A controversial deal

Friday, 2019-06-21 17:49:08
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U.S. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan welcomes Turkish Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar to the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, the US, February 22, 2019. (Photo: Reuters)
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NDO - The rift in the relationship between the US and Turkey have become more severe as Ankara criticised Washington for not acting like an ally. The disagreement between the two sides is in regards to Ankara's procurement of the Russian S-400 defence system.

Turkey criticised that the language used in a letter sent from Washington to Ankara regarding Turkey's removal from the F-35 fighter jet programme did not suit the spirit of alliance. Ankara's response came after US acting Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan sent a letter to his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar in which he had outlined how Turkey would pull out of the F-35 fighter jet programme unless Ankara changed course from its plans to purchase the Russian missile defence system.

Ankara had until July 31 to abandon the purchase of S-400, otherwise; Ankara would not be able to buy roughly 100 US' F-35 fighter jets as well as Turkish pilots being suspended from a training programme for this most modern of aircrafts. Washington also warned it would impose sanctions on Ankara if Turkey still bought Russia’s weapon system.

The S-400 deal was a major controversy between the US and Turkey. Washington repeatedly warned that the Russian systems are both incompatible with NATO defence systems and pose a security threat. However, Turkey insisted that the S-400 system would be separate from NATO infrastructure in Turkey with no linkages to the F-35s, and expressed a determination to pursue contracts with Russia. Despite pressure from the US, Turkish President T. Erdogan confirmed that Turkey has already bought S-400 defence systems and it was a done deal that the country would not withdraw from an agreement made with Russia to buy the system.

Before Turkey's tough stance, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution calling on the US government to impose sanctions on Turkey if Ankara received the Russian S-400 defence system. The resolution criticised that Ankara's deal could threaten the US-Turkey alliance and weaken NATO. The Pentagon warned the Turkish government of the possibility of not allowing the country to participate in the training programme for F-35 fighters.

The US did not agree with the fact that Turkey sent its staff to Russia to learn how to train with the S-400 system. Washington warned that Turkey’s procurement of the S-400 will hinder the nation’s ability to enhance or maintain cooperation with the US and within NATO, leading to Turkish strategic and economic over-dependence on Russia, and undermine Turkey’s very capable defence industry and ambitious economic development goals.

The US also warned about the economic impact of pursing the S-400, noting that procuring the system will cause a loss in jobs, gross domestic product, and international trade; and the imposition of CAATSA sanctions will likely impede President Donald Trump’s commitment to boost trade with Turkey.

Turkey’s resolute attitude is considered a blow to trust between Ankara and Washington. Turkey seems to be defying the US pressure to continue pursue the deal with Russia. In fact, in recent times, after some problems in relations with the US, Turkey had its own policies and steps. Accordingly, Ankara focuses on promoting economic and military cooperation with Russia. This pragmatic diplomacy, though not satisfied by allies in NATO, helped Ankara to have a better and more independent position in the region and ensure its national interests.

The controversy between the US and Turkey concerning the S-400 purchase continues to damage relations between the two countries. However, both sides have a responsibility to protect the interests of NATO allies. Therefore, this is still a problem that the US and Turkey must continue to negotiate.

According to US Air Forces in Europe Commander Tod D. Wolters, Acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan and his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar are in contact about Ankara’s plans to buy a Russian air defence system, and may meet during NATO meetings in Brussels next week. He said Shanahan and Akar were in close dialogue about the issue, adding that the military-to-military relationship between the United States and NATO was “absolutely, positively solid”. Therefore, it is necessary to overcome new tensions in the relations between the two allies so as not to affect the powerful military bloc.