Which is bigger threat, S-400s or US evangelicals?

US clique with uncertain lifespan can't divert Turkey from multilateral policies it follows due to its geopolitical position

Mehmet A. Kancı  | 05.04.2019 - Update : 05.04.2019
Which is bigger threat, S-400s or US evangelicals?

By Mehmet Kanci

*The writer is an Istanbul-based journalist specializing in Turkish foreign policy.


During the recent Washington meeting of the foreign ministers of NATO member nations, the international community clearly saw that the F-35 project has now gone beyond aiming to modernize the alliance's air force and, instead, become an instrument of pressure on European allies, and primarily Turkey. Having maintained its nonchalant attitude for years toward Turkey's high-altitude air defense system needs, the U.S. is presently trying to cut Turkey out of the F-35 project by irrationally linking the F-35 project to the S-400 missile system to be supplied by Russia. So, do the fears that Turkey would become an unreliable ally if it finalizes the purchase of the S-400s, that it would thus jeopardize NATO's security, and that the secrets of the F-35 project would end up in Russian hands reflect reality? One cannot help but wonder if the recent developments on the Golan Heights, the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, the blackmail attempts over the F-35 project, and the prospective controlling and managing of energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean by the quartet of Greece, the Greek Cypriot administration, Egypt, and Israel in violation of international law are not essentially inseparable links in the strategic chain created by the evangelical-neocon wing of the White House, which now shapes U.S. foreign policy along with the national security team there.

In order to find adequate answers to these question, we should go back to the visit to Washington this March of French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly. During her speech at the Atlantic Council, Parly revealed the major disturbance created by the U.S. trying to use NATO as a blackmailing tool against its European allies in energy and defense policies since Trump assumed the U.S. presidency. Parly, very strikingly, laid bare just how deep this European dependence on the U.S. in defense matters goes. She noted that the U.S. provides the alliance with 71 percent of its civilian aircraft, 72 percent of its attack copters, 81 percent of its strategic transport capabilities, 91 percent of its air tankers, 92 percent of its medium- and high-elevation drones, and 100 percent of its strategic bombers and ballistic missile defense systems. "The Europeans have a hell of a lot of homework in front of them if they want to stand on their own two feet," she added.

Parly hinted that despite such huge dependence, there is still a great deal of pressure on her country to purchase more American arms. “I’m concerned that the strength of European solidarity might be conditional on allies buying this or that equipment. The alliance should be unconditional, or else it’s not an alliance," she said, adding that the article on which NATO solidarity is based is "called Article 5, not Article F-35," underlining that the aircraft project had been turned into a weapon by the U.S. against its allies. While France decried the U.S. pressure in the field of defense, we should not forget that Germany's energy cooperation with Russia on the North Stream 2 Project has also been placed in the crosshairs by Washington. In order to undermine this project, the U.S. has set about trying to unseat Angela Merkel and redesign central right-wing politics in Germany through the U.S. ambassador there.

The F-35, which we can describe as "a flying smartphone" on account of its technical capabilities, is currently used by the U.S., Israel, Italy, the U.K., Norway, South Korea, and Japan. Amid claims that this fighter plane flew combat missions during Israel's attacks on Syria, the USS Wasp (LHD-1), a latest model amphibious assault ship of the U.S. Navy, arrived at the Philippine port of Subic on March 30, carrying at least 10 F-35B fighters. It seems that the United States has decided to bring a new generation of warplanes into play in the South China sea as a deterrent to Beijing. Japan, which was prohibited from building an aircraft carrier after World War II, has also deployed F-35Bs on the decks of its expediently called "helicopter carriers," which it has recently launched. These "helicopter-carrier-looking" aircraft carriers are now deployed in the Pacific against China and Russia.

