NATO’s “new containment strategy” to contain China in the areas of influence of its member states – Modern Diplomacy
We can understand the mechanisms and dimensions of competition and conflict between China and NATO, and the Chinese reaction strategy to control the NATO’S members economically and logistically, by controlling the largest major European ports overlooking the seas and oceans, managing and operating or developing those ports and making them a source for managing and operating containers and giant Chinese cargo ships.
Based on the Chinese threat to the areas of influence of the (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) “NATO”, according to its estimates, for more than a year, the demands of the alliance’s officials have been publicly repeated to control Chinese influence and encroachment in the main areas of the Baltic states, Europe, eastern, central and western Europe. The responses and the confrontation mechanism of the NATO leaders came to China, then (The reaction of the United States and NATO member countries to encircle and contain China, and launch a number of new NATO strategies with the aim of reducing China in their important areas), as follows:
NATO Secretary-General “Jens Stoltenberg” acknowledged the need to confront the escalating Chinese threat, stressing: “China responds in an aggressive manner to others when any criticism is directed against it”, at the same time acknowledging the difference and some “difficult discussions” between the alliance countries during the period The presence of Donald Trump in the White House.
The “new containment theory of China” also includes “financial disagreements about sharing the burdens of confrontation with China among the thirty members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which was stated by “Stoltenberg” as the Secretary of the Alliance, by saying:
“Trump has often complained that other members of the alliance are not paying their fair share of the financial burden related to the common defense, to the point that he has talked about withdrawing his country from the alliance”
As for “NATO’s new strategy towards China during the Joe Biden administration”, this is what Stoltenberg explained, stating that:
“We now have a new American president who is more committed than his predecessor, Trump, to the duties of NATO, supports Europe’s security, and is ready to invest more in NATO as well”
It also began (new signs of a shift towards security challenges coming from China, and NATO’s recognition that it is at the heart of its defenses and areas of influence), and this new shift towards “challenging the Chinese threat” appeared during the NATO summit in London in 2019, when the NATO Secretary of the Alliance. “Stoltenberg” was warning its member states, saying:
“The Alliance countries have to face the fact that China is getting closer and closer to Africa, the Arctic, cyberspace, and even Europe”
Thus, we understand the increasing American influence within the “NATO”, and Washington’s success in creating a general anti-Chinese atmosphere among the thirty members of the NATO countries, through the statement of the “London Summit of the NATO Meeting 2019”, and the issuance of the final statement for the first time, a declaration in which it stated that:
“China represents a potential strategic threat, and that China’s “increasing influence in international politics” presents opportunities and challenges, which we need to face together as an alliance”
We have here the most important analysis, which is that “NATO speeches have become identical to the same American speeches regarding China without providing any evidence for any accusations related to it”. The strategic analysis remains here, regarding:
What is the nature of the challenge that China poses to NATO and its countries, despite what appears to be a geographical distance between the two sides and different areas of influence?
Despite the lack of clarity on the “mechanism of China’s direct threat to the security of Europe and NATO”, Washington confirms that the security of Europe and NATO members is in danger, because China represents a full spectrum of challenges for NATO, which prompted NATO military leaders – upon their understanding of the American point of view – emphasizing that:
“Although China does not pose a direct military threat to NATO, Beijing’s growing influence and confident diplomacy in Europe has had major repercussions for transatlantic security and economy”
We find here (NATO members linking the economic expansion of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative to Europe and the impact on the security of NATO countries), and this came through a public statement in which they expressed:
“China’s investments in vital infrastructure projects in Europe, from telecommunications networks to port facilities, may weaken NATO’s ability to respond to international crises diplomatically or militarily if necessary”
According to the raised and incomprehensible discussions among NATO members, which in my view are an indirect repetition of the same accusations launched by the United States against China, NATO emphasized “the danger of the Chinese company Huawei to the security of NATO”, by emphasizing:
“If some NATO allies include Huawei’s equipment in their 5G networks, then questions can arise about the safety of these networks, given the close relationship between the company and the Chinese Communist Party” … According to their exact expression
Here, we find the military and strategic link between NATO and the increasing Chinese influence, according to statements issued by them, with the statement:
“The sensitive military supply chains of the NATO alliance may become highly dependent on China, as happened recently with the F-35 fighters”
In a new attempt to change NATO’s strategy, through (linking NATO’s military roles with the need for it to play other political roles), the public statements of NATO Secretary General “Jens Stoltenberg” came in:
“NATO must take a greater political role in world affairs, even to help the Indo-Pacific countries compete with the rise of China”
In an official acknowledgment by NATO members of the Chinese military threat to their security, this came in the statement of the “NATO summit in London” (3-4 December 2019), confirmed that:
“We should consider the rising Chinese military power as a potential new enemy”
In reference to this explicit text about the priority of the Chinese threat in the “new security agenda of NATO and its members”, this represented an upcoming initiative of NATO, which represents a major shift in relation to the alliance’s basic objectives, as well as its strategic and defense objectives. The NATO statement confirmed this, by emphasizing:
“We realize that the increasing influence of China and its international policy presents opportunities and challenges at the same time, and here we must as an alliance deal jointly with them”
In a new statement from NATO regarding the “Chinese threat and the new global security and military imbalance”, here came the warning of NATO Secretary-General “Stoltenberg” in June 2020, in an interview with the German newspaper “Welt am Sonntag”, emphasizing that:
“The global balance of power may change violently, especially that China is at the gates of Europe, so NATO must warn against the strong and rapid rise of China in the recent period”
