On July 2nd, the State Department reiterated warnings that the United States will take retaliatory measures if Turkey does not reverse its decision to buy the Russian S-400 air defence system.
“The United States has consistently and clearly stated that Turkey will face very real and negative consequences if it proceeds with its S-400 acquisition, including suspension of procurement and industrial participation in the F-35 program and exposure to sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA),” a State Department spokeswoman said.
Last week, US acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan had warned that Turkey would be excluded from any further involvement in the F-35 program if it purchased the S-400.
US military policy-makers have cited security-concerns, arguing that Turkey’s simultaneous possession of both the F-35, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, and the S-400 would enable Russia and other countries to compromise the F-35’s stealth-capability.
“Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 air and missile defense system is incompatible with the F-35 program. Turkey will not be permitted to have both systems,” US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Mike Andrews said on Tuesday.
In spite of these warnings, Turkish officials have described acquisition of the S-400 from Russia as “a done deal.”
The arguments concerning the dangers of compromising the F-35’s stealth-capability seem disingenuous, considering that, as F-16 design-consultant Pierre Sprey has famously observed, the whole concept of a “stealth” aircraft is a scam anyway.
Sprey claimed that “stealth” simply doesn’t work, as the low frequencies and long wavelengths used in radar-systems developed during the second world war would enable them to detect every “stealth” aircraft in the world today, including the F-35. Sprey has argued that, given the F-35’s multiple design-flaws, the only real purpose of the entire project is to enable Lockheed Martin to milk the cow.
President Trump has signaled that, although he sees the S-400 issue as a concern, he nonetheless prefers granting a waiver to Turkey. At the G20 summit in Osaka, Trump argued that this controversy had been precipitated by the Obama administration’s unfair treatment of the Erdogan government in blocking Turkey’s attempts to acquire the Patriot missile air-defence system in 2016.
Following the Turkish government’s announcement in 2017 that it planned to acquire the S-400 system from Russia, the State Department approved a $3.5 billion sale of the Patriot system to Turkey last year in an attempt to kill the S-400 deal, but this has not had the desired effect.
In preparation for the possible imposition of US sanctions, the Turkish Defence Ministry has begun stockpiling spare parts to an assortment of different types of military hardware, including the F-16 fighter-jet. Owing to the economic war with the United States which broke out last year, the Turkish Lira lost almost a quarter of its value in 2018, and has lost a further 10% so far this year. While economic sanctions could do more serious damage to the Turkish economy, the Erdogan government seems to have decided that this calculated risk is worth taking.
So once again, we see Trump being effectively overruled by State Department and Pentagon officials.
To what extent is this issue-driven, and to what extent is the State Department position devised simply to politically undermine Trump?
Another question which arises is, does Erdogan want out of the F-35 project anyway?
The F-35 has been widely criticized as a massively overpriced and ultimately ineffective system. Its fuel-capacity makes it poorly suited to deep interdiction bombing-missions, it’s too fast and too fuel-inefficient to do close support of ground-forces, and its centre-section and narrow wing-span make it far too unmanoeuvrable to be effective in aerial combat." Critics have argued that it is simply impossible for one aircraft-design to be optimal for all of the missions for which the F-35 would be earmarked, that multi-mission aircraft design is an inherently stupid idea, that military aircraft design should always be mission-specific.
Turkey has already sunk over $1 billion into the F-35 project, but that’s ultimately insignificant compared with the future projected costs of what many see as a radically overrated and overpriced system.
This controversy threatens to trigger a domino-effect within NATO. A number of years ago, the historian and professor of Russian Studies at Princeton University Stephen Cohen remarked that we often underestimate the commercial pressures driving NATO-expansion. Yes, there are many ideological factors involved in NATO-enlargement, including both liberal universalism and American hegemony.
However, Cohen observed, given that becoming a NATO member-state requires countries to scrap and standardize so much of their military hardware, we crucially underestimate the extent to which NATO-enlargement is driven simply by the profit-motive of primarily American defence-contractors.
In that case, what are the implications if Turkey, whose geographical position makes it still arguably NATO’s second most important member-state, starts opting out of the commercial side of the equation? Could it trigger a domino-effect? To what extent could the undermining of the profit-motive in turn undermine the NATO alliance’s raison d'être?
Turkey has been an increasingly wayward NATO-ally for many years. Essentially, the central strategic value of NATO-membership for Turkey at this point is simply to enable Turkey to use Article 5 (collective defence) as cover for an increasingly unilateralist and adventurous geo-strategic agenda. But the same could be argued in relation to Poland, for example.
This latest controversy is yet another indicator that internal discipline within the NATO alliance is gradually crumbling. As American hegemony fades, it’s eventually going to be every man for himself. But in that case, for how long will Article 5 continue to be seen as mutually binding?