New challenges behind NATO
Turkish-American relations are in crisis once again, this time due to the Turkish purchase of the S-400 air defense systems from Russia and a possible consequential U.S. embargo against Turkey in the F-35 fighter jet project. Turkey will get the delivery of the air defense system by July this year. The American administration believes that pushing Turkey out of the F-35 project may stop this process.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met at NATO’s 70th year anniversary in Washington DC this week. The statements and mood of the meeting revealed that the possibility of a consensus is weak.
Turkey never forgets that her allies left her alone in time of crisis in critical times during the last 10 years. The role of delay and reluctance in delaying the delivery of the Patriot systems when Turkey was under attack by terrorist organizations and the Syrian regime is big in Turkey’s insistence on the S-400s. Turkey considers having the S-400s crucial for protecting its very survival. Turkey’s efforts to produce its own weapons, defense systems and develop its own national military technology is also related to this.
Turkey is also aware of the problems of depending on Russia too much. This policy has its own problems. Turkey has to manage deteriorating relations with the West while developing relations with Russia at the same time. But ongoing support of some European countries’ and the U.S.’s to the PKK and its affiliates strengthen Turkey’s determination.
From Ankara’s point of view, only a radical change in the American PKK-YPG policy can trigger a review in Turkish-Russian partnership. But it seems that the S-400 chapter has been closed by Turkey. Çavuşoğlu said the “S-400 purchase is a done deal” and there is no way of tearing this agreement down.
From the U.S. perspective, deploying the S-400 in Turkey is a serious problem. Russia and Iran are expanding (A2AD) Anti Access Area Denial. The area which is based on the deployment of S-400 and S-300 systems lies from the North Sea to the Indian Ocean. The Western European need for oil and gas from the Middle East and the Chinese search to extend its influence in the region makes keeping a strong NATO important for the U.S. against Russian-Chinese designs.
In February, diplomats Douglas Lute and Nicholas Burns published a report called “NATO at Seventy; An Alliance in Crisis” and revealed 10 challenges ahead of the Alliance. They say “NATO provides an essential security umbrella that defends Europe from conventional and nuclear attack affording the world’s two largest economies—the European Union and the United States—a secure geopolitical landscape. NATO members comprise the largest and strongest alliance of democratic countries in the world. They contain Russian aggression and protect over 100 million East Europeans who now live in democracy and freedom after the fall of communism. Far from obsolete, NATO remains vital for the more than 900 million Europeans and North Americans who benefit from its existence every day.”
From this perspective, solving Turkish-American problems is a matter for hundreds of millions of people. But both sides are focused on their positions so much, only very few people seem to be aware of the issue.
Burns and Lute cite reviving American leadership of the Alliance as a challenge within NATO. President Donald Trump annoyed not only Turkey, but also German Chancellor Angela Merkel and caused a problem within the alliance. His unbalanced and careless attitude harmed NATO, and even EU members established an alternative defense pact: PESCO.
Containing Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Ending the Afghan War and Competing with China are among challenges beyond the borders of NATO. If this is the case, keeping Turkey as a strong partner in NATO is much more important for NATO than Turkey’s dependence on the Alliance, because the idea of Turkey when joining NATO was the threat of the Soviet Union against its survival and existence. The same idea forced Turkey to get the S-400s.
War in Iraq, attempts to form an independent Kurdish state destabilizing Turkey and coup attempts by a secret terrorist organization are the reasons behind Turkey’s fears. Turkey has always turned its face to the Western world. It is hard to talk about a categorical anti-Americanism in Turkey. The issues above are poisoning the relations. Embargo on F-35s may further alienate Turkey and Turkey may be forced to search for alternatives in Russian market. This will further move Turkey away from the Alliance. At the end of the day the main motivation of Turkey is its survival and keeping the nation’s unity and territorial integrity. It would be wiser for Washington not to strengthen the conviction of Turkey that its salvation is out of NATO.