U.S.-Turkey: on a collision course at full speed
Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan said on December 15, live on TV that Turkey could close the İncirlik and Kürecik military bases to the use of the U.S. if need be, to counter the steps the U.S. might take against Turkey. The Incirlik air base, located near the southern province of Adana, near Syria border has been allocated to the U.S. and NATO use for decades. In Kürecik, near the eastern province of Malatya, there is the U.S.-NATO operated early-warning radar site for the Missile Shield project – one out of a total of five in the whole world, two of them being in the U.S., one in UK and one in Japan. Both have strategic importance for the U.S. The aim of closing these two bases to U.S. use would be to reciprocate if the American Congress impose sanctions on Turkey due to Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missiles.
This wouldn’t be Turkey’s first harsh defiance against the U.S.; it happened in the past too. When U.S. Congress had declared an arms embargo against Turkey in 1975, due to the 1974 Cyprus military intervention and the ban on opium farming, Süleyman Demirel, the Prime Minister of the time had retorted by shutting down the Incirlik base (the current Kürecik radar had not been built yet) for three years until the countries reached a new agreement; this was despite Demirel being widely criticized for his pro-U.S. stance. That the U.S. military has been evaluating such a possibility for some time and taking the necessary measures is currently being reflected in the press.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has implied just a while back that the Incirlik and Kürecik bases may be closed. That the President himself explicitly states that now shows that Ankara believes that the U.S. sanction due to the S-400 purchase might actually be applied.
Truth-telling left to Akar?
During the same TV interview, Erdoğan made special mention of a bill that recognized the 1915 atrocities as the “Armenian Genocide”; the U.S. House of Representatives and then the U.S. Senate had approved said bill to then send it for President Donald Trump’s approbation. In reality, the Turkish government’s more pressing concerns are the S-400-related economic and military sanctions that are on the brink of becoming a reality. The main military sanction would be to take Turkey out of the F-35 fighter jet project, despite being a co-producer and a co-investor. Should this happen, it would also mean depriving Turkey of a scheme that its air defense depended on, and that it had gotten involved in 20 years ago. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said that this would also harm NATO’s defense but the genie might well be on its way out of the bottle.
Economic sanctions, on the other hand, might further affect the Turkish economy which is already passing through dire straits. Among the sanctions proposed by the House of Representatives is an investigation of the wealth and assets of President Erdoğan, his family and some of his ministers; this will leave Turkey facing an unprecedented reputation problem and it’s even more painful to think about the possible effects on the banking system.
Erdoğan’s message to the people is that “nothing will happen to us, we’ll retort” but Ankara has been quietly striving to contain the fire that has already started at the NATO summit in London on December 3-4 under. We had understood that things hadn’t gone to plan at the NATO Summit only after Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar stated that “no agreement was reached and we’ve been left on our own”.
Back-to-back sanction meetings in Ankara
Since a few weeks, officials in Ankara have been looking into ways of controlling the oncoming Turkish-American train crash in back-to-back meetings behind closed doors. One day, the news comes out that the Presidential Foreign Policy and Security Council is having a meeting with foreign policy researchers and business representatives; the next, we learn that pro-Government NGO, SETA has invited U.S. specialists to ask them “what to do”.
The solution to this equation is not easy: Turkey now sees the S-400 issue as a matter of national sovereignty and it’s unlikely those missiles will be abandoned. The F-35 issue, on the other hand, is interpreted in Ankara as some of its Western allies want to isolate Turkey within NATO. But there doesn’t seem to be an alternative to the current situation. Because, despite rapprochements and Turkey’s attempts to spite the U.S., Turkey cannot, geographically and historically ally with Russia. And China has no such concern, as they’re concerned with economic diffusion and not military or political prowess. Therefore, the Eurasian dreams that still somehow prevail at Erdoğan’s Presidential Palace in Ankara, aren’t really valid in the real world.
The trains are not of same size
What remains to do now is to strengthen the relations with the EU. But Turkey’s currently giving off the impression that it’s demoted its relations with the EU to “we’ll set the Syrians onto you” threat.
On top of it all, there emerged the debate of sending soldiers to Libya. On December 15, Libyan president Fayez al-Sarraj left his capital city of Tripoli, which is currently under the siege of dissidents backed by the Libyan National Army (LNA) head Khalifa Haftar, and came to Turkey to meet with Erdoğan and Akar. On the same day, the news came out that a C-17 military transport aircraft has landed from the German Ramstein airbase, which is open to U.S. use, to Benghazi where Haftar’s base camp is located.
At the moment, the state of Turkish-American relations looks like two train wagons going opposite directions on the same railway, heading each other at full speed. The trains are not of the same size or strength. Both of their respective machinists don’t seem to have the intention to hit the brakes. So it’s safe to say there is really something to worry about it.