Professor Edward Erickson says Turkey’s S-400 acquisition is a ‘political problem’ rather than a military problem for the US but doesn’t think Turkey’s role in NATO will be affected by the F-35 issue.
Russia has begun delivering its S-400 missile defence systems to Turkey despite threats and objections from the United States.
Turkey began receiving the components on July 12 and expects to completely deploy the missile system in the country by April 2020.
The US has retaliated by removing Turkey from its F-35 fighter jet programme.
"Turkey’s decision to purchase Russian S-400 air defence systems renders its continued involvement with the F-35 impossible," White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement on Wednesday.
"The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence-collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities," Grisham said.
Meanwhile, hours after the US formally initiated the process to expel Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet programme, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, speaking at the Aspen Institute’s annual security forum in Colorado, spoke of his concerns about the US decision.
Stoltenberg said such a move "is not good; bad for all of us".
Turkey on Thursday slammed the US decision, saying: "This unilateral step is incompatible with the spirit of alliance and does not rely on any legitimate justification."
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said: "Excluding Turkey, one of the main partners from the F-35 programme is unfair, and the claim that (the) S-400 system will weaken the F-35s is invalid."
To explain the significance of the decision, TRT World reached out to Edward Erickson, Professor of International Relations at Antalya Bilim University, and Merve Seren, Assistant Professor at the Department of International Relations of Ankara Yildirim Beyazit University.
The impact of the US’s decision on NATO
Erickson says that NATO will not be strongly affected and “will easily maintain an air supremacy/air strike capability” without Turkish F-35s, whose removal “does not damage NATO’s overall capability because the other air forces (like the USAF and RAF) will have so many F-35s”.
Seren disagrees and said: “[Washington’s decision] will create an impact on NATO’s strategic deterrence. Because the F-35 is a strategic weapon system which plays a strategic deterrence role against other challenger powers such as Russia.”
Pointing out that NATO members such as the US, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain all have Patriots, Erickson says the alliance would “obviously” prefer that Turkey “acquire Patriot missiles because they are compatible with other NATO nations’ air defence systems”.
Yet, he says, that the integration of former Warsaw Pact countries into NATO demonstrated that Russian weaponry could co-exist alongside Western arms.
“NATO has a 20-year history of operating Soviet and Russian equipment alongside NATO systems,” he says, referring to Poland, Romania, Hungary and others that “still use Soviet aircraft and tanks."
The fact that Turkey has S-400s is more of a problem for the US than NATO, Erickson suggests.
“In my view, [it] is not really an operational issue for NATO. It is a ‘concern’ for NATO rather than a ‘problem’ and NATO can easily work around the deployment of S-400s in Turkey,” Erickson says.
Asked about Turkey’s role in NATO and NATO’s views on Turkey, Seren pointed out: “NATO’s secretary general as well as [former] US general [Jim] Mattis said that Turkey is a sovereign country and choosing Russian S-400s is a sovereign decision of an independent country.”
Seren says she doesn’t believe that NATO countries, even the US, would ever want to lose an ally as important as Turkey “which has been a great contributor to NATO’s security and defence policies and facilities."
That said, she adds: “Since its 1952 membership, Turkey has experienced both direct and indirect embargoes from various NATO states such as the US, Germany, and Holland.”
She also mentions: “Turkey is going [to continue] to face both direct and indirect embargoes from some of its NATO allies.”
Erickson emphasises that Turkey’s S-400 acquisition is a “political problem” rather than a military problem for the US.
“Since 1974, Turkey has moved toward creating a domestic defence industry that is independent of the United States,” he says.
“America would prefer that Turkey, and all of its weapons clients, actually, remain dependent on American weapons and spare parts because this can be used as political leverage to achieve American policy goals.”
Turkey turning to Russia for missile defence systems may also have further unintended consequences, Erickson warns.
The political problem is “manageable and repairable” if it’s limited to F-35 sales only, he argues.
However, he warns, the US may impose “economic sanctions” under 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) after which “there will be a major political schism between our countries."
Seren says she believes that Turkey-US relations will continue to worsen. Turkey is already in an agreement with Russia and Iran with regards to Syria’s civil war. Both countries are major rivals to the US.
Moreover, the US funds and arms the YPG, the Syrian arm of the PKK terror organisation despite Turkey’s objections.
Turkey has also recently started drilling in the eastern Mediterranean off the shores of Northern Cyprus, where it says it will protect Northern Cypriot interests, despite threats from EU and the US.
“Turkey’s deteriorating relationship with the US will worsen; the increasing tension between the two countries will bring unfavourable reflections over issues such as Syria, YPG/PYD, Daesh, PKK, Cyprus and the Mediterranean Sea,” Seren tells TRT World.
She adds: “US sanctions, as well as direct and indirect embargoes put in place by some other NATO allies, will create military, political, economic, technical and commercial impacts on Turkey.”