Constantly updated by the manufacturer Lockheed Martin in its headquarters, just like a smartphone, these next-generation fighters have another cutting-edge feature: they convey to the manufacturer the particular skills of their pilots and all the data obtained during flights. Any country with F-35s concerned about its national security, however, can turn off this update and data transfer system. But just like your smartphone, whose performance and efficiency levels drop over time if you decline to install updates, it is perfectly possible that F-35s might as well become buggy over time if you choose to not install the updates. Italy, which has a large fleet of F-35s, asked to develop its own software for the planes, but this request has not yet been met due to Lockheed Martin's delaying tactics.

When such a war machine that makes its users technologically so dependent is in question, apparently it would be more logical and understandable for Turkey to have reservations and concerns about the U.S., rather than vice versa. However, we saw that the clamor coming from the U.S. kept getting louder until the NATO foreign ministers meeting in Washington. First, we received the news that two Democratic and two Republican senators were preparing a bill designed to block the F-35s’ delivery to Turkey. Following the volley of threats on March 29 came the claim that the delivery of materials required for the air base in Malatya where the F-35s would be deployed had been halted. And this was followed by the news that the training that the Turkish Air Force personnel were receiving on the F-35s in Florida, Arizona, and Texas had also been stopped. And finally, highly provocative stories about Turkish companies that are partners in the F-35 project being removed from the supply chain began to make the rounds. Almost all of these reports -- all of which, we understand, were obviously spread by certain political circles in the U.S. -- have been denied by the U.S. Defense Department and military sources.

When the U.S. reiterated that it opposes Turkey purchasing S-400s from Russia, it made it clear that it is not willing to carry out these threats at this stage. The process took on a different dimension with the first speech of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Washington. Telling once again how Turkey's defense needs are being ignored by its allies, Cavusoglu pointed out the unjust pressure being put on Turkey on account of its relationship with Russia, while other NATO member countries are enhancing their ties with Russia as well, especially in the field of trade. Cavusoglu also stressed that Turkey cannot be forced to choose between the Western world and Russia. The response to his admonitions came from Mike Pence, the U.S. vice president, who was present at the same meeting. Pence openly threatened that Turkey would be expelled from the F-35 program if it proceeded to buy the S-400s, which would weaken its air defense, and that the Turkish companies that were part of the supply chain of the combat aircraft would also suffer.

In order to make the next paragraphs more explanatory and meaningful, we need to go back to 1995, and briefly note at this point that U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is one the leading figures of the evangelical-neocon wing of the U.S. administration and one of the staunchest supporters of Israeli efforts to legitimize its presence in the lands that it has long occupied in violation of UN resolutions.

How did those who claim that Turkey's purchasing a missile system from Russia would compromise the security of the NATO alliance condone another NATO member's arms trade with Russia when it came to posing a threat to Turkey? The Kardak crisis in the Aegean Sea, which broke out in the final days of 1995 and reached its peak in January 1996, became a turning point in Greece's defense strategy. Failing to stand its ground against Turkey in its claiming of the Kardak islets, Greece concluded that the proportional arms sales that the U.S. made to the both sides of the Aegean (that is, Greece and Turkey) to strike a balance between the two countries did not meet its needs. The first step Athens took in this regard in 1996 was to sign a deal with Russia for the purchase of S-300 air defense system for deployment on Greek Cypriot soil. These missiles could not be deployed in southern Cyprus as a result of Turkish pressure, but in 1998 they were deployed on the Greek island of Crete, whose strategic importance has been steadily rising. And interestingly enough, Israel conducted all its offensive drills against these Russian-made systems in Crete. Therefore, the Israeli Air Force owes much of its current air domination in Syrian airspace to the contribution of Greece in those years.

While the S-300s in Crete often came to public attention in Turkey, Greece would not leave it at that. It signed new agreements with Russia in 1999 and 2004 to purchase TOR-M1 and OSA AKM (SA-8B) medium- and low-altitude air defense systems. These Russian-made air defense systems are currently an integrated part of the air defense system of Greece -- a NATO nation, mind you -- and have also been deployed in Greek Cyprus. Both missile systems have radar systems that would pose a danger to NATO air forces. However, for some strange reason, since 1999, no NATO country, first and foremost the U.S., has ever questioned if the Russian-made air defense systems Greece possesses would pose a threat to NATO or not, and none has turned into a security issue the frequent travels of members of the Greek armed forces to Russia to get training on these systems, or their cooperation with the Russian armed forces for that matter. The possible danger when F-35s are used in combination with S-400s -- that is, the possibility that American planes' radar tracks might be obtained by Russia -- apparently does not exist when the very same Russian-made radars are used by the Greek army.

