Row Over Detained Pastor and Russian Air Defence System Intensifies
US President Donald Trump has restricted deliveries of the F-35 LIGHTNING II to Turkey, exacerbating a rapidly deepening rift between the NATO allies.
In early August, President Trump signed a defence authorisation act that prohibits deliveries of the F-35 to Turkey if Ankara continues with plans to procure the Russian S-400 air defence system. The law calls for a thorough review of US-Turkey relations, including the use of Incirlik air base by US forces.
Since 1999, Turkey has invested some $1.2 billion in the F-35 programme and expects to pay something in the order of $11 billion for an initial batch of 100 aircraft. (The evolution of the Turkish F-35 programme is examined in an article in the forthcoming Military Technology 9/2018).
Relations have become strained, however, partially as a result of the Turkish decision to buy the Russian air defence system, thereby defying US sanctions on Moscow, and partially over the detention of an American pastor, one Andrew Brunson, on charges related to the failed 2016 coup. Mr Brunson, detained in October 2016, faces a 35-year jail term if convicted. When a Turkish court rejected his appeal earlier this month, the Trump administration responded by doubling tariffs on aluminium and steel, causing the Turkish lira to plummet on international exchanges.
Turkey’s increasingly warm relations with Russia are causing concern in NATO circles and questions have been raised regarding the nation’s long-term membership of the alliance. President Erdogan wrote in the New York Times last week that unless the United States can “reverse this trend of unilateralism and disrespect,” Turkey will “start looking for new friends and allies.”
Turkey’s geographic position makes it a key strategic asset for the US and NATO, with the Incirlik air base – close to the Syrian border – providing an ideal launching point for US operations in the area. If bilateral relationships continue to degrade, who stands to be the biggest loser?