The new agenda of NATO to contain China is represented through the “mechanism of collective union and Western security mobilization to confront China”, which is what the Secretary General of NATO stressed, that:
“We must be united by the Western alliance of NATO in the face of this Chinese power and new challenges”
What stopped the Egyptian researcher is the conflicting and contradictory statements of NATO Secretary General, Tess Stoltenberg, regarding China, and his assertion that “the Chinese do not directly threaten the security of NATO, and these statements contradict other previous statements”, through the statement of the Secretary of the Alliance again, by saying:
“China does not pose any direct threat to any NATO country so far, but serious developments are observed in the South China Sea, and Beijing has increased its attempts to restrict the freedom of movement of ships in international waters”
Through this analysis to understand the new direction of NATO towards China, the Egyptian researcher concluded that the tense relations between China and the United States, the most prominent member of NATO, may cast a shadow of confrontation and escalation on relations between NATO members, especially the Europeans and Beijing.
We find here, many (contradictory and different speeches by NATO through official statements that the researcher has followed them), and it suffices to point out here to confirm “NATO” in a new statement said that: “Although the confrontation between China and the alliance is “not desirable and not inevitable”. However, the alliance statement rewarned that:
“The alliance’s failure to prepare for China and manage the challenge it represents may make confrontation more likely over time”
Here, simply, we can understand the “extent of those American pressures on its European partners in NATO”, and try to force them to “adopt a new security agenda to confront China, and share the same American ambitions”.
NATO’S strategy 2030 to confront China’s security challenges
The Turkish Gambit
Associate Professor of Political Science, Faculty of Politics and Economics / Beni Suef University- Egypt. An Expert in Chinese Politics, Sino-Israeli relationships, and Asian affairs- Visiting Senior Researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES)/ Lund University, Sweden- Director of the South and East Asia Studies Unit
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We note the existence of profound changes in the plans and strategies of NATO members towards China, and the repetition of the same violent American rhetoric towards Beijing, after the conclusion of the “New Aukus Defense Agreement led by Washington to confront China”, and despite the European allies themselves being harmed by the cancellation of the French submarine deal with Australia, and what It had repercussions on European regional security itself. The statements of NATO members were clear, that:
“Any Sino-American war will not be contained regionally, as happened in the previous American wars in Korea and Vietnam, but will extend to Europe, where NATO allies will find themselves facing the premise of activating the alliance’s “Article No. (5)” related to collective defense”
From here, I can analyze the most prominent new defense plans and strategies of NATO after the signing of the “Aukus Defense Agreement” led by the United States of America, as follows:
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) stated in September 2021 that “it’s facing challenges in preserving the global order from “authoritarian powers, such as: Russia and China”, after the announcement of the (new Aukus Defense Agreement, as a framework for the US-British-Australian new security agreement), which resulted in the global crisis, known as: “Australia’s cancellation of the submarine deal with France”.
We find here “the clear contradiction in the statements of NATO military leaders before and after the signing of the Aukus agreement led by Washington”. Despite NATO’S previously asserting that confrontation between China and the alliance “is not desirable or inevitable”, a new document was issued to NATO after signing the agreement. The Aukus Defense Agreement, which expressly stated:
“We must adjust the alliance’s strategic concepts, defense planning and training, and capabilities development priorities in order to meet the growing Chinese dangers”
The apparent contradiction in the NATO statements appeared through new texts regarding the necessity of identifying and evaluating the Chinese threat to the security of the alliance, despite (confirming previous statements that there are dangers on the part of China), where a new NATO document was proposed that:
“NATO members should share information among allies on assessing the risks of Chinese activities that may have direct security implications for NATO, such as: Sino-Russian military exercises in the Baltic Sea region”
The most dangerous and important matter, from my analytical point of view, comes about the NATO leaders’ proposal to establish an office for them in the “Indo-Pacific” region, which reflects the same American ambitions and agenda to encircle and contain China in its areas of influence, by stressing on:
“Establishment of a military office in the Indo-Pacific region, to facilitate the exchange of information and the coordination of Allied exercises and activities in the region”
The new NATO documents, after the signing of the “Aukus Defense Agreement under American auspices”, called for the necessity of NATO’s military presence in the heart and periphery of the “Indo-Pacific” region of their area of influence in the Atlantic Ocean, and this contradicts the new NATO statement, about:
“NATO member states should establish a “coalition of the willing” to conduct military missions and exercises in the South China Sea to ensure freedom of navigation in the region, and to reassure NATO regional partners, with the need for the alliance to develop the necessary capabilities to monitor and, if necessary, respond to the Chinese threat”
The statements of NATO leaders, prior to a meeting of the chiefs of staff of the NATO member states in September 2021, in the Greek capital “Athens” are similar to “the same US White House statements regarding China”, and can be understood through the NATO statement issued, about:
“NATO faces challenges in preserving the world order from “authoritarian powers” such as Russia and China, and that NATO has become in dire need of unity between the two sides of the Atlantic to stand together in the face of common security challenges”
The NATO’s military leaders are attempting to confirm the “American military partnership with NATO to confront China”, which confirms the theory of the alliance’s dependence on Washington and its loss of independence, through the statement of the “Military Committee of NATO Countries”, which includes the chiefs of staff of the countries of the alliance, about:
“We are facing many “dangers coming from Russia and China, which affect the future of the alliance within the framework of its 2030 plan.” Therefore, the NATO Military Committee had to discuss the topic of “strengthening the partnership between European countries and North America”
The importance of the recent meetings of the NATO Military Committee comes in terms of “the sensitivity of the timing after the signing of the Aukus Agreement and NATO’s loss of impartiality in dealing with new security threats”, in which Washington and Australia are supposed to be involved after the “nuclear submarine deal in favor of Canberra”.
