The following excerpts are from an analysis by GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s very deliberate political and security affront and challenge to the U.S. massively impacts the strategic framework linked to Russia, Iran, Syria, and – importantly in the short term – Qatar.
But it also entails existential risk for Greece and Cyprus and extends to the rest of the region, as far south as Egypt and Ethiopia, and to the Turkish and Iranian support for jihadist movements in sub-Saharan Africa.
From all of this, Washington must conclude that Qatar has not committed as strongly to the U.S. as Washington would like, and that it has hedged its U.S. alliance with an ongoing relationship not only with Turkey but with Iran. Thus, if the U.S. breaks with Turkey, the big question mark may not be over the Incirlik air base in Turkey, but over the U.S. Al Udeid Air Base near Doha.
A break in U.S.-Turkey relations would automatically include the removal of the U.S. Incirlik air base in Adana, southeastern Turkey, and Washington is known to be looking at alternative basing, including expanded operations from bases in Greece and possible use of the British Sovereign Bases in Cyprus. The German Luftwaffe had already moved in July 2018 from Incirlik to basing in Jordan, but Jordan itself was now literally under siege from Turkish-backed Muslim Brotherhood groups and from Turkey itself.
NATO fears it, given that there has been no precedent for such a separation, and the entire premise of NATO as a containment mechanism against Russia (it was intended to contain the USSR) would then be open to question.
There are many options for U.S. response to Turkey, but virtually all of the direct options would result in Turkey’s estrangement from NATO. Turkey does not want this because it would be at the mercy of Moscow, and there is no love in the existing Moscow-Ankara marriage. But Turkey has continued to maintain strong relations with Qatar, even though Qatar had accepted U.S. demands to cease following Turkey in the financing and arming of jihadist groups. Qatar, however, stepped in with a promise of $15-billion to stabilize the Turkish lira, which slumped during August to its lowest point since 2001 against the dollar.
Regional geopolitical implications of a Turkey-U.S. rift have caused Washington to proceed at a glacial pace in openly moving against Erdogan, but that still does not remove the high risk to the stability of Turkey – particularly its economy – entailed in the ongoing stand-off between Ankara and Washington.
A final U.S. Defense Dept. denial of the sale of 30 Lockheed Martin/BAE F-35A Lightning II combat aircraft, out of potential sale of 100 aircraft, along with other defense cooperation items, seemed, by early September, to be guaranteed. This would, in turn, trigger a number of follow-on actions by Washington and Turkey, and Erdogan, in particular, was aware that this was a turning point for him.
On August 23,the U.S. Senate passed the Fiscal Year 2019 Defense Appropriations Act (subsequently signed into law by President Donald Trump), including a provision by Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, to expressly prohibit spending Department of Defense funds to transfer, or to facilitate the transfer of, F-35 aircraft to Turkey until the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of State, certified to the appropriate congressional committees that Turkey was not purchasing the S-400 missile defense system from Russia and would not accept the delivery of such system.
Senior defense officials have said that if Turkey operated both the F-35 and the S-400, it could compromise the F-35’s security, including the aircraft’s stealth capabilities, and represent a strategic threat to the United States and its allies.
The only room for maneuver for the U.S. Defense Department – which is reluctant to see a hard break with Turkey – and for the Turkish president would be to operate as though Turkey would not actually take delivery of the S-400.
The already ongoing S-400 work between Russia and Turkey needed to accommodate F-35 technical systems has already begun, and by 2020 would have opened F-35 capabilities to exploitation by Russia and potentially China.