NATO allies rediscover Turkiye as a useful partner


NATO allies rediscover Turkiye as a useful partner

US President Joe Biden and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Vilnius. (Reuters/File Photo)
US President Joe Biden and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Vilnius. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Ankara’s long-awaited decision to agree to Sweden’s NATO membership has finally been concluded. Every stage of this process has been meticulously followed by most members of the transatlantic community, especially the US.
The sensitivity was so high that, at one stage, the Turkish media claimed that the US authorities had asked for a wet copy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s signature. It later turned out that this was only the usual exchange of the instruments of ratification.
A NATO military drill dubbed “Steadfast Defender” started last week. The drill is scheduled to last four months and will become one of the alliance’s most comprehensive military exercises. The alliance’s two new members, Sweden and Finland, will participate in the entire exercise, even though their membership has not yet been formalized.
Hungary is the only country that has not yet declared its acquiescence to Sweden’s NATO accession. However, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has invited the Swedish prime minister to Hungary to discuss the situation. This looks like a formality, as Hungary’s opposition seems to be surmountable.
This is also the end of the neutral status that Sweden and Finland have maintained for decades. The fact they are participating in a NATO drill for the first time has to be perceived as de facto membership. The first phase will cover maritime reinforcement across the Atlantic and the second phase will be to bring reinforcements from the Arctic to the eastern flank of NATO.
As Sweden’s accession to NATO has now effectively become a done deal, attention has turned to what the US will do to balance the military strength between two NATO allies, Turkiye and Greece. Without entering the full details of the military balance between these two NATO members, we may begin by comparing the most tangible elements of the air forces of both countries. The F-16 fighter aircraft that are in Turkiye’s air force inventory are considered to be fourth generation. US President Joe Biden last week made available to Turkiye a package containing 40 new F-16 Vipers that have the characteristics of a four-and-a-half generation aircraft.

The US tried several times to punish Turkiye by imposing embargoes on several spare parts necessary for the Turkish air force.

Yasar Yakis

Greece, however, will acquire 40 F-35 aircraft that are much more sophisticated than F-16s. Athens started the modernization of its fighter aircraft in 2022. In other words, Turkiye is two years behind schedule when compared to Greece.
If Greece begins to receive the F-35s that have stealth ability, it will be far ahead of Turkiye. For its part, Turkiye is trying to develop a homemade fighter aircraft known as KAAN. Preliminary tests are underway but it will take time to make them fully operational, perhaps until the 2030s. KAANs cannot be compared to US-made fighter aircraft, but a nationally manufactured aircraft is an advantage.
In the past, the US tried several times to punish Turkiye by imposing embargoes on several spare parts necessary for the Turkish air force. However, Ankara found a way to develop substitutes for them, thus circumventing the obstacles created by the US. A proverb says that a bad neighbor makes people own property.
Last week, Turkish-US relations tilted slightly toward the Euro-Atlantic community when Biden reconfirmed his position in favor of Turkiye on the question of it upgrading its existing F-16 fighter aircraft and purchasing new ones. We will have to wait and see how Turkish-American relations will look after this complex issue is resolved.
The elephant in the room is the deployment of the Russian-manufactured S-400 missile defense system that Turkiye has purchased. Washington will probably not drop the question entirely. The implications of the deployment of a Russian-manufactured air defense system in a NATO country were not properly assessed at the outset by the Turkish military authorities. Ankara belatedly understood the relevance of this decision but it could not backtrack. This question was placed on the wrong rail from the outset because the US was denying the sale of critical military material to one of its major allies.
Another question is a long-standing rule applied by the US when donating or selling defense material to Turkiye and Greece. Because of the relative size of the Turkish and Greek armies, the US used to apply a 7:10 ratio in favor of Turkiye. This ratio has now been abandoned because of the massive supply of arms and the construction of huge military infrastructure in eastern Greece, close to the Turkish border.
The third issue is Turkiye’s expulsion from the co-production project of the most advanced fighter aircraft, the F-35. This question is likely to stay as an agenda item between Turkiye and the US for a long period because it has several implications. Many components of the aircraft were being manufactured in Turkiye.
Victoria Nuland, undersecretary of state for political relations in the US State Department, visited Turkiye last week and hinted that Ankara may be welcomed back into the F-35 program if the question of its deployment of the S-400 system is satisfactorily answered. Given the unstable relations between Ankara and Washington, no date could be given for the solution of this complex problem or even whether it will ever be solved.
Last but not least, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s scheduled visit to Turkiye has now been announced for Feb. 12. It had previously been postponed several times. But the confirmed date is not connected with Turkiye’s acquiescence to Sweden joining NATO.

  • Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkiye and founding member of the ruling AK Party. X: @yakis_yasar
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