Turkey and the S-400 case as problematic example for U.S. allies worldwide

On the 17th of March, Asya Akca and Gregory Sanders published an article on the CSIS website regarding the ongoing crisis of US-Turkish relations. For years, anyone could hardly see an intersection between American and Turkish interests in the Middle East. However, the Turkish purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system further deteriorates the relations between Washington and Ankara. According to the program that follows the deal between Turkey and Ankara, the establishment of S-400 on Turkish soil will begin in April.

By ALEXANDER DRIVAS
SOURCE: HELLAS JOURNAL

The two authors argue that Turkish misalignment with US and NATO principles will continue to take place as Erdogan stated there is not an issue to cancel the purchase of S-400 from Russia. The recent tension between Russia and Turkey in Syria has perceived by the US administration as a window of opportunity for the amelioration of US-Turkish relations because Turkey may fully understand made the wrong choice by aligning with Russia in Syria.

The Erdogan’s request to the US to send Patriot missiles to support Turkish troops in Syria has complicated the already messy situation that drives in dissension the American officials, on how could respond to Turkish policies. Erdogan has strengthened its commitment to his current strategy and stated that the S-400 issue is a done deal. But the US-Turkish hostility over the Turkish arms purchase is something more than a single bilateral dispute. For Washington, Turkey is opening the Pandoras’ Box regarding potential purchases from Russia and China that will happen by other states which belong to NATO or they are American allies.

First, it is highly recommended to unfold the opinion of the two authors about the chronicle of US-Turkish dispute over the arms sales. They agree on the fact that however, Turkey is a member of NATO, ignored the American warnings so as not to buy the Russian missile system. This purchase poses in danger to the interoperability of NATO. Turkey ignored the American warnings by completing a deal with Russia to purchase two S-400 for $2,5 billion. Strengthening their justification, the two authors refer to Ellen Lord’s statement who is Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment. Ellen Lord had said the purchase of S-400 will be harmful to Turkish interoperability with NATO because of such a purchase is inconsistent with NATO policies.

The US officials have been escalating their warnings by threatening Turkey that it would be cut off from the F-35 program. Before the Turkish neglection, Erdogan put Turkey as a co-producer in the F-35 program. This program could fortify over 100 aircraft for Turkey. The air defense of NATO and its interoperability is based on F-35 usage, and the Russian S-400 could be deleterious for the cohesion of NATO by using information about the NATO operations. Turkish purchase shows that Erdogan is embraced with Putin and it is beyond any doubt that the co-existence of S-400 and F-35 that Turkey desires to happen, comprises a direct threat to NATO. On the 12th of July 2019, parts of the S-400 missile system arrived in Turkey.

Ellen Lord had warned again Turkey using a carrot and stick that the US would re-examine the arms’ program if Turkey canceled the purchase of S-400. However, Turkey is seeking special conditions to acquire either S-400 or Patriot and F-35. The major request of Turkey is to be capable to manage special technology and be a part of co-production in both the S-400 program and the Patriot. Turkey is trying to play a distinct role in the Middle East, using the missile systems to achieve regional hegemony and not to be a pivotal state neither in the grace of the USA nor for Russia. In meanwhile, the stability of Russian-Turkish relations is on peril as the two powers meet the constraints of their partnership in Syria and this deterioration will have probably a significant impact regarding the second phase of S-400 installation in Turkish soil.

The American policy towards Turkey

According to two experts, the USA looks at an accurate policy towards Turkish arms purchase. The Department of Defense has already calculated that the expel of Turkey of the co-production of F-35 will raise a damage cost around $550 billion. The Pentagon claims that it is unacceptable for the F-35 technology to co-exist with S-400 one. The situation is still very complicated because of Turkish co-production in the F-35 program.

There are 400 aircraft that are sole-sourced to Turkish companies. The Pentagon canceled the full phase-out of Turkey that previously had announced, leaving an open door to Turkey to cancel the S-400 purchase. Lockheed Martin and Pentagon are concerned about delays of aircraft and are trying to substitute Turkey with other potential co-producers are under the American strategic interests like Poland. The American Congress presents a bipartisan cohesion regarding the Turkish policy on S-400 issue. They propose to the US Administration to follow a hard line towards Turkey’s behavior by sanctioning it. The FY 2020 NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) has already included a provision that has the title ”Limitation on Transfer of F-35 aircraft to Turkey”.

