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Last Tango Between Turkey and the U.S.

Despite the fact that the S-400 missile defense system pushes the limits of my field of expertise, I suppose it is not necessary to be a weapons specialists in order to see that the defense system, which will be shipped in summer for the first time, will be locked directly to the triangle of Turkey-NATO-United States. Obviously, the purchase of the S-400 missile system is not only a preference concerning the defense industry or a simple weapon trade. Moscow is aware of this. So is Washington! I am not sure if Erdogan is. However, it would be naive to think that the decision makers in TSK (Turkish Armed Forces), which has the final say about these matters, are not aware of this fact.

So, what is the reality they are aware of? The purchase of the S-400 missile system is being analyzed from two main aspects by the US and NATO. The first one is the strategic context, and the second one is about the context related to security! Both arguments are of great importance. According to the first one, Ankara’s tendency towards the security policies favoring Russia (and China plus Iran) means a negative point for geopolitics and strategy concerning the Western alliance. And according to the second one, a NATO ally’s integration of a sophisticated Russian-made S-400 type weapons system to its own weapons systems seems like an action which has the potential to make a dent in Russia’s defense system against NATO.

The US has been making a correlation for a long time between casting Ankara away from the production of the new generation F-35 fighter jets and retaining them from taking these jets in their inventory. The US sets forth their final opinion by saying “if you are in need of safety, here is an alternative defense system which basically does the same job the S-400s do!” by offering the Patriot defense systems to Erdogan as an alternative for the purchase of the S-400s. Washington has been uncomfortable for so long about Turkey’s tendency towards Russia. Because they see the big picture and know that Turkey is an intermediate region on the line of Moscow-Ukraine-Georgia-Syria. They also see that Russia’s purpose is to stab the Mediterranean and the Middle East through this line.

Pentagon and NATO, which analyze that the regression tactics against the naval strength of the Eurasianism strategy are based on the coastline domination of the land forces, find the new security policy concept of Turkey extremely dangerous. They can successfully manage to read that this concept is a geopolitical disaster. They are aware of the fact that this must be prevented. So, they imposed the cancellation of the S-400 agreement as the only possible option to Ankara.

The US has been sanctioning Russia since 2016. The reason for these sanctions is firstly the annexation, and then the fertilization of Crimea by Russia! With regard to the Trump administration, the US Congress made pressure to Trump only to make him sign the broadened sanction resolution called “Legislation for the US to fight against its opponents through sanctions”. Trump, who knows that the “Russia’s puppet” image about him has already settled in the US and this could be one of the most powerful arguments leading to his resignation, had no choice but to sign the legislation.

Thus, the US, which has been standing firm against Russia’s expansionism since the Obama period, acknowledged the direction of its security strategy. There are tens of Russian and Chinese companies in the sanctions list of the US. As I have mentioned, these sanctions were precautions taken primarily against Russia, and then North Korea. In the past few days, the US added many Russian companies and facilities in the sanctions list, including the ones where the S-400s are being produced. Third countries that have a relationship with these companies will face sanctions as well. In other words, the target area of the sanctions is extended. The S-400 agreement between Turkey and Russia is now included in this new sanctions’ legislation. Meaning, the final target country with the new extended sanctions is Turkey. Thus, the US made clear its seriousness about the S-400s by adding Turkey in the league of the countries such as North Korea and Iran, which have the potential to do damage in terms of strategy and security to the US.

The US will declare economic war on Turkey

Without a doubt, it is obvious that there is a counter maneuver over the S-400 matter targeting Turkey’s new profile, which appears to be Russian-backed enemy of the US-NATO-West. Recently, CNBC, an American television news channel, released to the public that a new decision has been made should Turkey choose not to cancel the S-400 agreement with Russia and purchase the Patriot missile systems from the US until the first week of June, Turkey will be removed from the F-35 project permanently both as a producer and client, and furthermore, Turkey might face US sanctions. According to the aforesaid US sanctions, the individuals and institutions, which do business with Russia’s intelligence and security sectors, will be subjected to sanctions. In other words, if Ankara does not cancel the agreement for the S-400 purchase and abandon the deployment of the S-400s that were already paid for, the US will impose economic sanctions on Turkey and the Turkish companies. In other words, the US will declare economic war on Turkey.

