How the Purchase of a Russian Defense System Continues to Strain US-Turkey Relations

Monday, July 29, 2019 1:52 PM | Tim Horgan (Administrator)


The United States and Turkey have been NATO allies since 1952 and share some important interests, but they are also faced with various challenges in recent years. Turkey’s core security and economic relationships, as well as institutional links, remain with Western nations, as reflected by some key U.S. military assets based in Turkey and Turkey’s strong trade ties with the European Union. However, various factors complicate U.S.-Turkey relations. For example, Turkey relies to some degree on nations such as Russia and Iran for domestic energy needs and coordination on regional security, and therefore balances diplomatically between various actors. Bilateral relations between the Trump Administration and the Erdogan government have faced several recent challenges. The acquisition of S-400 air defense systems from Russia has endangered the relations between the US and Turkey, particularly from a NATO standpoint.

Turkey has taken delivery of a controversial Russian missile defense system, despite opposition from the US. The shipment of the S-400 missile defense system arrived on an airbase in the capital Ankara this past Friday, as confirmed by the Turkish defense ministry in an announcement on Twitter.

Turkey had plans to buy 100 F-35 planes from the US, but after Turkey announced in 2017 that it also planned to install the S-400 Russian missile defense system, the US nixed the deal for the advanced fighter jets. This was due to US officials concerns that by having this Russian missile system, and Russian technicians to help the Turks operate it, the Russians could learn how to possibly shoot down the F-35, as well as learn about other vulnerabilities. As such, the U.S. has indicated to Turkey repeatedly that there's no way Turkey can be allowed to have the F-35 jet if they buy the Russian S-400. As the Russian system arrives on Turkish soil, NATO stated that it's concerned about Russian missiles being deployed by a long time NATO ally. For some observers, the S-400 issue raises the possibility that Russia could take advantage of U.S.-Turkey friction to undermine the NATO alliance. In April 2019, Vice President Mike Pence asked publicly whether Turkey wants “to remain a critical partner in the most successful military alliance in history” or “risk the security of that partnership.” In 2013, Turkey reached a preliminary agreement to purchase a Chinese air and missile defense system, but later in 2015 withdrew from the deal, perhaps due to concerns voiced within NATO as well as China’s reported reluctance to share technology. Much of the reports stated that the US government has told Turkey that purchasing the S-400 would have “unavoidable negative consequences for U.S.- Turkey bilateral relations, as well as Turkey's role in NATO.” Some potential examples include, sanctions against Turkey, risk to other potential U.S. arms transfers to Turkey, reduction in NATO interoperability, and introduction of “new vulnerabilities from Turkey's increased dependence on Russia for sophisticated military equipment.”

 - By Furkan Cakin, WACNH Intern

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