S-400 Air Defence Missile System

S-400 deal shaping Turkey-US negotiations

In the last few weeks, we have seen an intensification of debates about Turkey's S-400 purchase in the Western media.

In the last few weeks, we have seen an intensification of debates about Turkey’s S-400 purchase in the Western media. Especially in the U.S., one dimension of it is closely connected to the negotiations between the U.S. and Turkey in regards to the U.S. offer of Patriot air defense systems.

The Turkish side is willing to negotiate the sale but repeatedly indicated that it cannot be considered as a precondition for Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 systems from Russia. The fate of the ongoing negotiations is not clear as of today. Another dimension of the repercussions of the S-400 issue is taking place in regards to the delivery of F-35 fighter jets that Turkey has already paid for.

For the last year, some in the U.S. repeatedly brought to the agenda ways to continue F-35 production without Turkey. As stated by then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis, removing Turkey from the F-35 project would generate significant problems in the production of the jet fighter. In his letter he emphasized, “If the Turkish supply chain was disrupted today, it would result in an aircraft production break, delaying delivery of 50-75 F-35s, and would take approximately 18-24 months to re-source parts and recover.”

 However, there seems to be a change in this position due to some policymakers. In the last few weeks, this issue is more assertively stated that the F-35s that Turkey own at this point should not be delivered to Turkey, if Ankara purchases the S-400 systems. If the administration takes these steps not to deliver F-35s, it would create a major blow in bilateral relations.

For the last few years, relations hit rock bottom in multiple different instances, and such a step would further deteriorate the trust issue between two countries. Any such step and further sanctions against Turkey will have other repercussions beyond Turkish-U.S. relations as well.

On the one hand, any attempt to find ways to produce the F-35 without Turkey’s contribution will generate a major question mark for countries that are willing to purchase this weapon system or any other defense systems from the U.S. Since some in the U.S. administration are willing not to comply with a contract signed more than a decade ago can be a serious question that other potential customer countries need to pay attention to.

 In terms of planning, such contracts and agreements constitute a significant part of defense strategy of the countries. Such unilateral decisions may disrupt defense planning and would incur new costs for the defense industry. Following such a decision, there might be a lot of second thoughts about defense industry relations with the U.S. In case of a sanction decision, the impact of this skepticism will increase among U.S. allies. The U.S. already is having serious trust issues in regards to its relations with its allies for various reasons and such decisions will definitely deteriorate the situation.

The use of such sanctions will further complicate the alliance system. Sanctions or the threat to use sanctions will not consolidate alliances, it can only strengthen skepticism, and even if that works in the short term, in the medium and long term countries may seek alternative defense industry partners.

Considering the potential repercussions of launching a crisis with Turkey over this issue, General Dunford last week said that they are still hopeful they could find a way to resolve the issue. Turkey’s concern about its air defense is not new. Neither is its search for acquiring air defense systems. Before escalating this tension there should be self-reflection in the U.S. administration on the potential causes of Turkey’s S-400 decision that should not be repeated in the future. Just like General Dunford said, there are different areas of policy convergence between the U.S. and Turkey.

 However, the steps that the U.S. administration is taking in critical areas, including the People’s Protection Units (YPG), is generating serious divergences that destabilize relations between the two countries. A crisis over the S-400 will contribute to the current destabilization. To prevent such an outcome, some in the U.S. administration should leave its current discourse and take steps to prevent the escalation of this problem. The resolution of the problem and the potential crisis necessitate a longer perspective in relations, consideration of its major causes and creativity in finding alternative ways to deal with the issue. It should also be remembered that what happens between Turkey and the U.S. in this sphere will not remain between Turkey and the U.S., it will have repercussions in U.S. alliance relations all over the world.
[Daily Sabah, 25 March 2019]
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