History of US military support for Turkey

Since its accession to NATO in 1952, Turkey has received American military and economic aid, weapons, and intelligence.

Turkish fascism and repression, while ignored by international media and dismissed by the official statements of many governments, requires foreign support to function as it does. Due to Turkey’s status as a NATO member, the majority of this support has come from the United States.

Since its accession to NATO in 1952, Turkey has received American military and economic aid, weapons, and intelligence. The U.S. government in 1980 estimated total military aid to Turkey between 1950 and 1975 to have totaled approximately $4.3 billion dollars— equivalent to $12,993,462,378 today. The majority of these funds fell under the Military Assistance Program, which provided grants to selected countries to purchase U.S. military equipment. While the U.S. did implement an arms embargo against Turkey over the invasion of Northern Cyprus for a short time in the mid-1970s, the embargo was overturned in 1978.

In 1980, Turkey and the United States signed the Defense and Economic Cooperation Agreement (DECA). A U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report said that “the United States is committed to use its best efforts to provide the Government of Turkey with defense equipment, training and assistance in order to modernize and maintain Turkish armed forces.” The first aid package sent after DECA was implemented, according to the GAO, was worth over $703 million.  Of this total, $400 million was earmarked for the Foreign Military Sales programs— that is, to facilitate arms deals.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, these deals continued. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) indicates that several transfers— notably those of helicopters and other aircraft— were specifically intended to contribute to Turkey’s war on the Kurds. Human rights organizations even reported on the role of U.S. weaponry in the destruction of Kurdish villages and displacement of hundreds of thousands of people at the time— resulting in some statements of concern, but little change.

This relationship, and the denial of its destructive reality, has changed little in recent years. An analysis of U.S. arms transfers and military aid to Turkey between 2010 and 2017, alongside the breakdown of the various equipment used by the Turkish military, shows that U.S. assistance is still essential in enabling Turkish atrocities against the Kurdish people.

Turkish Crimes, American Funding

Over the past ten years for which there are confirmed records, the State Department has provided military funding to Turkey through a variety of “peace and security” programs. The State Department’s Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations indicates that these programs are intended to strengthen Turkish cooperation with NATO and to ‘combat terrorism’— objectives which, in practice, decrease peace and security, especially for the people of Kurdistan, while cementing U.S. influence in the region.

In 2007, the largest portion of those “peace and security” funds went to the Foreign Military Financing program— which provides loans or grants to allow foreign militaries to purchase U.S. equipment. The U.S. had subsidized Turkish military purchases through this program for several years the 1980s and early 1990s, pausing in the mid-1990s but resuming after 9/11. Out of $19,791,000 in U.S. financial support to Turkey apportioned in 2007, $14,232,000 was apportioned to this account. In 2008, $12,159,000 was apportioned, followed by $1,000,000 in 2009. The program was phased out in 2010, though the Department of Defense still had about $75 million appropriated to this fund as of 2011.

Today, most U.S. military aid to Turkey comes through the Nonproliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining and Related assistance (NADR) and International Military Education and Training (IMET) programs. Funding requests for the IMET program have ranged between $3 and $5 million per year in the past ten years. This program educates and trains foreign militaries and increases their cooperation with American military forces. NADR anti-terrorism assistance— in the context of a Turkish state that sees all supporters of Kurdish freedom as “terrorism”— is especially sinister. While Turkey funded and supported Islamist gangs in Syria, the United States gave Turkey hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in various types of counter-terrorism support.

All of this was done while the Turkish state’s policies against the Kurdish people, both in Bakur and Rojava, were well known; and while Erdogan’s AKP government consolidated power and increased repression. They clearly show the U.S. interest in a “stability” at any cost that is directly tied to the war in Kurdistan. The funding totals— higher than those for any other country in Europe and Eurasia, with which Turkey is grouped, and among the highest in the Middle East and North Africa— show a truth obscured by any American rhetoric about human rights.

Weapons Deals

Arms sales are another important component of the deep U.S. role in Turkish military policy. 63% of Turkish arms imports in recent years came from the United States, and Turkey receives more U.S. arms than any country but Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

SIPRI reports that, from 2010 to 2017, there were 45 arms transfers from the United States to Turkey. Of those deals, 10 promised aircraft— combat jets and helicopters, as well as aircraft to assist combat missions. One of these orders, placed in 2014, called for 100 F-35s, to be delivered from 2018 to 2030. Another was the delivery in 2012 of 30 F-16s, ordered in 2007. A total of 82 helicopters, used for combat and transport, were ordered in this time period. Of these, 9 have been delivered, and the rest will be delivered in coming years.

The vast majority of the Turkish Air Force’s combat aircraft, in fact, are American-made and supplied. Its two types of combat jets currently in service, the F-4 and the F-16, come from American companies, as well as two of its three types of combat helicopter. Several tanks and armored vehicles are also licensed from U.S. technology, as well as several types of artillery and rockets. These weapons were essential in the destruction of Kurdish cities between 2015 and 2016.  

A profitable relationship

While the U.S. government gains the ability to shape Turkish policy and intervene as it wishes in the Middle East, American defense companies— all of which donate to and lobby the legislators involved in such policymaking— gain financially. The five largest American defense contractors all produce arms and technology that are sold to Turkey. These companies, in turn, spend significant amounts of money on lobbying in order to ensure that there remains a war from which they can make a profit.

What should be done?

It is clear that atrocities committed in every part of Kurdistan that Turkey occupies and invades would not have been possible without American defense companies seeking profit, the American government seeking control and influence, and the ignorance of the American people as to these realities.

It is the responsibility of all American people who oppose capitalism, imperialism and militarism to educate themselves about the financial and military depth of this relationship, and to act accordingly.