The most prominent new security topic on the global scene is (the discussions taking place within the European Union immediately after the signing of the Aukus Agreement under American auspices), embarrassing France and showing the extent of European security weakness, in order to (form a common European defense front away from NATO), and this came Through separate European statements, they all confirm that:
“There are growing attempts to show the European Union seeking to form a separate military force to operate independently after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the expected European announcement of a separate partnership with NATO before the end of 2021”
These European statements also coincided with (the Military Committee of NATO countries at its meeting in Athens led by Washington discussed the alliance’s defense plans, and the new military operations of the alliance around the world), which confirms “Washington’s growing attempts to weaken NATO in its favor after the signing of the Okos Agreement, which is what He angered the Europeans”, while confirming the content of the speech of the Chairman of the Military Committee of NATO, saying:
“The US Department of Defense (Pentagon) confirmed that the United States considers the agreements between Washington and Moscow on arms control, and negotiations with Russia on strategic stability important for the whole world”
We can also stop to analyze the new NATO strategy in an attempt to (penetrate the security issues of the Asian continent), such as: (North Korean missile program), whose scope can affect a large part of European territory before the United States, so the continent has placed Asian is already on the main agenda of the alliance.
Through my personal analysis of the recent developments of NATO, in particular “the impact of the Aukus Agreement on the strategies and plans of NATO”, the most dangerous point for me, and related to those security and military interactions at the Asian level, and the extent of their impact on the global balance in itself, and that brings me to the level Analytical and intellectual related to the strategy (the clear American planning to make the North Atlantic Treaty Organization “NATO” deploy medium-range nuclear missiles around China), and perhaps this is the deep meaning of the explanation (the reasons for the American withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia).
In my personal opinion, this previous point is the real problem, which perhaps many analysts and researchers around the world did not pay attention to in the midst of their clinging to the attack on the American policy of withdrawing from the INF Treaty in the face of Russia, without bothering to search for the real reasons and motives for that, and its relationship (with the balance of Asian and global powers, and the extent of NATO’s relationship with it in the first place). These are all problems that need to be discussed in depth and global solutions worthy of them, (in order to prevent imbalance and global security stability, affecting all regions around the world, including the Middle East).
The United States of America is leading the way in anticipating the NATO countries in Brussels to meet the “security challenges of 2030”, placing the “first priority on China” and then Russia as its ally. Therefore, the White House issued a statement to express the issue, affirming:
“The countries of NATO and the United States of America will jointly launch a set of “ambitious” initiatives to ensure the preservation of the security of the alliance until 2030 and beyond, with full focus on the upcoming threats from Russia and China, as they are the most important challenges facing the countries of the alliance in the coming years”
The most prominent is the unanimity of the thirty members of NATO led by the United States of America, during the “Brussels” summit of the NATO leaders’ meeting in mid-June 2021, and their agreement in the statement of the NATO summit in June 2021, on:
“The necessity of reviewing “NATO’s strategic concept”, which will “guide its approach in an evolving strategic environment”, to include: the hostile policies and behaviors of both Russia and China and the security challenges that China poses to our security and prosperity”
Perhaps what is new in the “NATO” summit meeting in June 2021” is that explicit text issued in a clear public statement by the White House on China, and it is understood from it that “NATO and its members have become a security tool in Washington’s hands in order to move a proactive initiative expected by NATO against China and Russia”, which may represent a major shift in the path of the alliance and its strategic and defense objectives towards China, and we understand this by analyzing the approach of “NATO and its thirty members” in the recent period, as follows:
The declaration of the Secretary-General of NATO, “Jens Stoltenberg”, at the “NATO summit meeting in June 2021”, and his call by the leaders of the alliance countries during their summit in “Brussels”, the need to “establish a stronger common policy to counter the growing dominance of China”.
