While the world focuses on war and humanitarian suffering resulting from Turkey’s military operations in northern Syria starting in October, the defense industries and national governments of the United States has been focused on trying to come to an agreement on Turkey once again repairing and producing about 1,000 parts for American Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth combat aircraft. Turkey was booted from the program this summer after beginning to receive S-400 missile defense technology and systems from Russia, which threatens the security of F-35 stealth technology. As US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien put it “there’s no place in NATO for the S-400.” A White House statement put out in July put it even more on the nose: “The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities.”
Sorry, No Deal
However, the meeting between US President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Nov. 13 did not result in a deal. The US government had hoped to pressure Turkey to scrap its reliance on Russian missile defense and rejoin the F-35 club but were unsuccessful. The program is a massively profitable defense deal that has upped the stock market for US defense contractors and companies. It is easy to see why, considering F-35s run from $94 to $122 million dollars each in terms of cost.
Trump’s Lack Of Leverage With Turkey
Trump does not have much to go on, considering he already backed off on confronting Turkey over its incursion into Syria nor significantly punished Ankara for buying Russian technology and arms that undermine US interests. When Turkey turned to Russia for the S-400, Trump downplayed it repeatedly. Erdogan was a special guest at a Russian airshow this summer and also has floated the idea of buying Russian Su-35 fighter aircraft. Trump also has little leverage on bringing up Turkey’s human rights abuses, alleged war crimes and crackdowns on free speech, considering the US is perfectly fine trading in defense systems and weapons to numerous authoritarian regimes worldwide if the price—and geopolitical calculus—is right.
Erdogan Tells Off US
Trump stated at the press conference this past Wednesday that he is a “big fan” of Erdogan and that Turkey is a key US ally and fighter against terrorism, but the feeling does not appear to be entirely mutual, at least not on a national level. Erdogan has called the US Congress’ late October formal recognition of the Armenian genocide a “worthless” measure and on Wednesday reiterated a litany of complaints about US policy toward Turkey. Erdogan also doubled down on the operations in Kurdish territory, calling Kurdish YPG fighters terrorist subsidiaries of the PKK in related Congressional remarks. It comes amid some speculation that NATO could even be rethinking Turkey’s membership. As NATO’s upcoming London summit approaches, these issues could well come to a head.
Finding New Suppliers
The Pentagon has already found new suppliers for more than 988 of the parts that Turkey was making, and Turkey will be fully shut out by March of next year. Although Erdogan said that he would consider buying a Patriot missile system in the future, whose past delay was an “injustice” that forced Turkey to turn to Russia according to him. Despite Trump’s vague assertion that the United States will “work something out with Turkey,” it’s clear that in real terms the partnership is uncertain. It is clear that the new geopolitical reality will not be easily sailing for the United States in terms of alliance-building.