Event Summary: The Future of US-Turkey Defense Relationship
On Thursday, July 16, 2020, the SETA Foundation at Washington, DC hosted a virtual panel of experts to discuss ‘The Future of US-Turkey Defense Relationship.’ The discussion featured Ismail Demir, President of the Defense Industries of Turkey, and Admiral James Stavridis, Operating Executive at The Carlyle Group. The panel was moderated by Kadir Ustun, Executive Director at SETA DC, and Kilic B. Kanat, Research Director at SETA DC.
At the outset of the discussion, Demir explained that in order to look to the future of the US-Turkish defense relationship, one must look back. The Turkish military played an integral role in the Korean War, but its 1970s operations in Cyprus led Turkey to develop its own national defense industry. The US did not support this mission, so Turkey realized it could not always rely on its allies. US operations in northern Iraq and more recently in Syria have caused a rift in the bilateral relationship. In terms of the S400 issue, Demir still thinks that there is a future if both sides see the synergy and the benefit of having collaboration on the military side. It is critical that both sides respect each other’s security concerns. Turkish officials have explained to their US counterparts on multiple occasions that they are willing to sit down to discuss the S400 issue in order to protect Turkey, the US, and NATO as a whole. Demir views the F35 issue as twofold, both in terms of partnership and acquiring the planes. Despite concerns about giving Turkey F35s, they are still a partner of the program. Turkey is committed to being a partner in the program and will continue to produce parts for NATO.
To begin, Admiral Stavridis provided an anecdote about how the first capital he visited as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO was Ankara. In 2009 and to this day, he recognizes the critical importance of Turkey to the NATO alliance, with its tremendous military capability and high degree of professionalism. He described Turkey not as a bridge between the east and west, but as a center of gravity because of its size, its economics, its military capability, and its membership in the NATO alliance. Turkey is also a fundamental part of NATO’s combat power because of its military and capabilities today. The Turkish arms industry continues to demonstrate its ability to produce high quality combat systems including unmanned systems, which have been effectively used in Libya and Syria. There are tactical differences that need to be overcome in order to have a strategic future together, but Stavridis believes that the two countries can find a technical solution to the challenges through high level technical working groups. Due to the rise of China, it is critical that the US holds its allies close. The greatest advantage the US has against China is its alliance structures, of which Turkey is a critical component. Despite their differences, he remains cautiously optimistic about the future of the US-Turkish defense relationship.