Precedent is speculation’s best friend – to put it more frankly, if one has an idea of what a certain course of action might lead to based on the pasts experience of others in a similar position, this knowledge helps to inform one’s future course of action. At present, the threat of US sanctions on a second nation for transacting business with one of the main targets of US sanctions in the for of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), Russia, Iran and the DPRK, remains more theoretical than practical.
Currently, the US is threatening multiple EU states if they continue to conduct business with Iran on the terms of the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal) that the US has unilaterally withdrawn from. Likewise, nations as diverse as India, Vietnam and Turkey face the threat of second party sanctions due to their plans to purchase Russian weapons systems or upgrade existing systems. While US Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis proposed giving countries like Vietnam and India exemptions to these sanctions due to the fact that their older Soviet hardware still requires upgrading from Russia, India appears to have already capitulated and called off its otherwise scheduled defence transactions with Russia.
Turkey however remains a crucial test case that the wider world will be watching to see who will ultimately win a second party sanctions showdown – the US or a nation which continues to do business with Russia in spite of threats of sanctions. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has made Ankara’s position perfectly clear. In spite of Washington formally renewing its threat of sanctions a day after Turkey’s President Erdogan stormed to victory in a history election, Ankara’s policy on relations with both Russia and the US remains firm. According to Cavusoglu
“We see that the United States and the Russian Federation have problems, the US decided on sanctions because of interference in the elections. If I have a bad relationship with someone, would I call and tell everyone, ‘Do not be friends with him.’ Is this reasonable? Therefore, we do not accept this… We are buying the S-400 — and are you imposing sanctions against us for this? Relations will not proceed with this type of approach. If there are sanctions, we will respond”.
The Foreign Minister furthered vowed to respond to any sanctions although he did not clarify the nature of this response. Because of Turkey’s eastward economic pivot, Ankara is in a strong position to call the American bluff over deeply controversial second party sanctions. In the wake of western currency speculators including those linked with the infamous George Soros waging a hybrid war against the Turkish Lira, it has been reported that China continues to invest throughout multiple and major sectors of the Turkish economy ranging from infrastructure to national eCommerce.
Simultaneous to this, Turkey continues its history making positive relations with Russia. Turkish officials previous stated that if the US refuses to physically deliver the F-35 jets that Turkey has purchased, the Russian made fifth generation fighter Su-57 is a more than viable alternative. With Russia willing and able to provide ultra-modern military hardware to Turkey combined with Turkey’s rapid push to become a major producer of its own military hardware, Turkey is less dependant than ever on the US for its security and defence.
In this sense, both Asian countries including India and Vietnam as well as the European Union which remains rhetorically committed to business deals with Iran, should watch how the Ankara-Washington battle of nerves pans out. If Turkey is able to stand up to second party sanctions successfully and either forcing the US to rethink its policy or else find viable alternatives from eastern superpowers including both Russia and China – this means that others, particularly in Asia could easily do the same if they showed the kind of political courage that Turkey is showing.
Turkey therefore stands to be a trailblazer in the strange world of the US effectively using sanctions in the way that a mafia family forces all merchants in a given village to purchase their supplies from the mafia family, even if the goods are overpriced or lacking in quality. All it takes is one strong minded person to stand up to a local mafia and win, in order to set a precedent that will necessarily make it easier for others to reject mafia blackmail.
The US second party sanctions are no different than a mafia family in this sense, although in a geopolitical context there is an added element of childishness, as though it is proper to meddle in the sovereign affairs of other nations in transactions that have nothing to do with the United States in the first place. Because of this, all nations, including EU states whose relations with Turkey are currently going through a turbulent period, can benefit from the precedent Turkey’s leadership clearly intends to set.
Turkey has likewise implied that while it has no plans to unilaterally withdraw from NATO, if the US ceases to treat Turkey like a respected partner, the balance in the military bloc could ultimately change. Furthermore, if Turkey deprived the US of the ability to house its air craft and nuclear weapons on Turkish soil in the form of İncirlik air base, the US would need to dramatically pivot its logistical arrangements in the Middle East. With NATO friendly Jordan experiencing its own internal conflict while the Syria conflict continues to rage within a few kilometres of the Jordanian border, this “back-up” option might be far more difficult than initially foreseen. In this sense, the US needs Turkey increasingly more than Turkey needs the US in respect of regional logistics.
For the moment, the test of will between Turkey and the US is largely a matter of who blinks first. Thus far, Turkey has shown no signs of seeking to capitulate which means that the US must now consider the practicability of its own controversial sanctions which could end up depriving Washington of a much needed ally in the form of one of the few strong and stable nations in the Middle East region.