Mar 28 2018

U.S. Congress examines cost-benefit analysis of Turkey alliance - report

Update: Even though the copy of the Congressional report Ahval obtained has its authors name redacted, Congress' link has its authors name on the record. Therefore this report deleted the previous sentence, the related part. 

A congressional research report on Turkey’s relations with the United States has identified the two “standout” points of contention souring relations, and touched on the potential costs if the disagreement leads to a serious break in the NATO allies’ relationship.

The report, prepared by two Middle East specialists for presentation to congress on Mar. 23, highlighted the U.S. support of Kurdish factions in Syria, against Turkey’s strong objections, as one of the major issues worsening relations between the pair. 

The United States counts the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and affiliated Kurdish groups as important allies in Syria, where both are members of the coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS). 

However, the groups are linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an outlawed group that has been in conflict with Turkey for decades. The growing strength of these groups on the Turkish border led to Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch against YPG forces in the northwest Syrian enclave of Afrin, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has vowed to extend the operation to Manbij, where U.S. forces are stationed alongside affiliates of the YPG.

Another of the serious issues identified is Turkey’s planned purchase of S-400 missile defence systems from Russia. Turkey vowed this week to go ahead with the purchase, despite serious misgivings from the U.S. that this could compromise NATO’s integrated security system.

The report notes that "the planned S-400 acquisition also could trigger sanctions under existing U.S. law. In a September 2017 letter to President Trump, Senators John McCain and Ben Cardin cited the deal as a possible violation of section 231 of the Countering America' Adversaries Though Sanctions Act (CAATSA) - relation to transactions with Russian defense and intelligence sectors-that was enacted on August 2, 2017."

The heightened tensions have led to concerns that, if relations continue to deteriorate, military cooperation between the countries could be suspended.

The cost of this for the two countries depends on the extent that the United States relies on the use of Turkish territory and airspace to protect its interests, and the extent to which Turkey’s security and regional influence benefit from the U.S. presence, said the report.

On that note, the research also examined the potential cost of a U.S. withdrawal from İnciırlik, the country’s main air base in Turkey, and a critical hub for its activities as far afield as Afghanistan, which it said would depend on the viability and location of alternatives.

The report also indicates that "going forward, it is unclear

  • how Turkey will administer areas that it controls in Syria; 
  • to what extent Turkish-supported forces will hold their positions and/or advance father in Syrian territory; and
  • how Turkey might connect its military operations to political objectives regarding boarder outcomes in Syria, Iraq and the region."

Turkish President early in the week stated that he would appoint a governor for newly acquired Afrin but the security of the city will be provided mostly by Free Syrian Army.

On "Domestic Turkish Developments" section of the 15-page report states, "Over almost 15 years, President (and formerly Prime Minister) Erdogan has increased his control over key notional institutions."

Report points out that though "vigorous debate" about Turkey's leaders' "commitment to democracy and pluralism" were there, "especially after domestic contention increased in 2013 in association with public protests and corruption charges, Turkey experienced

  • government efforts to influence media expression, including in some cases via government takeover ror corporate acquisition,
  • robust measures to prevent future protests, including police action and restrictions on social media, and
  • U.S. and European statements of concern about the state of civil liberties, rule of law, and stability in Turkey."

Many of these trends expanded or accelerated in the wake of the July 2016 coup attempt and an April 2017 constitutional referendum that will considerably increase formal presidential power after the next round of elections 9which are due by 2019)."