Even though the end of 2018 saw Turkey and the US easing many of the tensions that had been stirring since the Gulenist terror coup of July 2016, relations between the two NATO partners continues to to face new challenges. In 2019, the biggest challenges facing Turkey and the United States are as follows:
1. Continued disagreements on setting up a northern Syria safe zone in the aftermath of a phased US troop withdrawal (the time table of which is self-evidently a source of contention within Washington).
2. Turkey’s refusal to back out of purchasing S-400 missile defence systems from Russia
3. America’s attempt to leverage Turkey-Russia relations by threatening not to deliver Turkey’s order of F-35 fighter jets
While Turkey prefers a compartmentalised approach to each of these issues, the United States continues to treat these matters as parts of a monolithic Turkey policy – albeit one that appears more manic-depressive than coherent.
Yesterday, the US timed new threats to exclude Turkey from the F-35 programme that Ankara was instrumental in getting off the ground in the first place, alongside a decision by Washington to withdraw Turkey from the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) programme. The GSP offers trading partners lower tariffs than the standard threshold set by the WTO. Whilst Donald Trump may well have withdrawn Turkey from GSP sooner or later in any case, the timing of Washington’s decision was clearly not coincidental as the US has self-evidently once again used tariffs to try and attain a concession from Ankara on the S-400 deal.
This pattern of the US bringing up the S-400 deal to try and extract concessions from Turkey is not new – it is in fact a year old trend in Turkey-US relations and one that has thus far borne no fruit for Washington. Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing repeatedly whilst expecting a different result. But when it comes to Turkey-US relations, it would appear that the reason why the US keeps repeating the same line against Turkey in the hopes that the result will be different, is due to the fact that Washington itself is deeply divided between realists and extremists when it comes to Turkey. As such, America’s default position has been one of repeating the same threats.
Ankara has likewise been consistent in defending its right as a sovereign state to conduct commerce, including in the arms and security sector, with any and all partners of its choosing. Turkey has even made ironclad guarantees to the United States that the S-400s on Turkish soil will only ever be operated by Turkish personnel and that furthermore, the S-400s will not pose any risk of Russia attaining new intelligence on NATO military hardware.
Turkey has also said that it is still open to purchasing the US Patriot missile defence system in addition to the S-400s, on the condition that the offer on hand makes sound economic sense. One of the very reasons that Turkey initially turned to Russia for the S-400s was because of the fact that the US wasn’t willing to offer Turkey the kind of win-win deal that was secured with Moscow.
Thus, one can see that Turkey is open to multilateral win-win cooperation with a variety of partners. In terms of the security sector however, the US remains hellbent on forcing Turkey out of its dynamic partnership with Russia. This is something that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made clear is out of the question.
The Turkish President recently commented on the matter in the following way:
“We concluded the S-400 issue, signed a deal with the Russians, and will start co-production. Later, we may work with S-500s”.
Reiterating Turkey’s stance, the President said:
“It’s done. There can never be a turning back. This would not be ethical, it would be immoral. Nobody should ask us to lick up what we spat”.
In defending its sovereign right to buy defensive weapons from any producer of Ankara’s choosing, Turkey is sending a clear message that the only kind of deals that the country is interested in are those that are based on respective negotiations in pursuit of win-win outcomes.
It is therefore in America’s own interests to negotiate with Turkey based on that which is possible, as opposed to that which the US desires in some alternative zero-sum reality. The fact of the matter is that under President Erdoğan, Turkey’s path of independent development is not going to be reversed in any sector. Because of this, the US is only holding itself back by refusing to exercise flexibility when resolving issues with its longstanding Turkish ally.