France-Turkey defense ties could be strained

France-Turkey defense ties could be strained

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
France-Turkey defense ties could be strained

The highest-profile deal between France and Turkey is a $4 billion program to buy long-range missiles and air defense systems. This file photo shows a BMC armored military defense vehicle that is used by the Turkish military. AA photo

Turkey’s defense industry business with France will be badly affected if French Parliament’s Upper House approves a bill criminalizing the denial of what the organizers call the Armenian genocide, Turkish procurement officials said yesterday.

The highest-profile such deal will be a nearly $4 billion program to buy long-range missile and air defense systems. For this contract the pan-European Eurosam, maker of the SAMP/T Aster 30, is competing with a U.S. partnership between Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, maker of Patriot air defense systems, Russia’s Rosoboronexport, marketing the S300, and China’s CPMIEC (China Precision Machinery Export-Import Corp.), offering its HQ-9.

Turkey’s top decision-making body on defense procurement is expected to select a winner this summer. Eurosam is owned by MBDA of Italy, MBDA of France and France’s Thales group. As a result French companies have a nearly two-thirds stake in Europe’s top anti-missile maker. Italy is currently dealing with the Turkish government on this program, making use of its excellent defense ties with Ankara, but the large French presence is key, Turkish officials say.

Bill would end project

“France can forget about this project if the bill passes. I agree with the view that this would be very good news for the Americans,” said one senior Turkish procurement official. NATO officials already have warned Turkey not to select the Russian or Chinese options because of security concerns.

France recognized the Armenian genocide in 2001, and the new bill calls for a jail term and fine for its denial.

The situation now resembles the 1990s when Turkey faced embargoes or bans on arms sales because of the Armenian genocide and claims of human rights violations. But, unlike the 1990s, Turkey now is a candidate for membership to the European Union and cannot formally announce trade embargoes and sanctions against member countries. Thus, the Turks behave as if the measures against France would be unofficial and spontaneous.

Such embargoes were one of the reasons why Turkey later developed its indigenous defense industry, which can now itself manufacture armored vehicles, small naval platforms and a majority of military electronics products. But it still buys aircraft and other advanced defense systems from abroad.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced some retaliatory moves to the genocide bill, including cuts in military and diplomatic contacts. Turkey’s ambassador to Paris was recalled in late December last year but went back in early January to coordinate efforts to stop the French Senate from ratifying the bill. Analysts believe that a much more serious Turkish response would come if and when the Senate approves the bill.

In the area of commercial aviation, Turkish Airlines, the state-owned company, has always adopted a policy of balance in purchases from the U.S. Boeing and the French Airbus.

“If the bill passes, the business of France here will come to an unofficial end. You can be sure of that,” said the procurement official.

Turkey also is a member of the Airbus Military, a company owned by EADS, a defense giant in which France is a shareholder. It is the maker of the A400M, formerly known as the Future Large Aircraft, a large military transport plane, and is scheduled to eventually buy nine platforms.

These long-delayed programs are not due to be delivered until between 2013 and 2018, and it is not clear whether the deal will be badly affected by the passage of the Armenian bill in the French Senate.