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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Turkey Breaks From West on Defense - Ankara takes steps to boost its own arms industry and reduce its military dependence on its NATO allies


From The Wall Street Journal:

ISTANBUL—Since the Ottoman Empire traded swords for guns two centuries ago, Turkey’s military has relied on Western arms and know-how. Now, the country’s leadership is pushing to end that arrangement in a shift that is rattling its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies.

Ankara has recently moved to diminish Turkey’s military dependence on the West, including last month inaugurating rocket testing and a radar technologies facilities. Both are part of Turkey’s effort to boost a fast-growing arms export industry that also is supplying its own forces with locally built tanks, warships, drones, missiles and—by the republic’s centenary in 2023—a jet fighter.

Ankara has also rejected bids by its NATO allies for a missile-defense system in favor of a Chinese-built one that one these partners say is incompatible with their technology and threatens intelligence cooperation.

Turkey’s Islamist-rooted government argues it needs a more independent military force to avoid the fate of the Ottomans, whose empire collapsed after banking on alliances with Germany and Austria-Hungary, only to be invaded by the U.K. and France—a bitter historical chapter that still fuels mistrust toward the West.

“We lost World War I because the Ottoman state did not have its own combat technique,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said at a March ceremony at the 100th anniversary of the Turk victory over the Allies in the Dardanelles. “A nation that doesn’t have its own defense industry cannot have a claim to independence.”

The government’s historically grounded concerns also have modern precedents: The U.S. imposed a crushing arms embargo on Turkey for more than three years after Ankara’s 1974 military intervention in Cyprus. And only after long and contentious discussions did NATO allies agree to deploy Patriots to protect the country during the 1991 Gulf War and 2003 Iraq war.

Still, the policy shift is roiling Turkey’s decadeslong alliance with the West, just as both sides seek each other’s help to counter security threats, particularly in the battle against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.

“Turkey is recasting itself as a nonaligned country in its rhetoric, which is making NATO very uncomfortable,” said a Western official in Brussels. “Turkey’s stance will be an issue for years to come, not only if the Chinese missile deal happens, but also because of its politics.”

Many officials in Washington and Brussels view the developments as part of a broader pivot by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose efforts to forge an independent foreign policy also led to other strains—over Syria, Egypt and Israel, for example.

Coming to power in 2003, the Turkish leader for years embraced close Western ties as the country bid to join the European Union. But accession talks stalled in recent years amid mounting Western concerns that Mr. Erdogan was becoming more autocratic, while he accused the West of undermining Turkey’s progress.

Still, Ankara has repeatedly stressed its commitment to NATO; the president’s spokesman said in February that Turkey’s membership in the alliance wasn’t up for debate. Turkey still cooperates closely with NATO.

Mr. Erdogan’s government said it deported 1,000 would-be jihadists and boosted intelligence sharing following Western criticism that Turkey wasn’t doing enough to combat Islamic State. Last month, Turkey let the U.S. deploy armed drones at the Incirlik Air Base to help fight the militants. Since 2013, it has hosted 750 NATO troops and five Patriot batteries from the alliance. And Turkey joined NATO’s antipiracy operation off Africa’s coast in March and participated in the U.K.-hosted Joint Warrior drill this month.

“Turkey contributes to strengthening our collective defense in response to Russia’s aggressive actions against Ukraine, and Turkey is also making a significant contribution to our missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan,” NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero said.

But Turkey—which has the second-largest land force in NATO after the U.S.—is also making an aggressive push to carve out a more independent military, making old friends nervous.

“You’re not in a situation where people in Washington and Brussels are asking, ‘Whose side is Turkey on?’ But one or two more big negative decisions, and you’ll be there,” said Marc Pierini, a former European Union ambassador to Ankara who is now at the Carnegie Endowment in Brussels.

Exhibit A is Ankara’s plan to buy a $3.4 billion national missile-defense system produced by China Precision Machinery Import & Export Corp., a company sanctioned by the U.S. multiple times since 2003—most recently in 2013 for violating a nonproliferation act targeting Iran, North Korea and Syria. Mr. Erdogan picked China over vehement NATO objections because its offer was cheaper and promised more technology transfers than bids from Western companies Raytheon,RTN1.25%Lockheed MartinLMT-0.26% and Eurosam (though Ankara says the bid from Franco-Italian Eurosam could be revived if the China deal falls through).

“No one else is giving up their technology to Turkey,” a Turkish defense industries official said.

“They don’t want a strong Turkey,” Mr. Erdogan said as he opened weapons manufacturer Aselsan ASASELS0.73%’s Radar and Electronic War Center in Ankara in March, referring to the West. “Supposedly these are countries that we cooperate with, that we are together with in NATO.”

The Chinese deal is risky. Western officials and analysts say the technology is outdated and couldn’t be integrated into NATO’s defense shield. That would increase Turkey’s vulnerability as Syria’s government deploys Scud missiles against rebels, these people said.

Turkish officials have sent mixed signals on the matter. Defense Minister Ismet Yildiz has said Turkey is seeking to build an independent national missile-defense system that wouldn’t be integrated with NATO. But the presidency’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, recently said the Chinese system can be integrated while protecting Beijing from spying on NATO—something the alliance rejects. “It is out of the question for the missile system not to be NATO compatible,” Mr. Kalin said.

But a Chinese system also would undermine a 2010 NATO initiative for members to collectively build a ballistic missile-defense system to protect the whole alliance.

“This sort of missile defense capability as such will reduce efficiency, harming the integrated approach that today’s threat environment invariably necessitates,” according to the Turkish authors of a mid-March report published by the German Marshall Fund, an American think tank. While alliance members can purchase weapons as they see fit, Ms. Romero said, “In general, it is important for NATO that the capabilities allies acquire can operate together.”

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