Secretary-General of NATO, “Stoltenberg” declared publicly and without substantiating his words with evidence, in echoing the same American security agenda towards China, by saying:
“China has the second largest defense budget in the world, the largest navy and invests massively in modern military equipment, and this “affects our security”
The most dangerous analysis for me remains, regarding what was announced by NATO Secretary General “Stoltenberg”, and his first talk about “liberal democratic values and ideology, as echoing the same tone of the American discourse toward China”, with his statement:
“China does not share our values, and we see this in the way it has cracked down on democratic protests in Hong Kong, persecuted minorities like the Uyghurs in western China, and used modern technology to monitor its population in an unprecedented way”
He also notes the leadership and leadership of “Stoltenberg”, as the most prominent leading official in NATO during the June 2021 summit, in an unprecedented way, to the approach of tightening the confrontation with China, by saying:
“All this “makes it important for NATO countries to develop their policy, and also to strengthen our policy when it comes to China”
We find that the “new approach of NATO’S confrontation and clashing against China” can be inferred by the strong assertion by NATO Secretary General “Stoltenberg” of the seriousness of the advanced confrontation with China, and the need for all NATO members to bear the financial burdens related to the “security joint defense of the NATO’s thirtyth members”, through the statement that says:
“The leaders of the alliance agreed on the 2030 strategy to meet the challenges of today and the future, and he said that the alliance is determined to defend itself in space, and it was agreed to increase the funding of all joint budgets of the alliance, not just the military ones”
NATO leaders emphasized the increasing intensity of China’s military influence, and its proximity to the “Euro-Atlantic region”, with “the Chinese and Russian navies carrying out several joint military exercises in the Mediterranean and Baltic seas”, as a sign of the flourishing of military cooperation between Beijing and Moscow.
Away from the Euro-Atlantic region, Beijing is working, according to multiple statements by the leaders of the “NATO” countries, to develop modern military capabilities, including: (long-range missiles, aircraft carriers, attack nuclear submarines), with potential security implications for NATO, given their world far range for their capabilities.
The fear behind “NATO” in its recent series of meetings of (China’s investments in space weapons as well), which may threaten any of (NATO satellites), and in addition to that, NATO countries are constantly exposed to electronic attacks launched by Chinese hackers.
We note here, NATO’s deliberate ignoring of the “Australian nuclear submarine deal” under American auspices through the (Aukus Defense Agreement), by criminalizing the leaders of NATO countries of Chinese nuclear arsenals and submarines, without any reference to the same nuclear submarine deal under Washington’s command and sponsorship Australia’s purchase of it, through a recent statement announced to NATO leaders, by saying:
“We are as NATO’S members are concerned about China’s stated ambitions and the development of its nuclear arsenal, which poses challenges to the foundations of the international order”
Here, we find a series of statements issued by “NATO’s high commands” without a declared clarification regarding “the direct danger of China to their security,” and this came through the signature of the leaders of the alliance in (the closing statement of the NATO summit in Brussels in June 2021), that:
“China’s stated ambitions and continued behavior pose challenges to the foundations of the rules-based international order, and in areas of importance to NATO’s security”
In a frank affirmation from NATO Secretary General “Stoltenberg” about (the importance of joint security coordination between NATO and the European Union to confront China), this was done through:
“NATO is committed to strengthening the partnership with the European Union and strengthening training with “Ukraine and Georgia”, and NATO will enhance its technological progress, and that the leaders of the alliance have agreed to launch a new defense project, and that the alliance is determined to defend itself in space”
Here, we can conclude, according to the previous analysis, that the tense relations between China and the United States of America, as it is the most prominent member of “NATO”, may cast the shadows of confrontation and escalation on the relations between NATO and Beijing, in (bearing directly by the thirty members of NATO for any possible consequences of confrontation and clash between China and the USA).
The analysis is also the most important here, with Washington pushing NATO members themselves to bear (the burdens of defending American ambitions to confront Chinese influence in its Asian areas of influence itself), through new statements from NATO, that the claims of Chinese sovereignty in the South and East China Seas and Taiwan, may lead to an unwelcomed conflict between Washington and Beijing, and the new assertion of NATO, that:
“If there is any conflict between China and the United States of America in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, NATO allies on the other side of the Atlantic will not be safe”
In my personal opinion, that point and this statement is, in my analytical view, one of the most dangerous statements ever made by NATO and its 30 members, bearing the consequences of the confrontation with China on behalf of Washington, despite “that this Asian region is not located in the South China Sea in the main regions of the direct security and military influence of NATO for all of its 30 other members.
Turkey goes on with an unusual and risky policy in military and technical cooperation, effectively regarding it to be a continuation of Recep Erdogan’s foreign policy agenda. Following a memorable game round when Ankara, much to its own surprise, ended up purchasing Russia’s S-400 ABM systems, Turkey has now decided to update its fighter fleet.
