The U.S. Needs to Pressure Turkey to Give Up its Russian Missiles
The United States removed Turkey, a long-time ally and NATO member from its F-35 joint strike fighter program in July 2019 because of its purchase of the S-400 Russian missile defense system. U.S sanctions imposed under the Countering America’s Adversary through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) have failed to get Turkey to reverse its decision. To date, these sanctions have had minimal impact. Now it is time for full-scale sanctions on all Turkish defense-related transactions. This will pressure Turkey to reverse its decision to purchase Russian made military hardware.
Turkey is a strategic U.S. partner and it has the second-largest military in NATO. Its location provides the U.S. with a tactical entry into the Middle East and is important to U.S. interests in countering Russia and protecting NATO’s Eastern Flank. U.S sanctions on Turkey have not canceled all existing U.S.-Turkey defense contracts and only directly impact approximately $2 billion of potential business, a figure less than 0.3% of Turkey’s total GDP. So it is no surprise that sanctions so far have been ineffective.
Full-scale sanctions will pressure Turkey to abandon the S-400 missile system. Turkey should opt for a U.S. missile system, like the Patriot, or a different weapon system from another NATO member. Unlike the S-400 missile system, the U.S. Patriot systems have been tested in combat zones for decades. In the Middle East, for example, Saudi Arabia and Israel have been intensively using these systems against a broad spectrum of real threats. Over the last three years, Patriot systems intercepted more than 100 ballistic missiles. Turkey apparently considers the S-400 missile system to be the most advanced system in the world, but they have no combat record.
Furthermore, full-scale sanctions will counter Russian influence in Eurasia. They will encourage Turkey to avoid engaging in future arms transactions that provide significant funding for Russia. They will signal the U.S. resolve to all allies to avoid Russian military technologies.
In addition, full-scale sanctions will bolster U.S. credibility. They will show that the United States can draw red lines and follow through when those are violated. Future U.S. sanction threats will be taken seriously.
Some may argue that further sanctions against Turkey will send it running into the arms of Russia. They believe Turkey might leave the alliance. Despite growing economic and diplomatic ties between Ankara and Moscow in recent years, their relations are still marked by significant conflict. The two powers have major differences and oppose each other in Libya, Syria, and the Nagorno-Karabakh region. A long-standing history of conflict dating back to the Ottoman and Russian Empires will make it difficult for the two countries to become staunch allies.
U.S sanctions under CAATSA have not been able to persuade Turkey to relinquish its Russian made S-400 missile system. Implementing full-scale sanctions on all of Turkey’s defense-related transactions will stir it to consider other options. This is no time for passive policies. The U.S. must take a strong stance on Turkey. With a softer approach, we might as well invite Russia to install its nuclear weapons in Turkey, similar to the Cuban Missile Crisis, only this time with both U.S. and Russian missiles in Turkey. Pressing Turkey to return to its strong ties with the United States will make the world a safer place.