America, Russia, and the Tussle for Turkey
Turkey, which has been westward looking since the days of Ataturk, has become NATO’s fickle partner since Erdogan has come to power. That is best seen in the fight over the Russian S-400 air defense system and the American F-35 fighter aircraft.
Although Turkey had ordered F-35 aircraft from America years ago, a snag has occurred with Erdogan’s rapprochement with Russia and his order of the Russian S-400 air defense system. Many in America fear that some of the secrets of the F-35 will end up in Moscow, negating much of the technological advantage of America’s (and NATO’s) next generation aircraft.
There is also considerable concern about Turkey’s foreign policy, which has moved from a closer relationship with Europe towards a more active role in the Middle East and closer relations with both Russia and China. The result is that many are concerned about Turkey’s continued role in NATO as the southern anchor of that alliance. There is also concern about how Turkey’s Syrian policy will impact both Russia and America.
There is also growing political polarization in Turkey, which can impact national leadership. The local elections in March saw 6 dead and 115 people injured. The death toll increased a few days later when an opposition politician of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) was nearly lynched by pro-Erdogan crowds.
Violence is expected later this month in the mayoral election rerun – especially if anti-Erdogan candidates win.
But, the biggest impact at this time is that Turkish pilots training on the F-35 in Arizona have been grounded. American Wing Commander Brigadier General Todd Canterbury not only grounded the six Turkish pilots, but he restricted their access to secret and classified materials on the F-35.
The US has given Turkey until July 31 to change their policy and cancel the S-400 air defense system, which may be delivered to Turkey as soon as this month. There could also be additional sanctions which would further damage Turkey’s fragile economy.
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Andrews said, “Without a change in Turkish policy, we will continue to work closely with our Turkish ally on winding down their participation in the F-35 program.”
This move was prompted when America discovered that Turkish military personnel had gone to Russia to begin training on the S-400.
Does this mean that Turkey will find itself pushed out of NATO?
Turkey is more likely to become a “non-participating” member until a more favorable government comes to power or the Turkish/Russian love affair falters.
For instance, French President De Gaulle withdrew France’s troops from NATO on June 21, 1966. This decision complicated relations between the U.S. and Europe during the height of the Cold War. Though France remained politically in NATO, its actions cast doubt onto the organization’s future as a counter to Soviet military power and influence.
This move by France was a major military problem for NATO. EUCOM, the European command was in France and had to be moved to Germany. Communications lines from military commands to EUCOM had to be replaced. In addition, all communication lines from the NATO units on the front lines had to be rerouted through Belgium.
Interestingly, despite the political disputes between the leadership, the NATO bureaucracy continued to work. According to Ambassador to NATO Robert Ellsworth,
“The departure of France was designed by de Gaulle to destroy NATO, but it didn’t destroy NATO. And it wasn’t long – in fact by the time I got there in 1969, there was already extensive collaboration and cooperation between the French military forces and the forces of NATO. And that has, of course, continued and even deepened to this very day.”
France would only rejoin NATO as a full-fledged member in 2009 – nearly a generation after the Cold War ended.
So, will Turkey eventually reconcile with NATO and the US? Or, is the Turkish/Russian relationship expected to strengthen and become long term?
Odds are that Turkey will find itself back in the NATO fold eventually – just as France found itself.
Russia and Turkey have been traditional enemies for hundreds of years. Parts of what is now southern Russia and southern Ukraine were part of the Ottoman Empire. It wasn’t until Peter the Great in the late 1700s, that Russia gained access to the Black Sea. There were several Russo-Turkish wars between the 17th and 20th centuries and these military conflicts are the longest in European History.
Russia and Turkey remain on different sides when it comes to several foreign policy issues. These include Syria, Kosovo, Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and Armenia. The interpretation of the Montreux Convention on the movement of warships through the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits also remains a sore point with the two nations.
Relations under Erdogan and Putin have also been tumultuous. In November 2015, Turkish fighter aircraft shot down a Russian military aircraft – leading to Russia imposing sanctions on Turkey and restricting travel.
Relations were normalized in June 2016, only to suffer another rift when the Russian ambassador to Turkey (Andrei Karlov) was assassinated in Ankara in December 2016 by an off-duty policeman over the Syrian issue.
Putin and Russia glossed over the assassination by calling it an attempt to damage Turkish-Russian ties.
From Russia’s point of view, Turkey offers several geopolitical advantages. It makes it easier for the Russian Navy to move in the Eastern Mediterranean and gives Russia a say in Middle Eastern affairs.