Turkey’s policy could be seen as a “balancing act” between major actors on the international stage. This term, however, usually implies alternating friendly signals, while for Ankara this seems to mean a proportionate share of annoying and blackmailing for all of its “partners”, with the tactics manifested across a broad range of foreign policy action. In this article, we will be focusing on the issues of military and technical cooperation.
The Original Purchasing Sin
The current situation in Turkey’s defence procurement has its roots in the peculiar politics of Recep Erdogan, where the purchase of Russia’s S-400 “Triumf” air defence missile systems came to be a turning point. Ironically, as far as we can tell, it accidentally resulted from a series of concurrent, though unrelated events.
Turkey’s armed forces are rather large and well-armed. The Turkish army is often claimed to be second largest in NATO after that of the United States; while this is true for overall numbers, it may not necessarily be so in terms of combat capabilities. The country is making quite a few efforts to advance the national military-industrial complex, increasingly striving to provide itself with domestically-produced weapons, including hi-tech arms. There remain major “gaps,” however, particularly in the most sophisticated and expensive areas, which is almost indecent for a major military power whose leadership has such daring ambitions.
Until recently, one such sector was ground-based medium range (or—better yet—long-range) air defence missile systems. In the early 2010s, the U.S. MIM-23 “Hawk” XXI was the best such system Turkey had. While Turkey had it undergo a profound modernization on the premises of American and Norwegian companies, it was still a system designed back in the 1960s, failing to meet the requirements of today. In 2007, Turkey sent requests to foreign manufacturers asking for offers on state-of-the-art air and missile systems. The U.S. PATRIOT PAC-3 competed against Europe’s ASTER 30 SAMP/T, Russia’s S-300VM Antey-2500, and China’s HQ-9 in Turkey’s T-LORAMIDS (Turkish Long-Range Air-and Missile-Defence System) tender. NATO allies were considered unquestionable frontrunners, but their price tag far exceeded the cap set by Turkey. Turkey officially announced that it was willing to pay around $1 billion for four companies. This was, of course, an unrealistic lowball offer. While we know nothing of the details of the talks, a 2009 notice to Congress suggests that the American side was looking for $7.8 billion. As a result, Turkey announced in September 2013 its shocking decision to purchase the Chinese HQ-9 that was manufactured in China under a Russian S-300 license. Officially, the deal was $3.4 bn worth.
The level of indignation from Turkey’s senior partners across the ocean was quite understandable, even though it was nothing like what it would have been the case today. The U.S. used the same arguments it had put forward to try and dissuade Turkey from allowing Russia and China to take part in the tender to sell air defence missile systems to a NATO country, warning Ankara that it would be impossible to integrate “alien” systems into NATO’s common scout/attack information infrastructure. Meanwhile, the allies would probably have to consider restricting Ankara’s access to prevent operative information from getting into the hands of “instructors from the East” who are certain to arrive together with the missile systems. In particular, there were claims that anti-missile radars would be unable to assign targets to Chinese missile systems. Apparently, these referred to AN/TPY-2 radars deployed at Kürecik Radar Station in Turkey and Nevatim Air Force Base in Israel. These radars are rather “off-radar” ingredients of the U.S. global missile defence system.
It is likely, however, that Recep Erdogan has from the outset been using China as a means of putting pressure on the United States with a view to getting a better deal regarding price and technology transfer. Negotiations with Beijing were half-hearted, and September 2014 saw a contrived announcement that the deal had fallen through. It was at this time that Turkey started to play the “European card,” with the media believing that Ankara was now favoring the European offer. This is only partially a feint, though, as the later purchase of the S-400 did not prevent the two signing an agreement on the joint development of advanced air defence missile systems with a European consortium, which suggests that Europe was most likely needed to assist in developing Turkey’s own “Hisar” systems.
Things would likely have ended with the purchase of some “allied” system if it had not been for the Turkish Armed Forces, dissatisfied with Recep Erdogan’s politics, that attempted a military coup on July 15–16, 2016. Various estimates suggest that this ill-planned move, failing to take public sentiments into account and ignoring the fact that the secret services would remain loyal to the president, claimed the lives of 240 to 350 people and resulted in large-scale repressions against the army and society. Erdogan was angry with the United States as well, since the Turkish Armed Forces were rightly believed to be pro-American, maintaining unofficial ties with their fellows from American military academies. Washington probably suspected, if not knew for a fact, that the attempted putsch was possible.
That Ankara wanted to get under the skin of the United States was manifested in the spontaneous decision to purchase Russia’s S-400, simply out of spite. At that point, Moscow–Ankara relations were, as we remember, at their lowest ebb over their conflicting stances in Syria. The downing of the Russian Su-24M by a Turkish fighter jet on November 24, 2015 as the Russian aircraft was delivering strikes against pro-Turkish terrorists operating close to Turkey’s border was still fresh in the minds in Russia. However, the suppression of the supposedly “pro-American” coup largely mitigated the attitude of the Russian leadership, which likely saw the advantages of supporting Ankara in its desire to harm its relations with Washington. Besides, and for once, it cost absolutely nothing—on the contrary, Russia could make money and advertise its weaponry.
