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Monthly Archives: July 2019

Turkey, Russian Arms, and a Nervous NATO


Earlier this month, the Republic of Turkey defied the United States and NATO by accepting the delivery of the S-400 mobile surface-to-air missile system from Russia. The S-400 is the successor of the S-300 missile system, and compared to the U.S. Patriot missile system is capable of engaging more targets at longer ranges simultaneously. This deal has been in the works since 2017, brokered amid warnings from the United States of economic and political consequences.

What this means for the NATO and Russia

Turkey is and always has been a key player for NATO since it became a member in 1952. The Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) rank as the second largest military force in NATO standing only behind the U.S. Armed Forces. Along with this, Turkey is one of only five NATO member states who are part of the nuclear sharing policy and holds 90 B61 nuclear bombs. All of that, as well as Turkey’s location geographically, make it an indispensable ally. Their possession of the S-400 missile system is incompatible with its commitments to the United States and was met with much criticism and threats of sanctions. President Vladimir Putin knows this, and is trying his best to separate Turkey from the United States and the rest of NATO. If he is successful, Russia would largely benefit as it could then create a new alliance with Turkey. This alliance would dramatically shift the regional power balance.

How should the U.S. respond?

The Trump administration has already blocked the delivery of any more F-35 fighter jets to Turkey and has suspended the training of Turkish pilots learning to fly them here in the United States. Pentagon strategists suggest that Russian technology inside the territory of Turkey may open up opportunities for Russia to learn about the American F-35 fighter jets that Turkey already has and acquire sensitive information. So with Turkey out of the F-35 Program and pilots being sent home, what else can the United States do to deter further arms sales with Russia?

The major problem the United States faces is finding where to draw the line between punishing bad behavior, and knowing when to show mercy to an important ally. If the United States places sanctions on financial institutions and bank loans, Turkey’s already struggling economy will suffer tremendously. This could drive Turkey to remove themselves from NATO and right into Russia’s open arms. That being said, if the United States does nothing more to deter any future deals between the two countries, Turkey and Russia may continue to make arms deals and naturally become more united.

Earlier today, Sen. Lindsey Graham at the request of President Donald Trump made a call to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. During the call Graham made one simple request, which was that the Turks to simply not activate the S-400. What it looks like is the White House playing a game of chicken with Turkey, with the U.S.’s pitch being: If you don’t activate the Russian system, we won’t sanction you. But, if you do, our relationship will take a dark turn and sanctions will be applied. So, the ball is in President Erdogan’s court. Will he succumb to the U.S.’s threats? Or will he search for a new teammate to help him win the game.


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