US: Turkey changing its defense DNA
Currently Turkey’s decision to purchase Russian S400 anti ballistic missile defense system stands as the most immediate potentially explosive crisis between Ankara and Washington. By immediate, I don’t mean to talk about a crisis to explode in a matter of days. The timeframe depends on the delivery date of the S400 and according to the most recent statement (made by the presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın,) Russians are planning to deliver the system this July. One might think that four months gives the two sides ample period to find a solution; but looking from messages coming from both sides, it is fair to say that we are fast heading towards a crisis.
The Turkish position can be summarized as going ahead with the purchase of S400’s and continuing at the same time negotiations to buy Patriots from United States. On the latter issue, the Turkish side argues the price to be too high and the technology transfer to be too low.
For the Americans; the problem remains to be mutual exclusivity. In other words the two system can’t co exist together. Once functional, Russians will get hold of sensitive information via s400’s, they claim.
Turkey faces a ban on the transfer of F-35 aircraft for which it has invested $1.25 billion, unless it cancels the deal with Russia.
Now a days a lot of people keep reminding the solution found during the S300 crisis that broke in 1997/98. The Greek Cypriots were forced to abandon plans to install two S-300 air-defense missile sites because of Turkey’s reaction and the system was located to the Greek island of Creete, with the assumption that it will not be activated.
Could the same “keeping the system in the box after delivery” be an option to solve the crisis? (Without questioning at this stage the rationale or irrationale behind the idea of buying a multi million dollar system that will not be used).
The American answer to this question is a flat no. The sanctions against Turkey will take effect not upon the activation of the system but upon delivery, they say.
And here comes the gist of the problem; which I have underlined in my previous article: the distrust between the two allies.
How come Washington can live with Greece having S300’s located in their soil (supposedly in the box) but not with Turkey endorsing the same formula? Basically Americans trust the Greeks to keep the system in the box (though there have been news that the system was activated so Israel can test its own aircraft against it) but they can’t trust the Turks.
If F35s are delivered Washington believes it will lose all leverage on the use of the S400 system. The deterioration in bilateral relations have come to such point that Americans not only do not trust the Turkish administration to keep its words but even fear the possibility that it can put at risk American defense technology in favor for Russia!
In short; once the S400 system is delivered; this will mean a change in Turkey’s defense DNA; according to American officials. What does a change in defense DNA mean? Does it mean that Turkey’s loyalty to the Western alliance will be questioned and it will eventually lead to a break up? The Turkish side has four months to find out the answer; because I am sure that the message that US sees the Russian deal as a change in defense DNA is being given to Turkish officials.
But does the message passes across? At this stage American officials worry about a potential misreading of US President Donald Trump by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
In contrast to his usual tenure, Trump is very polite and accommodating when he talks with Erdoğan say American officials. This could be misread by Erdoğan who might also make the mistake to think that Trump has its hands free to take any decision. Unfortunately S400 is a deal closely monitored by the (very unfriendly) Congress.
This misreading seems to lead to the conviction that Turkey can get away with the purchase of s400 without having to face to consequences. Again, we have four months to see whether this will be the case.