The contract was signed almost a year to the day after the coup, which speaks to the utterly unique timeframe for approving such a deal. The decision was made at the top level and involved expectations to proceed as quickly as possible. The framework agreement put the cost of two regiments at approximately $2.5 billion. Moreover, the Turkish side requested that subsequent deliveries under the contract be expedited and pushed forward by eight months, something unprecedented for the military-technical area, where deadlines are only pushed back. Deliveries of the first regiment started in July 2019 and continued until October of that year. Currently, the contract for the second regiment is pending approval, while it is expected to be signed by the end of 2021. In October 2020, Turkey conducted first independent practice firing, meaning that the regiment is at least partially combat-ready as of now.
The breakneck speed of striking a deal with Russia, as well as Turkey’s sudden interest in it, were certainly spurred on by Ankara’s deteriorating relations with the United States after the attempted coup. It is hard to say what kind of response Ankara expected to its accusations and demands—in particular, the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, who was accused of masterminding the attempted coup—but repentance was certainly not forthcoming, and the attempt at blackmail by purchasing S-400 prompted pure rage. It was no longer 2013, and a NATO country buying Russian weapons caused much more than a murmur of protest. Subsequently, the United States even imposed sanctions against Turkey’s Presidency of Defence Industries (SSB) under CAATSA.
However, Turkey’s main “punishment” would be its expulsion from the programme to develop the fifth generation F-35 Lightning II fighter jet. In June 2018, Congress passed a bill suspending Turkey’s participation in the programme—a year later, when the “red line” was crossed with the start of S-400 deliveries, Turkey was entirely cut from the programme. The official notice was sent on April 2021.
The rather unusual format of the programme merits description. Strictly speaking, it is a multi-national programme rather than a purely American project. Alongside the U.S., another eight partner countries are involved the project, having “signed up” during the initial stages: the UK, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Turkey. From a practical point of view, only the United Kingdom makes significant R&D contributions to the project.  The other countries have mostly assumed financial obligations in the form of rather small direct financial payments to the R&D programme, also purchasing the first “limited-run” fighter jets used to fine-tune the aircraft and train the pilots. These jets are somewhat unfinished and more expensive than the mass production. However, the rewards far exceed the expenses, with the most significant of them being not even priority deliveries but participation in the mass production. The programme’s slogan is that every F-35 will have parts from every partner state. The U.S., however, is be able to manufacture all, or virtually all, parts—therefore, what is meant here is duplicating and distributing the workload. Still, the programme entails that parts and spares for thousands of jets will be manufactured for decades to come. For instance, Denmark, with its rather small aircraft industry, produces elements of wing centre section, tail section, weapon pylons, gun pods and radar parts. Some companies can “live” off these contracts for many years to come—which is apparently what they are planning to do. This explains why the partner states are so enamoured with the programme. This had led to a number of comic situations. For instance, the Canadian authorities have officially stated that Ottawa will not purchase F-35 fighter jets, yet the country still makes regular payments to the programme and has not officially withdrawn from it, since such a move would cut Canada’s industry off from the related manufacturing orders.
With a rather strong aircraft industry, Turkey could certainly benefit from the programme, especially since it has a rather good experience of similar projects. One example is its state-owned aircraft-building company TAI (Turkish Aerospace Industries), which manufactured the licensed F-16 fighter jets for the Turkish and Egyptian air forces and the spare parts of these fighter jets for other countries since the late 1980s. This time, Turkey planned to purchase at least 100 ground-based F-35A jets. Additional commissions were likely to follow—in particular, for F-35В that could be based on Anadolu-class amphibious assault ships. Turkey would likely have been one of the biggest purchasers of F-35 jets alongside Japan, which has commissioned 147 units.
The rewards for Turkish industry were great. Chief among these were TAI manufacturing the centre sections of the fuselage and power unit components, and the planned opening of a European jet engine servicing facility. All in all, Turkish companies were to manufacture about 900 jet parts. U.S. estimates suggest that Turkish companies will lose $9 billion once expelled from the programme. Still, the painful process of reshaping manufacturing plans and redistributing orders has dragged on for several years, costing the United States some $500–600 million and affecting production speeds. Turkish companies are expected to make final deliveries of the components they manufacture in 2022.
This is only the economic blow. Without F-35s, Turkey faces the ultimate question: What aircraft will the Turkish Air Force use? Today, the F-16 fighter jet family is its principal aircraft: Turkey has 260 jets , making it the world’s third-largest fleet after the U.S. and Israel. Additionally, Turkey has a small number of modified, yet significantly outdated and worn-out, F-4 and F-5 fighter jets. These planes are on their last legs and thus should not be taken into account when determining the future of the Turkish Air Force.
