S-400 a critical juncture in Turkey-US partnership
As tension between Turkey and the U.S. regarding the S-400 air defense systems grows, the expectation is that a creative solution to de-escalate the stress on bilateral ties and find mutually acceptable ways out of this turbulence will be sought. However, from the Turkish side, the U.S. position seems to be less of a reconciliation and more of an imposition of terms that do not take into account the national security sensitivities and national interests of Turkey. It has been over the last several years that relations between Turkey and the U.S. have gone awry, and now every disagreement is turning into a major crisis. For Turkey, relations did not have a promising record. Most notably, the U.S. supported the PKK’s Syrian wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), despite Turkey’s protests.
The administration did not keep its promise to Turkey regarding pulling the group out of the area west of the Euphrates after the Manbij operation. During the July 15 coup attempt, the U.S. administration responded in an unacceptable manner by emphasizing continuity and stability in Turkey instead of reacting to the coup plotters.
Then following the reactions, the U.S. administration expressed its support for democracy without using the “c” word or mentioning President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in it. Of course, since then the U.S. has not responded to any requests from Turkey regarding a legal process for those involved in the bloody coup attempt.
The arrest of the deputy CEO of Halkbank and his trial was another major scandal in relations. During the trial, a Gülenist and former police officer was used as a witness, and his illegally obtained recordings were presented as exhibits during the trial. In the meantime, U.S. consulates stopped issuing visas from Turkey, and the members of the administrations threatened Turkey. Last summer, sanctions were issued for two ministers in Turkey, and tariffs for steel and aluminum were implemented. In the last few months, the delivery of F-35s was suspended, and Congress passed three bills on different issues targeting Turkey.
In this context, Turkey is still trying to protect and improve its ties with the U.S. In order to resolve the existing challenges, it needs to see the same effort on the part of Washington.
However, Ankara has observed two positions and approaches for this matter. So far, the statements by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and resolutions passed in Congress have not given any reasons to be optimistic about the solution of this problem. If Turkey is still trying to protect the strategic partnership between the two countries despite all the issues, no one should question Turkey’s reliability and its position in the NATO alliance.
Every statement threatening Turkey generates more fissures in the trust between the two allies. Strategic or model partnerships are built on the shared interests, mutual trust and institutional foundations. Establishing such a partnership sometimes can take decades and needs constant fine tuning and care.
The issues mentioned above contradict the spirit and understanding of an alliance. Those in Washington who want to keep the partnership between Turkey and the U.S. strong and prevent the deterioration of bilateral ties have important responsibilities at this critical juncture.
On the one hand, they have to work with Turkey to find some creative solutions to the problems through dialogue and increase the attempts to diversify the areas of cooperation. Increasing the trade volume and establishing a safe zone together in northern Syria will be just some of them. They can create an opportunity for both sides to use these crises to establish a stronger connection.
On the other hand, they need to convince Washington and convey that threatening sanctions or passing resolutions against Turkey in Congress only creates more distance in the relationship. The S-400 crisis may mark a difficult period in the history of Turkish-American relations, but the relations have survived many such periods. In this time of international uncertainty and regional instability, it is critical to strengthen alliances and partnerships, and to keep in mind that negative attitudes benefit no one.
This article was first published by DailySabah April 20, 2019.