How will S-400s affect Turkey’s role in NATO?

How will S-400s affect Turkey’s role in NATO?

As expected, the United States has announced its decision to cease Turkish participation in the multinational F-35 aircraft project as a result of the beginning of the delivery of the S-400 air defense systems from Russia.

In separate statements, both the White House and the Pentagon have described the S-400s as an “intelligence-collection platform” and underlined that they could undermine the stealth capabilities of the F-35 aircraft should they be deployed on Turkish soil together.

Although Turkey has long been stressing that the S-400s will be fully under the control of the Turkish military, many in the U.S. believe that Russian military experts will continue to assist their Turkish counterparts in using the system for a certain period.

The radar system of the S-400s are capable of learning about the advanced capabilities of the F-35 and therefore they could pose a great threat to the safety of these fifth-generation aircraft, they argue.

The statements issued by Pentagon officials and the White House on July 17 tried to assure that the significance they attach to Turkey’s contribution to the NATO and ongoing bilateral military ties has not changed despite the S-400s.

However, they urge that the nature of these engagements would eventually be altered. They pointed out two dimensions.

On the NATO dimension, the U.S. suggests that Turkey’s decision to supply S-400s from Russia undermines the commitments all allied countries made to each other to move away from the Russian systems. The commitment the U.S. refers to was made at a NATO summit in 2016. “This will have detrimental impacts on Turkish interoperability with the Alliance,” read the White House statement.

Interoperability is a key notion on which NATO’s collective defense systems are planned to be built. That particularly corresponds to the alliance’s efforts to set up an anti-ballistic air defense system that would protect the allied countries through radars and anti-ballistic missile launchers in a special security architecture. 

Turkey hosts one of these radars in Kürecik district of Malatya, a province in eastern Anatolia, and there is no information on how that would be affected because of the deployment of the Russian S-400 system.

On the bilateral military front, the White House statement implies that military-to-military cooperation between the two allied nations will be overshadowed by the deployment of the S-400s.

Having underlined that the U.S. still greatly values strategic relationship with Turkey as these ties are multi-layered, and not solely focused on the F-35, the White House, however, said, “Our military-to-military relationship is strong, and we will continue to cooperate with Turkey extensively, mindful of constraints due to the presence of the S-400 system in Turkey.”

The fact that Turkey now possesses Russian systems will always be on the mind of the U.S. when it considers a new military engagement with its ally.

These two points trigger new question marks about Turkey’s status within the alliance, although NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg seeks to assure that the scope of Turkey’s ties with the alliance is far beyond the F-35s.

Turkey, in the meantime, recalls that it sticks with its commitments to NATO while urging the alliance that Turkey’s exclusion from the F-35s will weaken the security of NATO’s southern wing.

An overall assessment would stress that Turkey’s deployment of S-400s would tarnish the status of NATO’s second-largest army within the alliance and this requires a massive and genuine effort by the secretary-general to prevent the further deterioration of ties between Ankara and Brussels in the coming period.

Serkan Demirtaş, s400,