The relationship between the US and Russia is very tense. The US regards Turkey’s tendency towards Russia as a threat, while Turkey is the main ally to NATO. In other words, Washington abandons its perception of Turkey as the “touchy little child who rocks the boat”, and starts to recognize Turkey as an “old ally” which does not respect its security commitments and provides an incompatible allegiance – and even betrays them. Washington was supporting YPG (Yekineyen Parastina Gel, People’s Protection Units) in Syria with the knowledge and approval of Ankara before, but now Washington seems to start understanding why Ankara was acting very sensitive all of a sudden about YPG. It has been acknowledged now as a ‘realpolitik’ point of view that Erdogan and AKP (Justice and Development Party) are not the only addressees about Turkey’s resolution process. I suppose it is known by the US that as a result of the negotiations, Erdogan has been carrying out in order to start an allegiance in some quarters within the power balance in domestic politics, the intelligence of some of the “pro-Russian groups” have a determinative impact for such relationships.

Furthermore, Erdogan’s tendency towards chasing full-scale authoritarianism by abandoning law and altering the constitutional order is being comprehended both by the US and other Western allies. Although these uncertainties in domestic politics had been tolerated for a while, the US is highly disturbed due to the fact that this vulnerability gradually enures the NATO alliance. I suppose it is included in the analysis within this context that the triangle of Erdogan-deep state favoring Eurasianism-Russia is revealed after digging up the July 15th coup attempt, and furthermore, every one of this trio works through in order to create disinformation that the US was behind the July 15th. In other words, there is a picture becoming clearer gradually despite the fact that there are still missing pieces of the puzzle. And this picture causes the alarm bells to ring in Washington.

Turkey will either choose the tendency towards US-NATO-West or…

The first leg of the strategy, which will reinstate the status quo by removing this calamitous swirl of security, will be formed by the new sanctions mentioned above. Now, Ankara has a choice: will purchase S-400s from Russia and deploy them on Turkish soil to face the US sanctions; or will cancel the S-400 agreement with Russia and will give up billions of dollars, not to mention that the strategic partnership established by Russia will receive a very critical wound. In other words, Turkey will either choose the US-NATO-West tendency or will part ways with the West by moving close to Russia-Eurasia allegiance.

As it is seen, this equation is not only pointing at a vital situation in terms of the relationship between Turkey and the US. At the same time – and more important than the first one – this presents a turnout which will deeply have an impact on global politics and geopolitics. And a third result would be the potential impact on the Turkish regime (meaning Turkey’s domestic politics). In my opinion, this final context is the most determinant one over the other two factors. The analysis will come short if this one is left out. Because, whatever option is chosen (meaning either it is in favor of the US-NATO, or the Russia-Eurasia path is chosen), there is an apparent decision to be made. Turkey is at a crossroads. And the path chosen by Turkey at this crossroads will determine the course of events for its domestic politics too. In other words, if the US-NATO will be chosen, the TSK junta that favors Eurasia will be overthrown and the strongest ally of Erdogan will be destroyed. And if Russia-Eurasia option is chosen, then the group who favors Eurasia will get stronger and the regime will be more consolidated. And this will result in getting closer and coalescing with Russia even more. This choice will bring the US sanctions forward and Turkey will be faced with a great economic devastation risk.

Remarkable for the opposition not to take a NATO-favoring stance

However, we should not come to a direct conclusion by saying “Erdogan’s hands are tied, he will choose the US”. Because, the question comes to a deadlock here: What is Turkey worth for Russia? Moscow has been trying to get down to the hot waters (Mediterranean) for the last 200 years as a primary objective. Turkish soil is irreplaceable on the way. Therefore, Russia might serve every kind of source, which Turkey needs in terms of economy, on a silver platter to Erdogan and the Eurasia favorers. Because you must lose a fly to catch a trout! In other words, Russia’s valuation of Turkey is as important as the US sanctions for this equation to be concluded and will be a dominant external determinant. By the way, it is very remarkable to see the mild opposition such as CHP (Republican People’s Party) and İyi (Good) Party not to take a NATO-favoring stance yet. And Anti-West Eurasia favoring Islamist symbiosis determining the dominant perception in Turkey is a very important symptom which must be evaluated. If Turkey chooses Russia and faces the US sanctions, this might end up reinforcing the Eurasia-Russia tendency and will make the Putinist authoritative regime stronger in Turkey.

The keynote address of this article reveals how it is possible for a matter about foreign and security policies to concern domestic policies. And the connotation of this article is that there is no way out. In other words, the trail will be blazed. In my opinion, there will definitely be a group to settle accounts (overt or covert) in TSK. And as a result of this, the course of Turkey will be determined both for domestic and foreign politics.

Original Turkish version of this article first appeared at TR724.com and translated by Politurco.

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Dr. Mehmet Efe Caman is a Scholar of Politics at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). Dr. Caman’s main research focuses on Democracy, democratization and human rights, Turkish politics, the Middle East, Eurasian politics and post-Soviet regions, the European Union. He has published a monograph on Turkish foreign policy, numerous book chapters and scholarly articles in English, German and Turkish about topics related to his research areas.

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