Last week we discussed Turkey’s decision to go ahead and take delivery of the S-400 missile system from Russia and the implications that held for the United States and NATO. At the time, I suggested that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erodgan had revealed himself as no longer being an ally of ours and punitive measures were called for. One of the biggest items on the table was the pending sale of our F-35 fighters to Turkey, a transaction that needed to be canceled.
It appears that the President has been getting advice from like-minded people because as of now, the sale is off. (Wall Street Journal, subscription required)
President Trump said the U.S. would withhold sales of advanced F-35 stealth jet fighters to Turkey after Ankara received a new air-defense system from Russia, putting new strains on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The decision to cancel the F-35 shipment was expected, but until Mr. Trump’s remarks on Tuesday, the administration had held off on responding to Turkey’s decision to accept delivery of the Russian S-400 system. Turkey’s action and the U.S. response inject tension and uncertainty into the 67-year security pact between Turkey and other NATO members.
The latest moves come amid differences between Ankara and Washington over Syria and a sharp disagreement over the role of Kurdish fighters, who U.S. officials say have played a major role in battling Islamic State militants but who Turkey sees as a terrorist force.
This is a complicated situation that the President is wading into. For their part, Turkey is saying they will seek international arbitration over the canceled sales, but it’s unlikely any such move could force our hand. At the same time, the future production of more F-35s is in question, at least in the short term, because a number of parts for the planes are manufactured in Turkey. The Trump administration is already working on alternate vendors if those parts suddenly become unavailable.
While complicated, this is a smart move. Most defense analysts seem to agree that the S-400 system’s radar would give the Russians (through their agency in Turkey) the ability to discover secrets about the F-35s, making it easier for them to counter the stealth planes in a potential military conflict. And given the chummy relationship between the Tyrant of Turkey and Vladimir Putin, that would probably have been happening almost immediately.
But the cancelation of this sale likely won’t be enough. There should be new sanctions imposed on Erdogan personally and Turkey in general. They’ve been playing both sides of the fence for too long now and their membership in NATO going forward should also be up for debate. Turkey derives tremendous economic and political advantages from being aligned with NATO and the west, but they’ve been abusing those privileges mightily.
It’s not too late for Erdogan to step back from the brink, but he may need a bit more of a push to get him to see the light. And if he chooses to abandon us entirely and throw his lot in with Russia and Iran, well… it’s not like we’d be losing a very good ally anyway.