Turkey is back in from the cold with NATO and F-16 moves

Turkey is back in from the cold with NATO and F-16 moves

Turkish President Recep Erdogan speaks to journalists during the final national press conference during the NATO high-level summit at the Litexpo conference center in Vilnius, Lithuania, July 12, 2023.

Dominika Zarzycka | Photo only | Getty Images

Turkey, along with Hungary, spent almost two years delaying Sweden’s entry into NATO.

It has purchased powerful Russian weapons systems and its outspoken President Recep Tayyip Erdogan openly criticizes the leaders of allied Western countries. Relations between Turkey and the West have been strained, to say the least.

But with the decision to admit Sweden into NATO at the end of January – a move that required the unanimous consent of all 31 members of the alliance – it appears as if a switch has been flipped.

Just hours after Ankara’s decision, the US approved a $23 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, which had been delayed since 2021. The State Department’s Victoria Nuland said Turkey would immediately receive modernization kits for its F-16s and that Washington would also be “delighted” to welcome Turkey back into the F-35 program for NATO’s most advanced fighter jet as soon as possible the allies had clarified the issue of Turkey’s purchase of the Russian weapons system.

It is worth noting that Hungary has not yet approved Sweden’s NATO application and remains the only member of the alliance standing in the way of the Nordic country’s entry.

“No country in the Western orbit has taken so many problematic steps only to be welcomed with open arms,” wrote David Lepeska, a Turkish and East Mediterranean affairs columnist for the UAE edition of The National.

Turkey appears to have a unique position that allows it to push and cross borders with its NATO allies. And it is being welcomed back with open arms after a single change of position, despite some US lawmakers calling for stricter accountability.

“My approval of Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 aircraft was conditional on Turkey’s approval of Sweden’s NATO membership. But make no mistake: This was not a decision I made lightly,” Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.

A general view of the General Assembly of the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) during the debate on the bill approving the ratification of the Protocol on Sweden’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Ankara, Turkey, January 23, 2024. (Photo by Metin Aktas /Anadolu via Getty Images)

Methane Acta | Anadolu | Getty Images

Senator Chris Van Hollen said he welcomed Turkey’s ratification, but added: “I continue to have grave concerns about President Erdogan’s continued attacks on our Syrian Kurdish allies, his aggressive actions in the Eastern Mediterranean and the role he plays “It has played a role in supporting Azerbaijan’s military attacks against Nagorno-Karabakh…It is clear that we must keep a close eye on Turkey in the coming weeks and months – actions speak louder than words.”

Crucial strategic ally

The more a country is needed by its allies and partners on a strategic or economic level, the more it can get away with, geopolitical analysts emphasize.

Turkey has NATO’s second-largest military after the United States, its Incirlik air base is a central starting point for Western operations in the Middle East such as fighter jet flights over Syria and Iraq during the anti-IS campaign and even houses around 50 American nuclear warheads.

“Historically, Türkiye has been an important NATO member due to its geostrategic location between Europe and Asia and control of access to the Black Sea,” Hakan Akbas, a senior adviser at the Albright Stonebridge Group, told CNBC.

The country controls the Bosphorus, an important sea route for global food and agricultural trade as well as military logistics. It has also been “an essential partner in various military operations and missions operating alongside the United States,” most recently in Afghanistan, Akbas said.

But Turkey’s strategic value to NATO goes beyond its military role. “It is a key player in regional security, bordering Russia, Syria, Iraq and Iran and serving as a transit country for energy pipelines that are critical to global markets,” Akbas added. “This position gives Ankara significant leverage in dealings with other NATO members and allows it more leeway than smaller or less strategically located members may enjoy.”

Erdogan believes a closer relationship with Russia is in his best interests, an academic says

The Turkish government’s friendliness toward Russia worries many NATO members; But at the same time it allows him to do things like broker the Black Sea grain deal and prisoner exchanges between Ukraine and Russia.

Washington’s decision to quickly move forward with the sale of F-16 aircraft to Turkey “can be seen as a gesture of goodwill by the US and a recognition of Türkiye’s crucial role within the alliance,” Akbas said. toward Russia to balance its security needs with broader concerns about regional stability.”

“It underlines the robust yet adaptable nature of NATO-Turkey relations,” he added, “where strategic imperatives often lead to compromises and concessions from all sides involved.”

Remaining tensions

Turkey and its NATO allies, particularly the United States, continue to clash in a number of sensitive areas.

Ankara’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system poses a security risk to NATO’s defense systems, according to Washington – so much so that the purchase in 2019 led to Turkey’s expulsion from NATO’s F-35 program , in which she could have participated in the production and acquisition of the advanced stealth jets.

Meanwhile, Ankara openly condemns US support for Kurdish militias in Syria, which it sees as part of a Kurdish terrorist group threatening Turkey. Its military campaigns against these groups in Syria have even led to sporadic indirect conflicts with U.S. forces in the region.

Despite the S-400 procurement, Turkey remains a NATO ally, says Stoltenberg

Turkish leader Erdogan has also been vocal about his support for the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and provides safe haven to some of its leaders who are classified as terrorists by the United States. Meanwhile, Turkey’s unilateral actions over maritime disputes with NATO members Greece and Cyprus have also been criticized by the alliance.

“Any of these issues could escalate quickly depending on domestic political or economic developments in Turkey, changes in the regional security landscape, or shifts in U.S. and NATO policies,” Akbas said.

“The dynamic nature of geopolitics in the regions means that while some disputes may be temporarily resolved or de-escalated, they may re-emerge as significant challenges to alliance cohesion and cooperation.”

Source link

2024-02-21 06:19:26