Vernuccio’s View: Is Turkey Still an Ally?

There is a deeper significance in the move by The United States to suspend delivery of its premier fighter planes to ostensible NATO ally Turkey. The move is in response to that nation’s purchase of a sophisticated air defense system, the S-400, from Russia.

The purchase of a Russian defense system doesn’t make sense for a NATO nation, since Moscow is the very threat that is being defended against. But it is a clear indication that Ankara, although technically a NATO member, has moved away from the alliance and towards a closer relationship with both Russia and Iran, two nations deeply opposed to the United States.

According to Space Daily “Turkey had planned to buy 100 F-35A fighter jets, with pilots already training in the United States. The plane’s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, said that contracts with Turkish companies to build parts for the F-35 had been expected to reach $12 billion.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg when asked on April 2 whether there was any potential resolution was to the S-400 dispute with Ankara, said “It’s a national decision for each NATO Ally to decide on procurement of capabilities. But at the same time, we see that this is now an issue that has created disagreement between Allies…NATO provides support to Turkey. We augment the air defence of Turkey with the deployment of NATO Patriot batteries. Spain, on behalf of NATO, has deployed Patriot batteries to Turkey. And also Italy has deployed something called SAMP/T, air defence system to Turkey. So NATO provides support, we augment the air defences of Turkey already…”

Defense Analyst Can Kasapoglu, speaking at a Carnegie Europe conference in 2017 reported “The S-400 deal remains a detrimental factor for NATO’s allied cohesion. What we are talking about is a strategic weapons system procurement. So, by nature, the deal would go well beyond a relatively simpler arms transfer of, say, armored personnel carriers or artillery. Such a deal would inevitably bring about further military cooperation projects. Hundreds of Turkish military personnel will need to be trained by Russian experts, and probably, some will be sent to Russia. Besides, the S-400 deal could pave the ground for further opportunities, especially those related to the planned SAM configuration. And finally, the S-400 is not a “buy and forget” system. Thus, once procured, it would twist the Turkish and Russian defense industries together. More importantly, the project was finalized right before [Moscow’s military]  Zapad-17 drills. The timing was not the best at all.”

Turkey’s growing closeness to Russia isn’t the only problem. The Ankara regime is also deepening relations with Iran.

There is little question that Turkey is  important to U.S. and NATO interests. In 2009, Forbes  contributor Melik Kaylan discussed the practical benefits of Turkey’s participation in NATO: “Turkish troops in Afghanistan. Freer NATO naval access to the Black Sea to bolster Ukrainian and Georgian morale. Turkish help for Georgia. A pro-U.S. Turkish flanking threat to distract Iran. Ditto Syria. The continued flow of non-Arab, non-Russian oil from Azerbaijan to the world. Increased U.S.-friendly Turkish influence in Central Asia’s Turkic states to counteract Russian and Iranian influence (remember those U.S. bases?). A secular Muslim buffer in the region against Islamization.” At the recent Carnegie Europe conference, Julian Lindley-French, former vice president of the Atlantic Treaty Association in Brussels, now a senior fellow at the Institute for Statecraft in London stated: ‘Look at a map. Now, look at where Turkey sits on it. Turkey is strategically important; the pivot between the EU, NATO, Russia, and the Middle East, and a fault-line between Europe and Asia.’”

Russia’s Vladimir Putin has long set his sights on disrupting and destabilizing NATO.

In turn, Turkey’s membership in NATO provides it with urgently needed protection in its dangerous neighborhood, in which the expansionist interests of Russia and Iran play a key role.

The usefulness of the alliance is obvious. However, events over the past decade have strained the relationship both with America and Europe to a substantial degree, particularly in the aftermath of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s worrisome ongoing amassing of dictatorial powers, and his growing flirtation with a more fundamentalist brand of Islam, which reject the democratic and secular legacy that made Turkey one of the most stable societies in its’ region throughout the past century. Add to that his growing closeness to Vladimir Putin, and the alienation from the West becomes significant.

Retired US Army military intelligence and former Soviet analyst Paul Davis, in a Rudaw review, wonders whether Turkey belongs in NATO at all, particularly since President Erdogan has moved away from democracy.

“There was a time that it made sense for Turkey to be a part of this alliance, when during the cold war it was the southern anchor and the only NATO country with a common border to the Soviet Union. This was also a time when the Turkish government was run by secularist. This did not mean that Turkey was a democracy in the western tradition but it was somewhat unique in the region and could talk to the west. Today however we see an implosion of both secular and democratic principles in Turkey…There is very little likelihood that NATO will make any move to remove Turkey. With a revanchist Russia on the rise and a confused situation in the Middle East the west is paralyzed into inaction. [But with Turkey’s]…military engaged killing its own citizens it is in no position to help NATO militarily should the need arise. With it actions against the press and its move to have a rubber stamp Parliament it is in no way a democratic country on par with the other member states. It long ago lost the Kemalist principle of its founding and in time it lost its place in NATO.”

Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy and Government

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