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Washington’s Dead-End In Relations With Turkey

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Washington's Dead-End In Relations With Turkey

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On December 10th, U.S. House of Representatives and Senate Armed Services Committees agreed on a compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

It includes legislation on completely prohibiting the transfer of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, due to the purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system. Because Turkey moved to test the S-400, and it tested it against US-made F-16, the US Congress needs to consider how to “punish” Ankara.

Trump is expected to sign the NDAA into law soon, which would make the decision concrete.

Under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), the administration must choose from several options – from light to harsh sanctions if foreign partners make a significant purchase of Russian military equipment.

“The time for patience has long expired. It is time you applied the law,” Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said in a recent letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “Failure to do so is sending a terrible signal to other countries that they can flout U.S. laws without consequence.”

If the Trump administration doesn’t impose sanctions under CAATSA, US Congress can move on its own and vote to do so.

The administration had floated a workaround that would involve Turkey agreeing to store and not operate the S-400.

On December 11th, the US Senate voted to pass the “Promoting American National Security and Preventing the Resurgence of ISIS Act of 2019.”

“Now’s the time for the Senate to come together and take this opportunity to change Turkey’s behavior,” said Senator Jim Risch said.

“This is not some minor dustup with this country. This is a drift by this country, Turkey, to go in an entirely different direction than what they have in the past. They’ve thumbed their nose at us, and they’ve thumbed their nose at their other NATO allies,” he said.

The Turkish foreign ministry described the latest initiatives in Congress as “a new manifestation of disrespect for our sovereign decisions regarding our national security”.

“These initiatives do not have any function other than to harm Turkish-US relations,” it said in a statement, calling on Congress to act with common sense.

“It is understood that members of Congress have shut their eyes and ears to the truth,” Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said.

No specific sanctions have yet been imposed and it is unclear what they will be, but US officials claimed that they will be “severe.”

In response, on December 11th, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Turkey is ready to retaliate if Washington imposes sanctions over the S-400 purchase.

“Members of the U.S. Congress need to understand that they cannot achieve anything by imposition. If the U.S. approaches positively, we will approach positively too,” he said.

He was asked if Turkey will consider closing the İncirlik Airbase in southern Turkey to U.S. aircraft in the case of sanctions, Cavusoglu said that Ankara would decide upon its assessments in the worst-case scenario and İncirlik Airbase and Kürecik radar system of NATO could be among those retaliation plans.

“İncirlik may come up, and Kürecik may come up. Everything may come up. I don’t want to talk on assumptions. The decision of the administration is important, not the congress. We will evaluate and decide on the worst-case scenario.”

The Foreign Minister further said that Turkey was open to alternatives for fighter jets, after being blocked out of the F-35 program. Erdogan has long repeated that the S-400 purchase and incoming deployment are irreversible and no threat of US sanctions would change that.

This puts the White House in a precarious situation. US President Donald Trump’s policy is clearly in support of the national defense industry and sanctions and other sources of pressure are used to pressure competitors, be it rivals or allies.

The US appears to be losing its positions in the Middle East, since the traditional and key allies in the region are Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel.

Turkey’s showing defiance, purchasing the S-400 and refusing to succumb to any pressure of the US to drop its plans and, instead, purchase Patriot missile defense batteries. Ankara appears to be adamant on pursuing its own goals, and a US strategy in pushing Turkey too far carry much more risk than any potential benefits that may result from the situation.

If the US pushes too hard, imposes severe sanctions, it may lose its military facilities in Turkey. This would, in turn, play to Ankara’s benefit since it would be allowed to consolidate its own sovereignty and further increase its influence in the Middle East.

NATO bases would likely be allowed to remain in Turkey, as they would provide a sort of security in the case of a large-scale conflict. In this way, Turkey would remain a NATO member, all the while freeing itself from being a tool of US interest in the Middle East.

It should be noted that the US accepts Ankara’s purchase of S-400 as it moving away from itself and NATO, but Turkey has never even mentioned that its other weapon contracts with other states and its relations are ending. Ankara has never said that its new and only ally is Moscow.

On the other hand, the Trump administration may decide to impose light sanctions, in a sign of formality, without any real impact on Turkey’s defense industry and economy. This would be potentially beneficial to short-term relations between Ankara and Washington, but would also provide a precedent. It would show that the US’ “bark” is much worse than its “bite” and would create opportunity for future purchases of Russian or Chinese equipment, be it by Turkey or other “traditional allies”.

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