Menendez scandal could unlock F-16 sale to Turkey and NATO Expansion, writes the Atlantic Council
In an analysis for the Atlantic Council, writer Grady Wilson argues the scandal engulfing Senator Robert Menendez could pave the way for a long-sought deal on F-16 jets for Turkey and NATO accession for Sweden.
After facing federal bribery charges, Menendez recently stepped down as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Turkish President Erdogan called Menendez's sidelining an "advantage," given the senator's past opposition to an F-16 sale.
Throughout his chairmanship, Menendez criticized Turkey while backing Greek and Armenian causes. His departure opens space to re-examine a potential quid pro quo on the fighter jets and Sweden's NATO bid.
Turkey is a challenging but essential US ally. Concerns over its democracy and ties with Russia are weighed against its NATO role, Ukraine support, and regional energy significance. In February, 27 senators told Biden they would not support F-16s unless Turkey stopped blocking Sweden's NATO accession. Menendez did not sign the letter.
Since talks began, an F-16 sale has been pivotal for Turkey approving Sweden's bid. Menendez effectively held veto power over arms deals as chair. Even after Turkey's breakthrough offer on Sweden at the NATO summit, Menendez cited other grievances opposing F-16s.
With Menendez sidelined, the path is more straightforward for the US to sell F-16s if Turkey follows through on Sweden's accession. Erdogan recently linked the two issues explicitly after long denying a connection.
Congress remains cautious, wanting commitments from Turkey first. But time is running out. Paralysis could lead Turkey to seek jets elsewhere, rupturing US-Turkey defense ties.
The F-16 deal has strategic importance beyond Sweden's NATO bid. Defense cooperation is a cornerstone for the US and Turkey, already damaged by Syria and S-400s. If the F-16 sale collapses, a generation-long rupture in defense ties could occur.