How (not) to do business with NATO

How (not) to do business with NATO

In April 2009, military teams from Turkey and Syria crossed the border and visited outposts during joint military drills. That was the first time a NATO army had exercised with Syria’s. Though, today, there could only be one reason why Turkish and Syrian armies should cross the same border.

In September 2010, Turkish and Chinese Air Force aircrafts conducted joint exercises in Turkish airspace. That, too, was the first time a NATO Air Force had military exercises with China’s.

In 2011, a Transatlantic Trends survey revealed Turkey was the NATO member with the lowest support for the alliance: just 37 percent (down from 53 percent in 2004).

In 2012, Turkey joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as a dialogue partner (the other dialogue partners are Belarus and Sri Lanka, while Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia have observer status). Since then, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has, at least a few times, said Ankara would abandon its quest to join the European Union if it was offered full membership of the SCO.

All that was unpleasantly puzzling, but probably was at least tolerable from an Atlantic viewpoint. But in September 2013, Ankara announced it selected a Chinese defense company for the construction of Turkey’s first long-range air and anti-missile architecture – a $3.44-billion deal. Turkish officials said local engineering would make the Chinese system “interoperable” with the U.S. and NATO assets deployed on Turkish soil, a task even learners in the defense trade should know is, optimistically, a near impossibility.

In various tones of diplomatic language, Turkey’s western friends warned that Turkey’s defense cooperation with the United States and its NATO allies would be seriously damaged if Turkey, with all due respect to its sovereign rights, pursued its air defense program with Beijing. Not merely because the Chinese contractor is on a U.S. list of sanctions, as part of the Iran, North Korea and Syria Non-Proliferation Act, but also because, apparently, the West does not think a Chinese hand in sensitive NATO systems would be a good idea.

Meanwhile, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international body setting the global rules and standards for combating terrorist financing, ruled last week that Turkey should remain on its “gray list.”
Once again, Turkey is the odd one out; as it is the only NATO member country on the gray list (the others are Algeria, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Syria and Yemen – Syria, what a simple twist of fate!).

In a statement, the group said, “Certain concerns remain regarding Turkey’s framework for identifying and freezing terrorist assets. The FATF encourages Turkey to address these remaining strategic deficiencies and continue the process of implementing its action plan.”

What does that mean? “The FATF statement makes it clear Turkey remains a problem… Turkey does not belong on the same list as Iran or North Korea. However, troubling questions remain about Ankara’s relationship with Iranian gold traders, Hamas leaders, al-Qaeda in Syria and persons designated under the U.S. sanctions regime,” Today’s Zaman quoted Jonathan Schanzer, former U.S. Treasury terrorism finance analyst and Foundation for Defense of Democracies vice president for research, as saying.

Apart from having had military exercises with Syria and China, seeking membership in the SCO, commissioning a Chinese company on a U.S. sanctions list to build a NATO-interoperable air defense system and sharing a potential terrorist sponsors list together with Algeria, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Syria and Yemen. What bright ideas do the Turks have about the alliance?

Well, it’s Turkish humor again. Against this backdrop, Turkey’s defense procurement agency, the Undersecretary for Defense Industries (SSM), proudly organized Jan. 21 (barely three weeks before Turkey’s seal on the gray list of terrorist financing suspects was reaffirmed) a workshop. Its title was “How to do business with NATO.” In a presentation at the workshop, the head of SSM’s Brussels office, declared Turkey’s number one goal was “to improve Turkey’s relations with NATO in the defense industry.”

Good luck, gentlemen!