Not only this but also Congress has strongly recommended to POTUS to implement the CAATSA of 2017, (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) to respond to Turkish hostile behavior. The Senate and the House of Representatives passed a bill that recognizes the Armenian Genocide and also two more bills that call on further sanctions against Turkey. Despite those activities, President Donald Trump looks to continue his warm relationship with Erdogan.

Donald Trump seems that used the waiver regarding the CAATSA to buy time to resolve the dispute. That waiver means that the CAATSA imposition against Turkey will delay for six months and the legal justification for that delay, was that this issue is critical for American National Security. The political imperative that drives Trump to follow that policy is to avoid prompting Turkey to go closer to Russia. It is beyond any doubt that the US foreign policy towards Turkey is suffering from a huge dilemma which is no other than whether to use the carrot and whether to use the stick.

Turkish attitude became more aggressive after the Congressional actions. Erdogan threatened the US that if it is necessary, he will close two of the critical importance bases (Incirlik and Kurecik). Esper’s announcements followed the Turkish rhetoric and wondered if Turkey is still abode by the NATO rules. The Turkish phase-of the F-35 program will cost (according to the USA officials) around $9 billion to Turkey. In the F-35 co-production program, Turkey was a partner since 1999 when it was initiated.

Companies like ROKETSAN, Turkish Aerospace Industries, and Tusas Engine Industries Turkey, were actively involved in the co-production. Turkish officials continue to walk to the edge by announcing that they are looking forward to substituting the F-35 with Russian Su-35 and Su-57. Moreover, the Turkish government claimed that the Turkish Aerospace Industries can already develop a fifth-generation aircraft. According to Akca and Sanders, this rhetoric is narrowing to Turkish people to appease them for Turkey’s fallout of the F-35 program and comment on these statements as unrealistic.

The perfect frenemies

One of the most impactive implications that flow from the US -Turkish dispute over the arms sales, is the current status of the relationship between Moscow and Ankara. Tayyip Erdogan came into a panic when he realized that the ”strategic cooperation” between Russia and Turkey isn’t unbreakable.

The fragility of this complicated relationship, which has already been called ”frenemies’ relationship”, has been unfolded by the struggle that surrounds Russian-Turkish relations in Syria and Libya. Erdogan who was him that ignored NATO and the USA, now he pleas them to support Turkey in Syria. The Turkish Foreign Minister clarified that the current crisis of Russian-Turkish relations won’t affect the purchase of S-400.

More and more analysts claim that Turkey followed the path to Russia regarding its military purchases because Turkish officials believed that the US supports the Kurds in Syria. Russia does the same, following a policy that narrows to hold the best of both worlds. Is Turkey in front of a dead-end?

Who is going to resolve the chicken game?

It could be safely assumed that the US will stand its ground about the Turkish purchase of S-400. This is a matter of collective defense in which are involved the USA and its allies in NATO. Moreover, it is very important to see if the Pentagon will completely phase Turkey out of the F-35 program.

The two authors conclude that Russia is the winner of the US-Turkish dispute because Putin achieved to provoke a major problem in NATO cohesion by selling the S-400 missile system and at the same time, he behaves to Turkey as it was his ”hostage” by taking decisions in Syria that are extremely costly for Turkey. However, Turkey will continue to support Russian decisions in Syria because Erdogan believes that Russia is closer to Turkey’s interests. The only issue that remains to be unfolded is if it will take place a full phase-out of Turkey regarding the F-35 program.

The crucial matter that will make the American officials ponder is that Turkey opens a new chapter about arms sales at a global level. More states perhaps will follow the Turkish path and it is possible to acquire military equipment from other powers that subvert American interests like China and Russia. The current crisis that strikes over the world is related to coronavirus. The pandemic weakens day by day the Turkish economy which is mostly west-depended and it is not impossible to be witnesses of a Turkish political change regarding the S-400 purchase.

*Alexander Drivas is Research Fellow – HALC, Ph.D. Cand. (Hellenic-American Relations after the Cold War Era)