Over half of the country’s F-16 are F-16C/D Block 30/40 jets commissioned in 1987–1994. Although they were mostly modified along the lines of the newer Block 50 jets (and work is being done to extend their life even further), older jets are nearing the end of their operational life. Delays in implementing the F-35 programme forced the Turkish leadership to purchase thirty F-16 jets in 2007, which were delivered in 2011–2012. This was a stop-gap measure while Turkey awaited mass deliveries of F-35 jets that were to start in 2015.
It was not until June 18, 2018 that Turkey officially received its first F-35A, and the first flight of a Turkish pilot took place on August 29. An explanation is in order here: the first aircraft manufactured for Turkey, just like for other partner states, remain in the United States, where pilots and technicians undergo centralized training at international training facilities. Subsequently, aircraft can be sent to the relevant country or may remain in the United States. In the case of Turkey, this approach failed: Turkish personnel was reportedly trained in a slipshod manner, and the training was stopped altogether in June 2019, with the trainees told to pack their things and go home—without the aircraft, of course. The handover of the fighter jets that Turkey had paid for and formally owned was legally prohibited, so the aircraft could be considered “sequestered.” This applied to the first six aircraft that had formally been handed over to Turkey and which had already flown with Turkish identification marks. The aircraft that were in various stages of manufacturing were then purchased by U.S. Air Force. It currently has 16 fighter jets that were initially built for Turkey, while 24 aircraft were originally ordered. Closed-door talks on settling grievances are underway, and it is highly unlikely that they will be quick and easy. However, it would be safe to say that that Turkey was not fully compensated for the “American stunts” (and there is nothing to suggest it will be compensated at all). Erdogan has noted that Turkey had spent $1.4 billion on the programme.
The United States has offered a rather comical justification for its actions: the issue was no longer in the impossibility of integrating S-400 into NATO’s information space; instead, they claimed that the very fact of Russian air-defence missile systems operating in the immediate proximity of F-35’s was a security threat, since such systems would secretly collect intelligence and forward it to Moscow. Even Turkey’s statements that it is sending back Russian assistants and that the systems are now “100 per cent under Turkey’s control” produce no tangible outcome. What is funny here is that these fighter jets are sold to Poland, while U.S., British and Israeli aircraft participate in strikes against targets in Syria and U.S. fighter jets visit the Baltic states etc. In all these situations, F-35s find themselves in close proximity to S-400’s operated by Russian personnel.
The arguments about “collecting intelligence” were obviously contrived, and the United States merely wants to punish the obstinate Turkish leader. For similar reasons, NATO became extremely concerned about the plight of Kurds following Turkey’s armed intervention in the north of Syria, and initiated a blocking of military-technical cooperation with Turkey, even though Ankara had regularly conducted anti-Kurdish operations (including operations in adjacent states) in the past. Another round of restrictions was prompted by Turkey’s involvement in the wars in Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh. Naturally, such restrictions are publicly imposed and quietly lifted, being frequently bypassed by the parties concerned, but they still present significant inconveniences for Turkey. At the peak of concerns over U.S. sanctions, Turkey was feverishly scrambling to purchase spare parts for its F-16 aircraft and other equipment originating in the U.S., but no embargo on technical support and maintenance for Turkey’s aircraft fleet was ever imposed.
After all this, the Turkish Air Force found itself without the aircraft around which its entire fighter jet fleet was to be built. Ankara has a national TAI TF-X programme for designing an MMU fighter jet. It entails cooperation with foreign partners (in particular, the UK’s Rolls-Royce is designing the power unit), yet even the most optimistic plans slate the prototype’s unveiling for 2023, with the aircraft entering service in the early 2030s. In such cases, deadlines are usually pushed back, and it is unclear how rocky the start will be and whether mass production will go smoothly. South Korea, Japan and India have similar programmes, but they have no plans to abandon aircraft imports as of right now. Clearly, it is becoming rather urgent for the Turkish Air Force to purchase new fighters.
Ankara, in the meantime, seems posed to go on with its “balancing” policy. Erdogan was the main guest at the MAKS Air Show 2019 in Zhukovsky. Afterwards, Vladimir Putin said they were discussing the possibility of selling Russian Su-35 and Su-57 fighters to Turkey, while the Turkish leader confirmed that this was indeed possible if the United States refused to deliver F-35. The parties launched talks on the subject, and the Turkish media wasted no time in reporting that a contract for the purchase of 36 Su-35 jets would be signed soon. The Turkish Minister of Defence denied these claims, though, saying that Turkey was planning to make sure the United States would deliver the F-35 jets. Contradictory statements are constantly made on the subject.
More fuel was added to the fire on September 30 when reports appeared that Turkey had sent an official request to the Unites States for the purchase of 40 new Block 70 versions of F-16 as well as for 80 kits for upgrading its fighter jets.
