Is Washington in a position to lead Ankara to obedience?

The tensions between the U.S. and Turkey are the result of a mismatch in their foreign policy strategies

Is Washington in a position to lead Ankara to obedience?

On November 4, Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Robert Menendez (Democrat from New Jersey) introduced an amendment to the draft military budget for the next fiscal year (which started on October 1 in the US) that would inspect drone exports from Turkey and restrict the sale of parts for Turkey’s drone manufacturing programmeю

The US Arms Export Control Act requires that any weapons the US transfers to foreign governments, or parts of weapons, be used only for self-defence. “Turkey’s sale of drones is dangerous, destabilising and a threat to peace and human rights,” the senator said. – The US should not be involved in this, this amendment emphasises that we must prevent US components from being used in these Turkish weapons.”

Menendez drew attention to the fact that “Turkish drones played a crucial role in last year’s war between Armenia and Azerbaijan”. “Since then, Poland, Morocco and Ukraine have bought the Bayraktar TB2 and a number of countries have shown interest, including Angola, Ethiopia, Niger, Nigeria and Rwanda,” the senator stressed.

The Turkish Daily Sabah attributed the legislative initiative to pressure from “the Greek and Armenian lobbies in the U.S.,” with which Senator Menendez has been linked, but Washington’s displeasure with Turkey’s actions is not limited to the influence of one lobby or the other. Contradictions between Washington and Ankara are piling up because of the divergence in their foreign policy strategies.

“A rising and assertive Turkey poses difficult choices for the US,” notes Nikkei Asia. At the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on July 21, Robert Menendez accused Turkey of “militarily supporting Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and facilitating the movement of mercenaries from Syria to fight on Azerbaijan’s side” and that “more lawyers and journalists have been arrested and jailed in Turkey than anywhere else in the world”.

U.S. Undersecretary of State for Policy Victoria Nuland, who attended the hearing, acted as a “good investigator”, demonstrating a more “nuanced approach” and said there were areas where the two allies were “firmly on the same policy and world view”, but also “areas where we have deep disagreements with the Turkish government”. Nuland assured senators that the State Department continues “to oppose Turkey’s purchase and deployment of the Russian S-400 air defence system … and any new major arms purchases from Russia would result in additional sanctions under the CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act).”

Former US military intelligence colonel Richard Outzen, who has advised several secretaries of state, noted in a report Deals, Drones and National Will published by the Middle East Policy Institute (Washington) that Turkey had finally moved away from a “zero problems with its neighbours” policy. “Sometime in 2010-2012, there was a fundamental change in Turkey’s foreign policy as they realised that if they could not reach out and change the status quo with hard power, they would not get any result,” Outzen noted.

Emre Ozan, an expert at Turkey’s Crisis and Policy Research Center, believes Turkey’s importance to the U.S. will diminish in the long run as “U.S. foreign policy interests are shifting from the Middle East to Asia” and “the most important reason why the U.S. considered Turkey an important ally since the last century was its proximity to the Middle East”.

The picture is different in the short and medium term. “Although the U.S. wants to withdraw from the Middle East, this does not mean the disappearance of American interests in the Middle East,” the Turkish political scientist notes. – “The US wants to ensure the stability of the region in question through its trusted allies. It is precisely for failing to honour its commitments as a NATO ally that US Senator James Risch rebuked Turkey.

“The Biden administration is trying to tie Turkey to US foreign policy. To do this, Washington is playing the sanctions card … in the context of relations with Russia. It’s clear that the U.S. is using a carrot and stick approach to Turkey,” Ozan writes.
If Menendez’s amendment passes the U.S. Congress, how effective will the “stick” be?

First of all, the production of Bayraktar drones in Turkey will become impossible because they consist almost entirely of foreign components. Without the programmable chips of the American company Xilinx, which control all Bayraktar systems, it is no more dangerous than a child’s aeroplane. Further: the radio station, antenna, GPS receiver and transceiver, circuit boards contacts, altimeter, fuel tank and even the wheels and brakes of the Bairaktar were made in the USA.

If the sanctions are extended, the entire Turkish military industry, which depends entirely on foreign components, will stand down. For example, the Vuran armoured vehicle is a licensed assembly of the Israeli Hurricane. The Turkish Tulpar BMP and Hizir armored personnel carrier are equipped with American engines and transmissions. Turks should also beware of EU sanctions, as the Turkish Altay tanks are fitted with German diesel engines. Equally dependent on the Western military-industrial complex is the Turkish naval shipbuilding industry. Many Western military companies have already stopped supplying Turkey, which has spurred the revival of its military-technical cooperation with Russia.

If the sanctions regime does not help the Americans to return Turkey to the stall of overseas Big Brother, “soft power” will come into play. Lately, the Western media began to develop the theme of Erdogan’s declining popularity in Turkey and the possibility of the opposition coming to power.

The New York Times notes that Erdogan’s attempts to negotiate with the opposition have failed: “Turkish opposition parties present an increasingly cohesive and organized front aimed at replacing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and even holding early elections next year to challenge his 19-year rule.

Erdogan has irrevocably lost the support of the urban population, said Behlul Ozkan, a professor at Marmara University, noting that “the hegemony of political Islam in Turkey’s two largest cities ended a quarter century ago”.

Tightening the sanctions regime, informational support for the opposition in elections – this is by no means a complete set of “obedience enforcement” tools that America will apply to its NATO ally.

The more the U.S. pressures Turkey, the more it will seek an alternative foreign policy. “At the moment, Turkey has almost completely reoriented its foreign trade towards Russia, China and Germany. …The new US administration must realise that the old paradigm has changed. If the new administration in Washington is to maintain contact with Ankara, it must lift the sanctions and garner support to avoid pushing Turkey into the arms of Eurasia,” the pro-government Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah wrote.

As for the U.S. sanctions against the Turkish military industry, “Turkey is facing the prospect of a complete collapse of its former military-industrial orientation. The alternative for the Turkish defence industry is obvious – reorientation towards cooperation with non-Western players. … The Russian defense industry has a lot to offer Turkey,” says Ruslan Pukhov, director of Russia’s Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.

Vladimir Prokhvatilov, FSC


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