Yaşar Yakış
Jun 01 2018

The U.S. to bar sale of fighter aircraft to Turkey

During the debates on the draft National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA), both chambers of the US Congress took parallel initiatives to bar the delivery of F-35 advanced fighter aircraft to Turkey. 

In the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democrat Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Senator Thom Tillis submitted an amendment asking the secretary of defence to prepare a plan to exclude Turkey from the F-35 programme. Tillis said the amendment was proposed as a reaction to Turkey’s detention of an American pastor and purchase of Russian-made S-400 air defence missiles.

The draft NDAA adopted in the House of Representatives includes a report saying that “Turkish-American relations are strained because of provocative actions taken by Turkey. Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system may affect negatively the weapon development programmes”.

Turkey fails to understand the logic of this move, because its companies are involved in the production of various components of the aircraft and it will be barred from getting its own produce. There is no logic either in linking the delivery of an aircraft to the detention of a pastor. The purchase of Russian-manufactured missile system is the decision of a sovereign state and should not be questioned. 

Apart from Turkey and the United States, other countries involved in the co-production project include Britain, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, Canada and Australia. Last month the United States withdrew from the multilateral Iran nuclear deal. Now its Congress wants to exclude Turkey from a multilateral co-production project. This reinforces the image of the United States as looking at the world affairs as its preserve.

Turkey and the United States are two NATO allies, but the lack of confidence in Turkey is openly voiced in U.S. academic circles. Can Turkey be expected to trust the United States after such a move? These are some of the questions debated in Turkey.

The executive branch of the U.S. administration is aware of the consequences of such a move. It will tarnish the U.S. image abroad as an unreliable partner in a co-production project that ignores the damage to the commercial interests of the other partners. It is unclear whether the main purpose of the move is to bar the sale or letting the executive and legislative powers act as good cop and bad cop in order to get concessions from Turkey in line with U.S. policy in Syria or elsewhere.

As if this was not enough, Israel joined the neocon chorus in Washington to support the initiative on the grounds that Israel should remain the only country in the region possessing the F-35’s advanced capabilities.

Turkey is rightly expected to resist these initiatives, but it is not going to be an easy task. The fact that there are two parallel initiatives in the Senate and in the House of Representatives will make Turkey’s task all the more difficult. Furthermore, the amendments submitted in the Senate were sponsored by the members of both the Republican and Democrat parties and it was adopted with an overwhelming majority of 351 against 66. This shows that Turkey will have to fight several battles.  

Turkey cannot overcome these difficulties only by blaming others. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said Turkey would retaliate, but did not specify how. 

Relations need to be put back on track, not only with the United States, but also with Israel and all other countries. The F-35 question will be added to the agenda of a meeting to be held in Washington on June 4 between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. Another important issue for the meeting is the withdrawal of the Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from the northern Syrian city of Manbij. 

Escalation in U.S.-Turkey relations is harming the interests of both sides, but the United States can find ways to manage the situation while Turkey is more vulnerable: It is already isolated in the international community. It is entangled in various crises in the Middle East. In Syria, it is trying to board two boats at the same time. The fragility of its economy is increasing. The run-up to the elections further complicates its problems.