Just as important, it gives Russia an opportunity to weaken NATO. Not only is Turkey the southern anchor of NATO, it has NATO’s second largest military (after the US). And, as America fears, Russia’s access to Turkish military officers gives it a chance to learn NATO secrets.
Weakening NATO’s southern flank becomes even more important as President Trump is moving to strengthen NATO in Central Europe.
On Wednesday, President Trump met with Polish President Andrzej Duda and they signed an agreement that will send an additional 1,000 troops to Poland on a rotational basis (there are currently 4,000 US troops there). Poland is also purchasing up to 35, F-35 fighter aircraft from the US.
Consequently, it looks like Russia is gaining strength on its southern flank, while facing a new threat in its center. While Turkey has a large military, so does Poland. Poland also has the second largest armored force in Europe (Russia has the largest), which would be critical if Russia tries any aggressive moves in Central Europe. Poland’s army is more professional, and its soldiers have a higher educational level than Turkish soldiers. The new agreement with the US makes it more likely that Poland will be the keystone of NATO defense in Eastern Europe.
So, has a new set of long-term alliances been formed? Has the US traded a Turkish alliance for Poland, while Russia has picked up Turkey?
If history is any indication, the answer is no. Russia and Turkey have centuries of conflict behind them – most on regional issues that remain current today. There is also the fact that much of the current friendship is based on Turkish President Erdogan – who appears to be facing eroding popularity, if recent elections are any indication. If Erdogan leaves the Turkish political scene, it is easy to see a new Turkish government renewing its relationships with the US, Europe, and NATO.
Meanwhile, Polish/Russian relations have been equally tense for centuries and many Poles remember that Russia has controlled much of Poland during that time. However, it was the US and NATO that stood up to the Soviet Union and supported Polish resistance towards the USSR. The end of the Soviet Empire is only 30 years ago, and many remember the Soviet occupation and are eager to have American forces in Poland in order to prevent any Russian aggression in the future.
Sidelining Turkey will not damage US relations with other NATO nations or even the EU. In fact, the EU has indefinitely postponed Turkey’s request to join the European Union due to Turkey’s political situation and the human rights issues.
Although Turkey appears to have lost the F-35 in return for the Russian S-400, this is likely a temporary situation. National leaders are destined to lose power or die. The same is true with Erdogan – especially if he allows for free elections soon.
In that case, Turkey may still get its F-35s – just a few years later.
Is There a Thing as a Trump Doctrine in Foreign Policy?
By Kim Holmes
June 12, 2019
Interview by German Marshall Fund
To begin with, would you say there is such a thing as a Trump doctrine in foreign policy?
A Trump doctrine is probably not something as sophisticated or intellectual as the word “doctrine” might imply. But there are themes that those who wish to create a doctrine might use, as a way of intellectualizing what is already there. First is an emphasis on national sovereignty, which in the U.S. political and historical context is not a dirty word. It is so in Europe due to historical factors – the success of the European Union, and in overcoming nationalism’s role in creating wars and dividing the continent. But in the U.S. context, in the Trump context, the term “national sovereignty” is often used as a way of emphasizing the right of the United States to make its own decisions in its own national interest, and according to its own values. This rubs a lot of people in Europe the wrong way. The liberal international order as defined here in Europe is based upon consensus, on multilateralism. When we come together on climate change or the Iran nuclear accord or other issues, in Europe it’s pretty much assumed that is a litmus test for whether you’re adhering to the order or not. And Donald Trump came in and said: “You know, no, that’s not the way we’re going to do business.” That’s the second part: challenging multilateralism as it has been practiced in the past between the United States and Europe.
Turkey’s Arms Deal with Russia Is an Affront to NATO
By James Phillips
June 6, 2019
The Turkish government Tuesday reaffirmed its intention to complete the controversial purchase of a Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system, a move appropriately drawing the ire of both parties in Washington. Both Congress and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have warned of punitive action should Turkey follow through on the purchase, which Turkey says could be completed as soon as next month. “Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 would be incompatible with its commitments to NATO,” Sens. James Inhofe, R-Okla., Jack Reed, D-R.I., James Risch, R-Idaho, and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., wrote in a New York Times op-ed in early April. Yet, despite this widespread U.S. criticism and the Trump administration’s promise of a punitive response, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called the purchase “a done deal” and has already begun preparing his nation for retaliatory U.S. sanctions once the Russian missile-defense system is delivered. Congress is right to oppose the deal. As was noted last year in the National Interest, the S-400 is a “real game changer” with exceptional anti-aircraft capabilities and a wide range of other advantages, from the ability to detect stealth aircraft to the ability to detect, target, and engage non-stealth aircraft at a greater range than that of its American competitor, the Patriot system.