As of now, F-16V Viper Block 70 is the latest F-16 modification exclusively developed for exports (the U.S. Air Force’s modernization programme uses only a few similar components). The aircraft was first presented in 2012, although we’d better say this was when the commercial offer for this “configuration” was born. There were only minor differences from the previous build-ups: a new Northrop Grumman AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar, a cockpit featuring a large 10-inch display in place of analogue equipment, new electronic warfare and communications systems ensuring interaction with fifth-generation fighter jets, a more powerful mainframe computer, an automatic ground collision avoidance system, and a significantly longer airframe life. The U.S. offers both the new version of the aircraft assembled at a new plant in South Carolina (the old plant in Texas only manufactures F-35’s), and parts for modernizing the old F-16 jets. New aircraft were purchased by Taiwan (66), Bahrain (16), Slovakia (14), Bulgaria (8) and, possibly, Morocco (24), as the latter purchase was never officially confirmed, something typical for the country’s procurement practices. What is more, Taiwan, Greece and Bahrain purchased even larger modernization kits. Talks are under way on potential sales to Jordan and the Philippines and on modernizing South Korea’s aircraft fleet.
The new aircraft should make it possible to phase out the last of the F-4 “Phantom II”. The transaction is estimated to be $6–7 billion worth. U.S. and Turkish leaders were expected to discuss it in person at the G20 Rome summit on October 30–31. The issue of F-35 deliveries is expected to be brought up as well.
What ultimately becomes of Turkey’s request will tell us a lot about how the relations between Washington and Ankara will develop moving forward. On the one hand, Turkey really needs fighter jets, and its request is modest enough. Joe Biden has repeatedly said that NATO needs to bolster its defence capabilities and unity. On the other hand, against the backdrop of the request to purchase fighter jets, Turkey’s rhetoric concerning its further S-400 procurements is an insulting dismissal of the grievances put forward by the United States. Erdogan and his policies have not become more popular in the United States over the recent years, which is to put it mildly: in addition to Erdogan’s “friendship” with Putin, Turkey has a questionable human rights record (something that is ideologically important for the incumbent U.S. administration), and the Turkish president is not popular among many of the diasporas in the United States (Armenian, Greek, etc.), which have already launched a campaign against the contract. Were it only a matter to convince the executive branch, Erdogan could stand good chances. In the United States, though, such contracts have to be authorized by the Congress, and it is not at all clear how Turkey could obtain this approval. U.S. legislators will clearly demand steps that the obstinate Turkish leader will deem insulting (such as withdrawing S-400 systems from active duty and putting them into storage or abandoning military-technical and possibly some economic cooperation with Russia).
So far, Washington has responded rather coldly to Erdogan’s recent populist statements that the United States had allegedly offered to sell F-16’s to Turkey as a compensation for the “debt” for the latter’s financing the F-35 programme (Turkey’s own request does not quite jibe with Erdogan’s statements since this request is far more than $1.4 billion worth). The spokesperson for the United States Department of State suggested the Turkish government be asked about the country’s procurement plans but noted that the U.S. has definitely not made any offers concerning Turkey’s request.
On the other hand, denying Turkey’s request—widely and early discussed in the media—may be a real insult and an “absolution” for buying Russian or Chinese fighters. The decision will be difficult, far more difficult than buying air defence missile systems: the officer corps of the Turkish Air Force has been trained by Americans and on American aircraft; this would require new weapons and ground infrastructure to be purchased; and there would be very real integration issues, as well as problems with operations and maintenance. Still, there are countries (such as India, Malaysia and Egypt) that operate aircraft manufactured in different countries. Consequently, this is quite possible, meaning that such “minor” difficulties may not stop the Turkish leader, who has repeatedly demonstrated his readiness to make radical decisions. Additionally, it will serve as useful practice for transitioning to domestic-made aviation. If Turkey’s Western partners refuse to cooperate once again, it could hope for Russia’s assistance in developing its domestic-made fleet. The Russian aviation, independent of American supplies, will serve as a partial insurance against an embargo.
From Russia’s standpoint, the situation is simple enough. Moscow benefits from arguments and schisms in NATO, particularly those between major players. A metaphorical “downing” of a hundred F-35s with a single regiment of S-400s is a fantastic success—at least, Turkey using these aircraft has been delayed for years. For once, Russia may get paid for it, while the United States and NATO bear additional costs. It would thus work in Russia’s favour to offer Su-35’s to Turkey.
The main arguments “against” boil down to the danger of technical secrets and weapons being leaked by a country whose friendly status is highly debatable. The dangers are not to be overestimated, though. First, the Su-35S was designed to be exported. As things stand, export versions are already different in the sensitive aspects of their equipment from those intended for the domestic market. The aircraft had already been intended for countries that were no less likely than Turkey to leak secrets to the United States (the Gulf monarchies, Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, etc.). Second, in Turkey’s hands, Russian aviation and other military equipment is less dangerous for Russia than the equipment manufactured in other countries. The manufacturer knows these aircraft and its equipment inside and out, and it is widely believed that something may “suddenly” go awry if these hi-tech weapons are turned against their manufacturer.
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