On another note, the corruption uncovered during the sale of the TOR-M1 missile defense system would make for a great spy novel! Spiros Travlos, the undersecretary of the Greek Defense Ministry, went to Moscow on June 6, 2003, to investigate where all the payments made for the missile system had gone. He made an appointment with Igor Klimov, the director of Almaz Antey, the company that manufactured the missile system. They were going to meet in Red Square. Instead of Klimov, however, he found a group of agents from Russian intelligence waiting for him. The agents informed him that Klimov had been murdered. That same night, Sergey Sitko, one of Klimov’s very close colleagues, also fell victim to an (unsolved) murder in his home outside of Moscow. Vlassis Kambourouglou, who carried out the purchase of the TOR-M1 missile on behalf of Greece, also disappeared after being accused of bribery, and in October 2012, he was found in the Indonesian capital Jakarta. Having "committed suicide" in a hotel room, that is...

Every aspect of this purchase that Greece made from Russia would provide enough material to write an entire article. Looking at all the data we have, we can express in full confidence that the real source of the uneasiness and apprehension the U.S. feels about the prospective Turkish possession of F-35s and S-400s concurrently must be seriously questioned, particularly when no other NATO member takes issue with it. We wonder if what really underlies the accusations against Turkey -- whereby such vehement double-dealing against Turkey in favor of Greece is justified -- are concerns about NATO's security. It seems that answering this question in the affirmative is, quite simply, impossible. It would not be wrong to say that the scope of the green light given to Greece in 1995 in the aftermath of the Kardak crisis to enable it to counterbalance Turkey in the Aegean today is being expanded by the U.S. to include the Eastern Mediterranean. A Turkey that would have 100 F-35s in its arsenal would apparently establish superiority over Israel, which has ordered only 50 of the same aircraft. Egypt, Greece, and the Greek Cypriot administration -- which, it seems, cannot buy F-35s at this stage, and which have been partners in the U.S.-backed "zoning" of the energy basin in the Eastern Mediterranean -- also feel threatened for the same reason.

What is really happening today is that the evangelical-neocon group in the U.S. is seeking to ensure the security of the alliance forged to loot energy deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean on the pretext of opposing Turkey's purchasing the S-400s. The F-35s, which the U.S. is trying so hard not to deliver to Turkey, would then probably be apportioned between Greece, Egypt, and Israel in return for heavily mortgaging the energy revenues to be reaped from the region. Turkey is not unfamiliar with such plots Turkey.

The Resadiye and Sultan Osman warships commissioned by the Ottoman administration in 1911 and 1912 from Vickers and Armstrong, both British companies, were seized by the British government and all the payments made so far by the Ottoman administration were appropriated. The British scrapped one of these illegally seized ships without using it at all, and both eventually ended up being sent to a shipyard, in 1921 and 1922, to be dismantled due to inadequacies in their machineries, weapons, and armors. This bitter experience Turkey faced a hundred years ago formed the basis of the steps Turkey has been taking in its national defense industry.

Fielding its locally and nationally manufactured alternatives at sea as well as in the air and in missile defense, Turkey is well possessed of the means to fill the gap that would likely emerge in the area of fifth-generation fighter jets. However, a NATO alliance merely jumping on the bandwagon of the fantasies of the evangelical-neocon worldview does not seem to have any alternative under the sun to replace Turkey with. Last but not least, a clique in the White House with an uncertain lifespan will not be able to divert Turkey -- which has tried, to the bitter end, all diplomatic channels and methods to sort out the problems with the U.S. -- from the multilateral policies that it has been following by necessity due to its geopolitical position.

Translated by Omer Colakoglu

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