July 16, 2019

Turkey, Erdoğan, the S-400 and the F-35

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan - is anyone else tiring of him?

I was asked a few questions about the Turks and the delivery of the Russian S-400 (NATO: SA-21) air defense system. My replies.

Q. The US Senate starts to discuss sanctions on Turkey, but Trump doesn't want such a move. How do you think is it possible that we can see the US impose sanctions on Turkey for this issue?

A. There are bipartisan demands in Congress for sanctions on Turkey for purchasing the Russian S-400 air defense system. The President is hoping that he can walk a fine line between economic sanctions on Turkey and just removing Turkey from the F-35 program. I am not sure he will be able to do that - there is US law that would require sanctions. He may be legally able to waive the sanctions, but he will be taking a political risk among his Republican supporters.

In any event, Turkey has to be removed from the F-35 program. That means the jets Turkey has already purchased and are located on a US Air Force base in Arizona will not be delivered to Turkey. The Turkish Air Force pilots there for training have already been restricted from access to the aircraft and its systems.

I do not believe the United States is willing to have the world's most advanced fifth-generation stealth aircraft be delivered to a country that is operating a near-state-of-the-art Russian air defense system. The risk to sensitive technology ending up in Moscow is much too high.

Q. If the US imposes sanctions, what can be the response of Turkey (within the cooperation with China (SCO))?

A. It appears that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made a conscious decision to pivot to the east - that includes better relations with what I would consider our (U.S.) adversaries and potential enemies: Russia, China, Iran, and even Pakistan. If he thinks he will be able to continue this eastern foreign policy reorientation and at the same time maintain a good relationship with the United States, I believe he is miscalculating.

The NATO alliance is important to the United States and our European allies - Turkey included, at least for now. If Erdoğan wants to remain a NATO ally, he needs to start acting like one again. Procuring an air defense system from our principal antagonist is not the act of an ally. There will be a price.

Q. Turkey invested in the F-35 project, does the US have the right to reject the sale within international law?

A. The reality of this is that the F-35 program is American technology and in the end the United States will determine where that technology is allowed to be exported. The parts of the program in Turkey will be moved to another location. They lose the business and the aircraft capabilities.