Turkey buys Chinese tech to face China supported Syrian threat
The United States, Germany, and the Netherlands each sent two Patriot batteries to Turkey early this year after Ankara asked NATO for help with air defense against a possible missile attack from Syria.
Time is coming up to decide about a prolongation for another year. The Netherlands, for instance, is expected to discuss the issue in its parliament by the end of this month. So Turkey’s announcement of its decision to choose a Chinese firm to co-produce a long-range air and missile defense system could not have come at a better time.
The Turkish government turned to NATO for protection from Syria; which is supported by China together with Russia on the United Nations Security Council, obstructing multilateral action against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which is at the root of the threat perceived by Ankara. Turkey is hosting NATO radars against a potential Iranian threat; yet it opts for a Chinese manufacturer CPMIEC which is under U.S. sanctions for cooperating with Iran.
There is clearly an irony here.
According to Can Kasapoğlu and Aron Stein from the Center for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM) China’s bid is reported to have been close to $1 billion less than its closest competitor, the other rivals being U.S., Russian and European firms. Normally that should make Turkish taxpayers happy. But, if the Chinese system is not interoperable with NATO; building a separate infrastructure might make the Chinese option more costly. Yet sources familiar with the issue told me even if the Chinese system’s integration to NATO might be technically feasible, it is politically impossible. “This is obviously not just a technical issue. We need interoperability at all level. And obviously China is not an ally,” a NATO diplomat told me.
A Western official dismissed Murad Bayar, the head of the Under Secretariat for Defense Procurement’s statement that the Chinese air and missile defense system will be automatically integrated with NATO by a Turkish company as “wishful thinking.”
Turkey wants to depoliticize the issue by arguing that the decision was based on economic criteria; such as the price, the possibility of co-production and technology transfer. Yet there is a clear political dimension to it, say Western diplomatic sources. NATO simply would not want the two systems to be integrated; full stop.
In addition, the China choice contradicts Turkey’s own policies within NATO. Ankara remains one of the members who never wanted NATO’s collective defense capabilities to be diluted. It is precisely because of that, Turkey had adamantly objected to U.S. efforts prior to the Obama administration that tried to establish an anti-missile defense scheme to protect its territory through bilateral mechanism with selective European countries. Turkey insisted U.S. missile defense plans should come under the NATO umbrella, which was what the Obama administration has done. As mentioned in the EDAM paper, “by opting for the Chinese system, Ankara is also signaling to its Allies that its military budget will not be supportive of the Alliance objective of strengthening the NATO territorial missile defense. Instead, Turkey will spend its resources on building up an independent capability for theater missile defense.”
While Turkish officials are keen on insisting that it is not the case; there is a political dimension behind the decision. Turkey obviously wants to rely on its own capabilities rather than depend on NATO’s. But a country is part of an Alliance precisely in order to benefit from the asset of that alliance. NATO’s hesitation to deploy patriots during the first Gulf war seems to have left deep scars in Turkish decision makers. Yet we need to get over that trauma. Besides, Turkey can still find a middle way; of relying on its own capabilities as well as NATO’s without alienating its allies; according to experts.
Fortunately NATO allies do not have the intention of connecting the deadline of the deployment of patriots with Turkey’s recent decision. “NATO has not put any deadline to the deployment. It will be national decision. But the two issues are not connected,” said the NATO diplomat.