Author: Natig NAZIMOGHLU
Turkish-American relations are getting worse in a maelstrom of contradictions. On the one hand, the parties cannot solve any of the problems in bilateral dialogue, while on the other hand, both Ankara and Washington hope to overcome the growing alienation between them. The recent talks between the presidents of Turkey and the US, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Joe Biden, held at the Rome summit of G20 in the end of October also confirmed the above.
The Ambassador Crisis and joint mechanism
Official reports from Ankara and Washington show that the leaders discussed a wide range of problems in bilateral relations. As a result of the talks, Erdogan and Biden agreed to create an appropriate joint mechanism to eliminate mutual differences and strengthen bilateral cooperation.
Apparently, the so-called Ambassador Crisis that took place just before the meeting did not undermine the course of negotiations between Biden and Erdogan. The crisis was about an unsuccessful attempt of the US, Canada, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and New Zealand to impose on the Turkish government through their ambassadors in Ankara their vision of the situation with the indictment against Osman Kavala accused of involvement in the attempted coup in the summer of 2016. Western ambassadors were summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry and requested to comply with the Vienna Convention, which prohibits the heads of diplomatic missions meddling in the internal affairs of the host countries. In addition, President Erdogan threatened to declare ten ambassadors persona non grata. It was possible to get over the crisis only after a joint statement of the ambassadors, who promised to remain committed to the Vienna Convention.
Experts interpreted this event, as well as the American president’s, in this case Joe Biden’s, traditional reluctance to accuse Turkey of allegedly violating the norms of democracy and human rights at a meeting with Erdogan as an indicator of Washington's readiness to improve relations with Ankara, which have been noticeably colder in recent years. The key factor pushing the US and Turkey to overcome their differences is the allied relations of both states under the NATO umbrella.
According to the official statement of the Erdogan administration, "Messrs. Erdogan and Biden focused on the alliance within NATO and strategic partnership." The White House also underlined the US President’s hope for holding constructive relations and expanding areas of cooperation with Turkey and also thanked Turkey for its contribution to the NATO peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan over the past twenty years.
It is no surprise that the US made an accent on the Euro-Atlantic cooperation between Washington and Ankara. NATO member states, that is – the states with the two largest armies in the Alliance, are well aware of the significance of strengthening the unity of the organisation in terms of its existence and development. Amid the ongoing development of a separate bloc involving the US, Great Britain, and Australia (AUKUS), as well as the attempts of the leading EU countries (France and Germany) to create European army, the issue of NATO's monolithic structure is worth of special treatment. For Turkey, which is not a member state of either the Anglo-Saxon troika or the European Union, this is especially important due to its interests to strengthen positions in the Alliance and to streamline a strategic dialogue with the undisputed leader of NATO, the United States.
Aircraft is a priority
One of the factors badly contributing to the strategic cooperation between Ankara and Washington is the so-called aircraft crisis. It started during the previous American administration led by Donald Trump. The US excluded Turkey from the program on the development of the latest F-35 fighters due to the purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems. In parallel, the US imposed sanctions on Turkey, having increased duties on Turkish steel and aluminium, which hit the exchange rate of the Turkish lira. This is how the unprecedented situation in the history of relations between the two NATO allies developed.
With the arrival of Joe Biden's administration, the number of restrictive measures against Turkey increased through the ‘punishment’ of representatives and companies of the Turkish military-industrial complex for “involvement in the military-technical deal with Russia”. However, at the G20 Summit in Rome, Mr. Biden convinced Mr. Erdogan of his intention to provide Turkey with F-16 aircraft in exchange for its earlier investments in the F-35 program. Turkey’s exclusion from the F-35 production program is also known for one very unpleasant moment concerning the payment for the supply of the fifth generation American fighters. In fact, Ankara paid Washington $1.4 billion for the undelivered F-35 fighters. Now, after the exclusion of Turkey from the F-35 program, the provision of F-16 aircraft for the same amount seems to be at least some way out of the situation.
