Yetkin Report:  Turkey to get new NATO tasks amidst missile split with US

The NATO Defense Ministers meeting on Feb. 17 and 18 was crucial in terms of Turkey’s relations with the West. Turkey’s expulsion from the F-35 fighter jet program by the U.S. and seizure of jets it has already paid for in retaliation for its purchase of S-400 missile systems from Russia was a common defense issue for NATO. It was the first NATO meeting held after Joe Biden came to power in the U.S. According to comments, a rise in tensions between the U.S. and Turkey in this meeting could affect Turkey’s economy along with its foreign policy.


NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced that the S-400/F-35 crisis was not discussed at the meeting. But Iraq issue was spoken.



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It was not just because Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar brought up the PKK’s murder of 13 Turkish security officers, who were previously kidnapped, during the Gara operation in Iraqi territory. It was rather about NATO’s decision to expand its Iraq operation.


We will return to the Iraq issue, but first, let’s quote Stoltenberg’s remarks on the S-400/F-35 crisis. There are differences within the organization regarding the issue but NATO is not a place to talk about differences.


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New missile proposals to Turkey

The Secretary-General also stated that the S-400 caused discomfort among NATO allies and that the issue might be discussed “among allies” before the meeting. He also added that Turkey was proposed to use a package of missile systems including Patriot and (French-Italian co-production) EUROSAM Samp-T missiles to replace S-400. (In fact, there is a new design of Samp-T for Turkey’s needs and feasibility study on joint production but the project is currently on hold due to political tensions between Turkey and France.)


A Defense Ministry source told YetkinReport that Ankara regards the S-400 and F-35 issue as a bilateral problem with the United States, but it also concerns joint NATO defense.


“We also brought to the clear attention of our Allies that licensing restrictions, attempts for sanctions or even the threat of sanctions against Turkey would only further weaken the Alliance,” Turkish Defense Minister Akar said after the meeting.


Akar said earlier that Turkey wants to return to the F-35 program, and a solution like Greek’s deploying S-300 missile systems on the island of Crete could be developed for S-400s. Turkish Presidential Spokesman İbrahim Kalın, for his side, had said that Turkey was ready to talk about the S-400 missile systems with the U.S. but there was no change in policy.


New responsibilities in NATO

Turkey’s responsibilities inside the alliance will increase. As of Jan. 1, Turkey has taken over the command of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) from Poland. On Jan. 25, the first Turkish military personnel of 25 took office in Baghdad for NATO’s Iraq operation. The aim of NATO’s Iraq operation is the restructuring and training of the Iraqi army. In the last meeting, combating ISIL was added to this, and the total number of personnel was increased from 500 to 4,000.


Turkey will increase the number of personnel to be assigned to this task. This situation may cause new discussions in Iraq. As a matter of fact, it is recorded that Akar said during the discussion on the debate that “While efforts to expand NATO’s mission in Iraq continue, we also stated that the PKK terrorist organization is the biggest obstacle to NATO’s mission.”



The problem is not gone

That’s the NATO side of the issue. So when it comes to military interests, unfortunately, not many people talk about democracy and human rights.


Still, the S-400 issue is high on the list of military interests. Because if the U.S. handles the S-400 issue in a manner that the senators have asked from Biden in a recent letter, this might set an example for other countries. These countries might be including some NATO members, according to diplomatic backstage information. It is obvious that Turkey will not be excluded from the Western Alliance. However, its identity as a country with a secular and democratic Muslim population is worn out.

But it has an important function due to its geographical position and military power. From another perspective, it is the sole NATO country positioned against Russia in Caucasus, Black Sea, Libya and Syria.


Saying all these does not mean that the problem has disappeared. In contrast, the S-400/F-35 issue is Turkey’s most important problem with the West and the U.S.


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Published By: Atilla Yeşilada

GlobalSource Partners’ Turkey Country Analyst Atilla Yesilada is the country’s leading political analyst and commentator. He is known throughout the finance and political science world for his thorough and outspoken coverage of Turkey’s political and financial developments. In addition to his extensive writing schedule, he is often called upon to provide his political expertise on major radio and television channels. Based in Istanbul, Atilla is co-founder of the information platform Istanbul Analytics and is one of GlobalSource’s local partners in Turkey. In addition to his consulting work and speaking engagements throughout the US, Europe and the Middle East, he writes regular columns for Turkey’s leading financial websites VATAN and and has contributed to the financial daily Referans and the liberal daily Radikal.