Turkey exiting NATO will have repercussions for South Asia
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 26 Oct , 2021

Relations between the US and Turkey have been visibly in decline for some time. It is not just the wait that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was subjected to for meeting US President Joe Biden during the former’s visit to the US.  The US has imposed sanctions on Turkey under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) for importing S-400 air defense missile systems from Russia. In November 2020, Erdogan had stated that he will go for importing more S-400 systems.

Pakistan has been hunting with the hounds and running with the hares past decades and is balancing its foreign policy between the US and China. Erdogan similarly is playing the US and Russia simultaneously.  The US had removed Turkey from the F-35 joint strike fighter program despite a loss of half a billion dollars to America, and Turkey lost its production work on the F-35 last year following its acceptance of the S-400 Russian system. The White House statement said, “The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities.” The Pentagon had sounded Turkey that the doors to the F-35 joint strike fighter program will remain open if Turkey dumps the S-400. But Turkey told the US that the S-400 deal was already done. In 2020, Russia delivered four batteries of S-400 consisting of 36 batteries and over 192 missiles to Turkey.

Turkey then asked the US for x 40 F-16 fighter jets; taking advantage of helping design part of the fuselage of the American F-35 fighters. These are to help them backfill the gap left by the F-35 loss. Now Ismail Demir, Turkey’s Undersecretary of Defence Industries has said that if the US does not provide the 40 x F-16s requested then Turkey will go for importing Russian fighter jets instead. The Pentagon remains in talks with Turkey for the quandary over the F-35. If it allows Turkey to rejoin the F-35 program it is a come down for the US and if it denies the F-16s then Turkey goes for Russian fighter jets. Fact remains that the US game of sanctions is pushing nations into the China-Russia camp to the disadvantage of America.

In March this year, the US blocked the sale of 30 Turkish ATAK T-129 twin-engine attack helicopters to Pakistan since these helicopters are equipped with American engines and the US holds the export clearance for the LHTEC engines. On October 21, the Financial Action Task Force (ATF) placed Turkey on its ‘grey list’ for failing to check terror financing. The FATF president referring to Turkey’s mutual assessment related to terror financing in 2019 stated that ‘serious issues remain”. He also took notice of Turkey’s clampdown on non-profit organizations (NPOs) and advised Turkey to effectively tackle complex money-laundering cases. Turkey’s radical Islamist ally Pakistan continues to remain on FATF’s grey list. According to inside sources America’s CAATSA sanctions were orchestrated in a manner that the Turkish economy was not seriously affected. Similarly according to some analysts, Turkey deserved to be placed on the ‘black list’ of the FATF but has been accorded a leeway through the ‘grey list’.

In the 19th century, the process of the decline of the Ottoman Empire continued continuously and then gradually the condition of Turkey became so bad that it came to be called the ‘Sick Man of Europe’. It is well known that when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took over the reins of Turkey in 2014, he throttled the secular character of the country in a manner that would have made Kemal Atatürk turn in his grave. The military coup to curb radical Islam was ruthlessly stamped out. Erdogan sees himself as the Caliph of a revived Ottoman Empire sometime in the future. For this reason, support to terrorism and terror financing cannot stop in Turkey.

In promoting terrorism, Erdogan is also buoyed by the fact that the West used Turkey for consolidating, training and arming the ISIS before launching them in Iraq-Syria. The CIA has gone on record to say the training to ISIS cadres in Turkey was provided by British mercenaries; obviously with full knowledge of the CIA and MI-6. Little wonder then that Erdogan decided to turn Turkey into a rogue state also noticing how rogue Pakistan has been successfully playing the double game and the US has not been able to dump it.   

In the above context, Turkey has a bigger advantage over Pakistan since it is not only a NATO member but also has US nuclear weapons in situ. Under NATO nuclear weapons sharing, the United States has provided nuclear weapons for Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey to deploy and store. Therefore, Erdogan is confident that both the US and NATO want to keep Turkey on their side. Erdogan has even joined hands with Iran in supporting Hamas and Lebanon-based Hezbollah against Israel to the discomfort of the US.   

Both Turkey and Pakistan had fielded mercenaries-terrorists to support Azerbaijan against Armenia in the recent Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Turkish drones played merry hell into Armenian defence. Turkey has a defence tie up with Pakistan and is upgrading Pakistan’s attack submarines. Pakistan wants to procure Turkish drones in addition to Chinese. Through the hardcore Islamist connection and supporting Pakistan on Kashmir, Erdogan wants to use Pakistan to get through to defence technologu partnership with China – same as the Nixon-Kissinger duo used Pakistan to establish links with China in 1972.

By declaring 10 ambassadors ‘person non-grata’ on October 23, 2021, and asking his foreign ministry to expel the ambassadors of the US and nine other Western countries for demanding the release of philanthropist Osman Kavala, is ‘Mullah Erdogan’  signaling that he is ready to dump NATO and joining the China-Russia-Iran-Pakistan bloc?. No doubt Turkey will lose all the advantages of being a NATO member but Erdogan has the rash streak which perhaps perceives joining hands with China-Russia far more advantageous considering the American debacle in Afghanistan and China’s rise and advances in cyberspace, artificial intelligence and the hypersonic fields.  Erdogan has already joined hands with Tehran to support Hamas-Palestine and Lebanon’s Hezbollah against Israel. 

America’s Joe Biden administration is stuck with two rogue ‘allies’ – Pakistan and Turkey and not likely to take any tough decisions having surrendered Afghanistan to the fundamentalist Taliban and now seeking airspace over Pakistan for counterterrorism. One thing is certain that if Turkey exits NATO and joins the China-Russia-Iran-Pakistan bloc, this will have repercussions for South Asia, India included, and the US will lose its leverage over Turkey.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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