Turkey's projection of hard power
Only a decade ago Turkey’s envoy to the U.S. was knocking on doors in Washington to purchase drones, only to find the doors shut in his face.
“A bad neighbor makes you the owner of a house,” goes a Turkish saying. Looking at Turkey’s current drone manufacturing capacity, both armed and unarmed, we can translate this saying into “bad supplier makes you a manufacturer.”
Turkey’s army of drones has played crucial roles both in Syria and in Libya, according to military experts.
In Syria, they were incremental in bypassing Russia’s control of the airspace and inflicting damage to Bashar Al-Assad forces, while in Libya they changed the course of the civil war in favor of the U.N.-supported Government of National Accord (GNA).
Turkey’s Western allies continue to ignore the effects of imposing arms embargo to Ankara, as several among them have decided to suspend their arms sale following Turkish cross-border Operation Peace Spring in Syria. They were not happy with the operation’s fundamental target, which was to weaken the YPG, which Turkey sees as the illegal PKK’s wing. As they continue to sell billions of dollars worth of armament to Saudi Arabia, they seem not bothered at all with Riyadh’s military offensives in Yemen which has resulted in one of the biggest human tragedies after the Second World War.
Feeling bitter with these double standards, these embargos have pushed Turkey to look for other suppliers in the past; like South Korea and Israel; who ask less questions when they sell arms. But they are considered to be in the Western camp. Knocking on the door of Russia has proven problematic; especially in the case of the purchase of S- 400 anti ballistic missiles.
As I said in the beginning, in addition to the efforts of diversifying the suppliers, Turkey stepped up work for domestic manufacturing.
According to Turkish diplomats, revolutionary changes have been taking place in the Turkish army’s military inventory. Being less dependent on foreign powers is good, but this might come at a cost, especially when you can’t resist to try the new “products” in the field.
Is it a coincidence that Turkey has been projecting lately more hard power than soft power? Could Turkey’s decision makers not resist the lure of trying new equipment in the field, or has the circumstances pushed them to prioritize the use of military power over diplomacy? Encouraged by some Western countries, have Greece, Greek Cyprus, Egypt and Israel not formed a front against Turkey for the insignificant amount of natural resources in the East Mediterranean, would we have seen Turkey interfering in favor of the government in Tripoli with which it signed a treaty to disrupt the game plans of that front?
Whatever the motivations behind the use of power, at the end of the day, Turkey has had two tangible results in the recent past: First it prevented the efforts to establish a YPG statelet in northeast Syria and, second, while it failed to be the “game setter” in Libya, it became the disrupter of the game plan, as put by Can Kasapoğlu from the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies.
Speaking at an online panel on May 19: Kasapoğlu, however, warned about the limits of Turkey’s hard power. “After all Turkey is a G20 country, not a G7 country,” said Kasapoğlu.
His call for caution about Turkey’s recent policy of prioritizing military power was echoed by the country’s former envoy to NATO Fatih Ceylan who warned against the possibility of overstretching. Both underlined the importance of soft power and diplomacy.
According to Kasapoğlu, Turkey needs to start diplomatic work with its Western ally to set the ground if it is planning to keep under its control at the Al-Watiya air base recently liberated from the Haftar forces.
Ceylan, on the other hand, warned about avoiding confrontation with NATO allies in terms of military procurement. “We do not know whether Russia will share the technology of S-400s,” said Ceylan, adding, “and if the S-400s are going to operate on a stand-alone system, we can’t consolidate military independence by buying a readymade system,” said Ceylan.
NATO never objected to Turkey’s production of drones, according to Ceylan, because they were manufactured according to NATO standards. In fact, before the S-400 stalemate Turkey was on the way to market itself as a supplier which can manufacture weapon systems on NATO standards with lower costs and willing to share technology.
This, however, is jeopardized if the U.S. sanctions were to start being implemented in case of the activation of S-400s.