Trojan dragon (II)

Trojan dragon (II)

One could easily compile a tiny book containing public statements from the United States and NATO expressing “concern, deep concern or serious concern” over Turkey’s decision to select a Chinese company to build its first long-range air and anti-missile defense architecture. Most recently, U.S. Ambassador to Ankara Francis Ricciardone said “the United States shared the same concerns with NATO and was concerned about what the Turkish decision meant for allied air defense” (Oct. 24).

And Turkey’s top military commander, General Necdet Özel, chief of the military general staff, said that “no concern from the United States has been communicated” (Oct. 29).

(In case Mr. Özel is unaware, allow me to communicate to him that in January and February this year 163 military pilots quit service. In December 2012, the navy commander resigned. Earlier this month, two more admirals commanding the Coast Guard along with half a dozen high-ranking naval officers resigned, all in protest at the de jure events that have made Turkish jails one of the country’s biggest naval bases).

Perhaps Mr. Özel should start his day by reading newspapers. Still, with or without any U.S. communication with the office of the Turkish General Staff, to quote a Washington source, “the U.S. concern is much deeper than has been voiced.” What does that mean? Not too much, probably, to reshape a sovereign ally’s military/commercial decision over a $3.44 billion contract. Too much of an expression of political workmanship would in fact minimize U.S. efforts to “correct” the Turkish decision because the Turkish leadership will not wish to be portrayed as having bowed to U.S. pressure and changed course.

But the game is not over. The Chinese bidder’s (winner’s) U.S. and European rivals, Raytheon (with Lockheed Martin) and Eurosam, are belatedly doing their punishment homework and working out formulas to make their proposals attractive enough to convince Ankara that the dragon option was the wrong choice. And that, too, tells Ankara that opting for the Chinese solution was a wise decision, without which the U.S. and European contenders would behave too meanly (or not generously enough, particularly in terms of technology sharing).

I wrote in this newspaper that Ankara would select the Chinese bidder – about three months before the decision on the missile shield was officially announced. Now the top management for defense procurement are wondering: Did we have to go Chinese before the Americans and Europeans could offer us what they could offer but did not? Right? Right.

Is it too late for a second half recovery after the first half of this multibillion dollar game ended with the score at China 1 - Rivals 0? No. The dice will be rolled again. There will be more Chinese, American, Italian and French defense businessmen visiting Ankara. Posh hotels and restaurants in the grey city will love to welcome CIP guests.

The first lesson for the American, French and Italian men in nice suits: You cannot “retrieve” the contract with “too much explicit/public political pressure” from your home governments. The second is to remember the golden rule in Turkish defense business if you want to be the winner: It must be a “Turkish” system. If it cannot be a Turkish system, then it should be a Turkish system – and it does not matter if its key components are not Turkish; “Turkishness” is about your ability to portray a weapon system as Turkish. Third: You can always hire Ottoman-speaking negotiators to influence the decision-makers (or the decision-maker) in Ankara. Fourth: Try not to be robbed by willing agents or dream merchants who claim to be perfectly-connected with the center of gravity in Ankara. And, finally, you know what…

There could be a lot of future corporate lessons drawn from this contract for the losers of the first half of the game. Why, really, did a NATO ally choose Chinese air defense systems when it could go for a U.S. or a European (both NATO) solution? You can come up with a hundred answers, but for the sake of realism, skip the easy one that would point to Turkey’s aspirations to turn its back on the West and seek Eastern alliances.