The advent of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) in its current form has the effect of potentially sanctioning any country that buys or even maintains Russian military hardware. According to CAATSA which directly targets Russia with sanctions, third countries, including US partners and allies who buy Russian military hardware will be subject to the same sanctions as Russia. The thought process behind the act is to force Russian made military hardware as far out of the global marketplace as possible by forcing countries to choose between expensive US made equipment versus being cut off from the US dominated western financial system.
While the US Congress has enthusiastically backed CAATSA, US Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis has pointed out a fatal flaw in the legislation which he rightly claims will ultimately hurt the US as much as new American partners. Mattis stated,
“There are nations in the world who are trying to turn away from formerly Russian-sourced weapons and systems. We only need to look at India, Vietnam and some others to recognise that eventually we’re going to penalise ourselves”.
Mattis therefore suggested case-by-case CAATSA exemptions for nations that have a history of buying Russian weapons and their modern upgrades that also seek to purchase more American weaponry owing to various geopolitical shifts and other considerations.
But while Mattis mentioned India and Vietnam, two Cold War partners of the USSR who are now open to buying more American weapons, he did not mention Turkey, a member of NATO since 1952, but one increasingly at odds with both the US and much of Europe and a country that has furthermore been adamant about purchasing Russia’s S-400 missile defence systems and the new US made F-35 fighter jets.
Technically, Mattis’s clear and rational argument applies equally to Turkey as it does to a country going in the opposite geopolitical direction like India. If Turkey for example was sanctioned by the US, it would only penalise the US in Mattis’s words, as it would only hasten Turkey’s increased purchases of Russian made weapons and any weapons Turkey buys from Russia means less money for the US.
But while this simple business reality should be clear, especially for a country like Turkey that has stated it will not back down from its S-400 deal in spite of any US pressure, Mattis looks increasingly isolated in advocating for common sense when it comes to Turkey.
The US as a whole continues to back the reckless Obama era policies of supporting (both covertly and at times surprisingly overtly) the terror group FETO which poses a direct threat to the security and unity of the Turkish nation. Furthermore, the US is overtly arming PKK aligned YPG/SDF terrorists in northern Syria.
Because of this, Turkey has a clear geopolitical incentive to expand its deeply positive relations with Russia to include the purchase of military hardware, above and beyond the fact that many experts consider the S-400s to be the best missile defence system in the world and one that is more cost effective than the US Patriot missile defence system.
James Mattis seems to understand that Turkey is a country that seeks healthy relations with both Russia and the US and that ultimately, Washington’s arrogant threats to sanction a country that is arguably the most powerful in its region and one with a great deal of existing US hardware in need of upgrading, would only be bad for the US as Turkey is more than capable of getting everything it needs from its eastern partners including not only Russia but also China.
The problem is that the anti-Turkish sentiments in the rest of Washington are so strong that no matter what Mattis says, his voice will likely be one of isolation, even if US lawmakers quietly pass an exemption rule to CAATSA.
The fact of the matter is that so long as the US arms and supports anti-Turkish terror groups, the relationship between Ankara and Washington will necessarily deteriorate irrespective of anything else. The fact that there are no signs of the US abandoning its pro-PKK/pro-FETO position means that ultimately either the US simply does not care to listen to Turkey’s genuine security concerns or that it has more sinister designs on Turkey that include working to undermine the legitimate government through the use of proxy terrorist conflict.