Turkey eyes long-term defense industry bid with Russia
As announced by senior Turkish officials, the first parts of the S-400 anti-ballistic missile systems from Russia are expected to be delivered by July 2019, if not June. In a televised interview over the weekend, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan left no room for the cancellation or the postponement of these systems, as demanded by the United States.
“It’s a done deal,” Erdoğan repeated once again, underlining that there will be no step back. He went further by saying that Turkey and Russia are also talking about the joint production of the S-500 air defense systems, a much more sophisticated anti-ballistic weapon under development.
Some 100 Turkish engineers have been dispatched to Russia for the joint production of the S-400s, Erdoğan added, signaling a much long-term vision in cooperation with Russia in the field of the defense industry.
These words by Erdoğan would not be that attention-grabbing if they would not come at a moment when Turkey and the U.S. have been heavily engaged in talks on how to resolve the problem. The U.S. has not yet answered Turkey’s proposal of setting up a technical committee to analyze whether the deployment of the S-400s would jeopardize the F-35s in Turkey.
“Americans say ‘This [S-400] is not compatible with our F-35s.’ Technically, it’s not beside the point. We have carried out technical works on that. There is no such thing,” Erdoğan also said.
As a matter of fact, Erdoğan’s lines make Turkey’s position – once again – clear and reveal some major inconsistencies from both national and NATO perspectives.
First, Turkey has long been defending its decision to purchase S-400s from Russia as it was looking for the best means to meet its urgent need in the face of growing missile threats from Syria. Sending Turkish engineers to Russia for the joint production of the S-400s and S-500s is, however, a concrete sign of a longer vision of the Turkish government in developing cooperation on strategic war equipment with its northern neighbor.
Second, it does not comply with its NATO commitments, particularly in regards to the alliance’s ballistic missile defense program that aims for the full protection of NATO countries from potential missile attacks. Upon a decision announced in 2011, Turkey hosts a U.S.-owned missile defense radar in Kürecik district of the eastern Malatya province, making one of the key components of the NATO’s anti-ballistic defense capability.
The third is more general and concerns are speedily deepening strategic ties between NATO member Turkey and NATO-rival Russia.
“Today, we face an unpredictable and challenging security situation, including a more aggressive Russia and a persistent threat of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations,” read a joint statement by NATO foreign ministers marking the 70th anniversary at a summit in Washington early April. More to follow on Russia, for sure, at a summit at the leaders’ level in December in the United Kingdom.
Turkey has every right to shape its own policies and to cooperate with non-NATO neighboring countries, but when it comes to strategic decisions and deployments, it should also ponder how these moves will have an effect on collective defense. This view is not only shared by the U.S., but also many other member countries in the alliance as well.
Turkey’s long-term ambition for an intensified and sophisticated cooperation with Russia
in the field of the defense industry will surely have long and short-term consequences. Apart from sanctions, that would also result in the erosion of Turkey’s value and credibility as a NATO member.