arms package to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Government. 

Desperate and in need of modern, upgraded weapons, Turkey seems to have found a friend in the UK. Turkish defense minister Hulusi Akar visited London last week where he held a meeting his British counterpart, Ben Wallace.

Turkey is exploring a $10 billion arms deal with the UK after the Biden Administration faces opposition in Washington in supplying F-16 fighter jets
Turkey is exploring a $10 billion arms deal with the UK

According to reports, Akar discussed the possible sale of several military essentials, including Eurofighter jets, Type 23 frigate warships, and C-130J military transport aircraft, among others. Turkey also wants the UK to provide it with engines for its outdated M60 battle tanks. 

Ban on selling arms to Turkey 

The British Government, in a bid to increase its export of high-end weapons, had identified Turkey as one of its priority markets. Between 2015 and 2017, the UK sold nearly $409 million worth of arms to Turkey. By comparison, that number in 2010 was just over $59 million. 

At the time, the UK had just voted to leave the European Union in the iconic ‘Brexit’ vote. Turkey, on the other hand, had just crushed an alleged coup against President Erdogan. 

Then British Prime Minister Theresa May faced a lot of criticism at home for arming Turkey. For political opponents and peace activists alike, Erdogan’s track record of authoritarian rule made him an unreliable partner. Moreover, the ill-treatment of the Kurdish population in Turkey was a point of much debate. 

Turkey eyes $10 billion arms deal with UK as Biden Administration faces opposition to supply F-16 Fighter Jets to Erdogan
UK’s arms export to Turkey fell significantly after 2019. Credit: CAAT via Nordic Monitor

In October 2019, Turkish armed forces illegally invaded Syria under the pretext of countering the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Ankara has long maintained it is an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), which Erdogan’s government calls a terror outfit. 

Following the operation, the UK suspended arms sales to the country. By then, Turkey had imported over $1.2 billion worth of weapons from the United Kingdom. 

Then Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called Turkey’s actions “reckless and counterproductive” which “plays straight into the hands of Russia”.

European Union countries also moved to limit arms exports to Turkey following its offensive in Syria.

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UK lifts the ban on arms sale to Turkey 

Erdogan threatened Europe that it would flood the zone with refugees if they did not reconsider. He also used refugees as a bargaining cheap to extort money from the EU on the pretext that he was preventing thousands of refugees from crossing over. At the same time, Brexit provided the perfect opportunity to renegotiate an arms deal with London.

In December 2021, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson secretly ordered the resumption of normal licensing to Turkey.

This was followed by a statement on in February 2022 by Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Faruk Kaymakcı. In a meeting of the parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee, Kaymakcı confirmed that the United Kingdom had lifted a ban on arms sales to Turkey. 

UK lifted the ban on arms sales to Turkey in late 2019.
UK lifted the ban on arms sales to Turkey in late 2019.

When the news broke, the British Government claimed licenses will only be issued if the applicant can “incontrovertibly demonstrate that the goods will not be used in northeastern Syria.”  

Now, months after lifting the ban, the UK again wants to get cozy with the dictatorship in Ankara. 

Commenting on the recent developments, a UK Ministry of Defence spokesperson confirmed that an arms deal is on the table. 

“The Defence Secretary met with his Turkish counterpart to discuss strengthening defence ties between the two countries. They spoke on a range of topics including procurement, with progress made in a number of areas,” 

Middle East Eye quoted the spokesperson saying.  

But Turkey is yet to find the same attitude in Washington. Despite the strong lobby working in Ankara’s favor, many are reluctant to trust Turkey just yet. 

Biden Administration still unable to sell F-16s to Turkey

The Biden Administration has informed Congress about its plans to sign a major arms deal with Turkey. According to reports, the deal will also include the 40 upgraded F-16 fighter jets, which Ankara desperately wants. 

But Joe Biden will have a hard time passing the $20 billion arms package through Congress. Influential Senators are vehemently opposed to the deal. Senator Bob Menendez, who chairs the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, has declared that he will oppose such a move. 

Ankara’s aggression against its US allies and neighbors, including Greece, makes Turkey unreliable. Moreover, Turkey’s involvement in regional wars, including in Nagorno Kharabagh, has earned it a few foes in Capitol Hill. 

Meanwhile, Congress will likely approve the sale of 30 F-16s to rival Greece. 

To make matters worse, Erdogan has opposed NATO membership for Sweden and Finland. One of his preconditions for approval is allegedly the F-16 jets from the US. 

“President Erdogan continues to undermine international law, disregard human rights and democratic norms, and engage in alarming and destabilizing behavior in Turkey and against neighboring NATO allies. Until Erdogan ceases his threats, improves his human rights record at home – including by releasing journalists and political opposition – and begins to act like a trusted ally should, I will not approve this sale,” 

Bob Menendez said.
Joe Biden finds it difficult to get approval to sell F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.
Joe Biden finds it difficult to get approval to sell F-16 fighter jets to Turkey

Faced with stiff opposition, Ankara has officially announced it would purchase Eurofighter Typhoons if the Biden Administration does not commit to the F-16 jets. 

It seems Erdogan has made a breakthrough in the UK. President Joe Biden would likely want to sell the American falcons instead. However, it won’t be easy convincing Capitol Hill to approve it. 

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