Syrian WMD Proliferation Could Set the Middle East on Fire
By Peter Brookes
June 11, 2019
It’s hard to conceive that the situation in Syria could get any worse—but it might.
Besides the tremendous bloodshed during the eight-year-old civil war—that included the rise and fall of the Islamic State—the world witnessed the Syrian regime’s almost unbridled use of chemical weapons to savagely work to break its opponents’ will. Indeed, the regime’s use of chemical weapons such as chlorine, mustard gas, and sarin nerve agent may not be over. Just last week there were reports that the regime used chemical weapons again, this time in the northwest part of the country. The regime’s fondness for chemical weapons has long been known. Besides previous allegations of chemical weapons use in the civil war, Syrian government forces infamously struck with sarin at Ghouta in 2013. That brought pressure from the United States, which led Syria to agree to declare its holdings, make them available for destruction and accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention. It turned out to be a ruse.
The Strategic Threat from Iranian Hybrid Warfare in the Gulf
Anthony H. Cordesman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
June 13, 2019
The threat of war with Iran may seem distant to many in American and Europe, but its strategic implications became all too clear only hours after two freshly loaded tankers – the Frontline and the Kokuka Courageous – were attacked in the Gulf of Oman on June 12, 2019 – just outside the “Persian” or “Arab” Gulf. These attacks came less than a month after four previous attacks on tankers near a port in the UAE, and after months of rising tensions over Iran’s nuclear programs, the war in Yemen, and the growing arms race in the region. The fear of further attacks, and interruption in the continued export of petroleum sudden raised the global price of crude oil by 4% – a global price rise that everyone in the world must pay – including Americans – regardless of the fact the U.S. is no longer a major petroleum importer. The reasons why such incidents can lead to immediate price rises, as well as growing concerns over far more serious patterns of conflict are simple. First, the military confrontation between Iran, the U.S., and the Arab Gulf states over everything from the JCPOA to Yemen can easily escalate to hybrid warfare that has far more serious forms of attack. And second, such attacks can impact critical aspects of the flow of energy to key industrial states and exporters that shape the success of the global economy as well as the economy of the U.S.
The Real Iran Threat to the Strait of Hormuz (Causing Oil Prices to Skyrocket)
By Ilan I. Berman
American Foreign Policy Council
April 30, 2019
Late last month, the Trump administration kicked its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran into high gear when it announced that it would no longer provide waivers to countries like China, India and Japan to continue buying Iranian oil without facing sanctions. These countries and their respective companies now face the prospect of being excluded from the American market if they don’t immediately stop buying Iranian crude. The push is part of the White House’s effort “to bring Iran’s oil exports to zero” as a way of ratcheting up economic pressure on Iran’s ayatollahs, National Security Adviser John Bolton has explained. Iran, meanwhile, has responded to the Trump administration’s recent decision by reviving an old threat. “If we are prevented from using it, we will close it,” Alireza Tangsiri, head of the IRGC’s navy, told Iranian media. Tangsiri was referring to the Strait of Hormuz, a key strategic waterway through which roughly one-fifth of the world’s oil passes.
The Face-Off Over Gulf Arms Sales: ‘Emergency’ or False Alarm?
By Dana Stroul
June 10, 2019
On June 5, a bipartisan group of senators announced twenty-two separate joint resolutions of disapproval aimed at blocking various U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. This unusual move came in response to the Trump administration’s May 24 use of the emergency exception granted under the 1976 Arms Export Control Act (AECA), which governs how the United States sells weapons to foreign governments. By declaring this “emergency” and forgoing the required fifteen- or thirty-day congressional review period, the administration created a path to move forward with an estimated $8.1 billion in arms sales. To justify the move, officials emphasized the need to bolster regional allies against the increased threat from Iran.
The Race for Istanbul: Erdogan’s Plan A and B
By Soner Cagaptay
June 10, 2019
In Istanbul’s mayoral race redo, polls indicate that opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu is pulling ahead of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s candidate, former prime minister Binali Yildirim. Although Imamoglu won the first race on March 31, the country’s electoral board voided the election, alleging irregularities regarding the formation of ballot commissions in some Istanbul districts, and called for a revote on June 23. Considering that Istanbul accounts for a third of Turkey’s economy and that Erdogan was Istanbul’s mayor before he became prime minister in 2003, this election could serve as a platform for Imamoglu to challenge the president nationally. Yet Erdogan—who controls many of Turkey’s institutions, including much of the media, courts, police, and election boards—has two plans to win Istanbul, one formulated before March 31 and one after.