Geography is destiny. Among other things, it shapes a country’s history, economy, its military buildup and even its ideology. Its geographic location alone may play a crucial role in determining which bloc it will find itself in or it should strive to be a part of.
No matter how seriously it has screwed up on topics like economy, democracy (i.e. human rights, the rule of law, individual liberties) or foreign relations, there may still be utmost tolerance towards a country if it is really ‘important’ from a geostrategic point of view. That’s why we hear so often from high-level NATO officials or heads of state constantly and desparately emphasising Turkey’s geostrategic importance when asked about his or her views on unusual Turkish – Russian rapprochement or on horrendous things happening in Turkey. The most conspicuous example would be Secretary General’s statement where he said: “as I stated Turkey is a key ally because of its strategic location close to Russia in the North, Black Sea, the turmoil the violence in the South with ISIL, Iraq, Syria in the South. Turkey is also important for the migrant and the refugee crisis and a buffer for the rest of Europe and I think it is very important that the rest of Europe understands the important role Turkeys playing in managing the migrant and refugee crisis”.
NATO, the roof for Western security community is a structure based on principles, norms and rules to include decision making procedures. In this regard, the Alliance has been one of the agents to preserve and spread the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law (as enshrined in the preamble of the founding Washington Treaty). In the Alliance, a combination of like-minded states, the rules can change in time based on new conditions. However, change in principles and norms can bring end to it.
So simply put, there are red lines in the rule-based international order. When a country becomes a member of an Alliance, it is expected to behave like its ‘friends’ and share the common values of the group. When it fails to do so, or in other words, when it crosses the line, it is for every country’s interest, including that particular country to remind those red lines. Being a part of the community has its advantages, obligations and price.
This week we scrutinized the debate over the U.S. National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2019 or simply the U.S. Defense Budget for FY2019. It contains several provisions on Turkey, a NATO ally. But before diving into the matter we need to shed light on U.S. federal budget mechanism.
Federal Budget process in the U.S. is a set of iterative steps. A presidential budget request for the following fiscal year which begins at 1stof October kicks off the process. House and Senate Budget Committees propose budget resolutions that set targets for spending and tax revenue and identify any policies that will need to move through reconciliation. Then, the bill is sent for a vote in both chambers and differences are resolved in a conference. For the discretionary spending, House and Senate Appropriations Committees divide it among each of their 12 subcommittees which conduct hearings and votes out the bill. The full committee marks up the bill and chambers vote it. Differences are again resolved in a conference. Finally, the conference report is sent to the president for his signature or veto. A bill must be passed by both the House and Senate in identical form and then be signed by the President to become law. All of the appropriations bills are supposed to be signed by the president by 1stof October. When the President fails to do so, government shutdown occurs.
Defense Budget proposal for FY2019 was submitted to the Congress on 12 February 2018. On 9 May House Committee on Armed Services conducted a hearing. On 24 May 2018, the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2019 (H.R. 1515) passed in a vote in the House with overwhelming bi-partisan support. Senate Armed Services Committee also voted overwhelmingly, 25-2, to pass the NDAA on 24 May. The legislation moved to the full Senate for consideration.
So, what does it mean for Turkey?
The NDAA text, as passed from the House, emphasizes the deteriorated U.S. – Turkish relationship over the past year due to several provocative actions taken by the Government of Turkey. These include;
- Divergent views on Kurdish armed groups under SDF operating in Northern Syria, which creates the potential for an unprecedented armed conflict between two NATO allies
- Vandalism and attack performed by Turkish security detail during Erdogan’s visit to Washington D.C.,
- Turkish blames on U.S. for failed coup attempt in July 2016,
- Turkish Banker Mehmet Atilla case concerning a money-laundering scheme that enabled Iran to evade U.S. sanctions,
- Trump’s ex-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and his connections with pro-Erdogan figures,
- An American pastor, Andrew Brunson, who is in jail for more than one and a half year accused of helping Kurdish Workers’ Party to overthrow Erdogan,
- Extradition request of Fethullah Gulen by Turkish authorities,
- Hostage policy pursued by Turkey (arrests of U.S. citizens of Turkish origin and a number of U.S. consulate employees).
But, potential purchase by Turkey of the S-400 air and missile defense system from Russia caused particular concern for U.S. administration which could negatively impact common weapon system development between the U.S. and Turkey. The purchase could also exacerbate current NATO interoperability challenges, as stated in the bill.
The bill asks for a reportto be submitted by the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of State to the appropriate congressional committees on the status of the U.S. relationship with Turkey. The report will include;
- An assessment of U.S. military and diplomatic presence in Turkey, including all military activities conducted from Incirlik Air Base or elsewhere.
- An assessment of the potential purchase by Turkey of the S-400 air and missile defense system from the Russia and the potential effects of such purchase on the U.S.-Turkey bilateral relationship, including an assessment of impacts on other U.S. weapon systems and platforms operated jointly with Turkey to include;
- the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike aircraft, to include co-production,
- the Patriot surface-to-air missile system,
- the CH-47 Chinook heavy lift helicopter,
- the AH-1 Attack helicopter,
- the H-60 Black Hawk utility helicopter,
- the F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft.
- An identification of potential alternative air and missile defense systems that could be purchased by Turkey, including U.S. and other NATO member state military air defense artillery systems.
The Senate Armed Services Committee’s version also has three provisions targeting Turkey. Two provisions in the NDAA relate to Turkey’s plans to purchase F-35 fighter jets. The third one is about possible Turkish S-400 procurement. The Senate Armed Services Committee expressed thatif Turkey purchases the S-400 air defense system from Russia, the President should impose sanctions against Turkey under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) in its markup. On August 2, 2017, the President signed into law the CAATSA, which among other things, imposes new sanctions on Iran, Russia, and North Korea.
“They have been an important NATO partner,” Pompeo told the House Foreign Affairs Committee during a Wednesday hearing. “We need their behavior to reflect the objectives of NATO, and that’s what we’re diligently working to do: to get them to rejoin NATO, in a way, with their actions, consistent with what we’re trying to achieve in NATO. And not take actions that undermine its efforts.”
However, according to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, S-400 is a done deal, and down payment already transferred to Moscow. Furthermore, the planned delivery of Russian S-400 batteries to Turkey has been brought forward to July 2019, the Turkish undersecretary for defense industries said, from the first quarter of 2020.
Moscow on the other hand takes adventage of the situation. While Putin criticizes the U.S. for pushing back against Turkey’s decision to buy advanced surface-to-air missiles from Russia he offers Su-57 jets if delivery of F-35 is suspended.
Of course, Turkey is free to choose any system, however, not only being a NATO member but also considering long-lasting ties with the West, Turkey has gone down through every irrational act that will distance itself with its Western partners especially since dubious coup attempt. The reasons Secretary General cited above and good understanding of Erdogan’s shallow foreign policy that is constructed for the consumption of internal audience has so far held Allies from expressing their open views about Turkey. However, Turkey’s latest remarks on S-400s and Su-57 jets is an open breach of bloc dicipline which may result in consequences beyond Turkey’s tackling capacity. Turkey and its interesting figures leading foreign policy are preparing to answer US remarks. Let’s hope that Turkey’s fate in the West and NATO is not sacrificed to the distorted worldviews of this clique.