But Ankara still remains outraged by the very decision of Washington to limit its actions, which does not go in line with the spirit and traditions of the American-Turkish relations. Especially amid the US Congress hearings of the bill considering the continuation of the F-35 aircraft production program in India and Australia, which, like Turkey, are the buyers of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems. Question: why then double standards are applied to Turkey?
Moreover, as Biden told Erdogan, the opponents and supporters of a possible deal with Ankara on F-16 aircraft divided in half in the US Congress and Senate. The American president himself, according to Erdogan, is positive about the sale of F-16 fighters to Turkey. But will Biden manage to break the resistance of the congressmen, if he himself really does his best to maintain the American-Turkish alliance at high level?
Either way, Ankara makes it clear that if the problem with the acquisition of the latest generation American fighters is not solved, then it "will no longer waste time" and try to find alternative options, such as the purchase of Russian Su-35 and Su-57 fighters. This will definitely worsen the in relations between Ankara and Washington, which has always been negative about the strategic partnership of the two Eurasian powers, Turkey and Russia, meaning not only the military and technical cooperation, but also in the areas of nuclear energy and hydrocarbon supplies, as well as the joint efforts of Moscow and Ankara to resolve a number of long-term conflicts.
Recently, Foreign Affairs urged the US government to create “tools for containing Russia and Turkey in two directions - in the South Caucasus and the Middle East.” Undoubtedly, this is a reflection of the essence of the American strategy, which directly concerns Washington's relations not only with the traditional geopolitical adversary (Russia), but also with Turkey – a long-term ally of the United States.
Turkish-Russian cooperation continues to be a key factor contributing to the stabilisation of situation in the region, which ended a year ago with the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Following the outcome of the 44-day war marked by the liberation of the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Russia launched a peacekeeping process, which makes the Western power centres, primarily the US, jealous. In parallel with this attitude to the new reality in the region emerged thanks to Azerbaijan, which brilliantly ended the long-standing Garabagh conflict and is the leader of the South Caucasus, and the partnership between Russia and Turkey, the US does not seems to be happy with the prospects of the 3+3 cooperation format.
The format initiated by Baku and Ankara and supported by Moscow assumes regional cooperation with the participation of three South Caucasian states, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, as well as their three large neighbours - Russia, Turkey, and Iran. Meanwhile, the US and the EU are considering the possibility of their involvement in this process, transforming the format of cooperation to 3+3+2. But this is unrealistic because Russia, Iran, and Turkey will reject it. By the way, the Turkish President once again confirmed this on the sidelines of the G20 summit: “Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia, Iran, Georgia, and Armenia! Let's take a joint step and restore peace in the region. If all these countries are in a positive mood, the platform will be created, and the region will become a platform for peace.”
Will Ankara's categorical insistence on this issue become an additional irritating factor in the Turkish-American dialogue? Quite likely, although to a lesser extent than it is been amid the long-term Syrian conflict.
The US interests in Syria run counter to the joint efforts of Turkey and Russia, which prioritise ensuring the sovereignty and territorial unity of the Arab country. But American interests pose an even greater threat directly to the security of Turkey, since Washington, despite Ankara's requests, has not abandoned its policy of arming and supporting Kurdish terrorist organisations functioning in northern Syria. Therefore, to finally suppress this threat at its borders, Turkey is almost completely ready to conduct a new military operation in Syria.
The Biden administration appears to be aware that further flirting with Kurdish terrorists is fraught with irreversible negative consequences for US-Turkish relations. Therefore, the US President showed signs of understanding in this matter. After all, after meeting with Mr. Biden, Mr. Erdogan expressed confidence that the US would stop helping Kurdish terrorists.
We will soon see how realistic were the Turkish leader's expectations. But it is clear that from now on, Turkey will not allow an unequal dialogue with the US and the West. The US, if it really values the strengthening of allied relations with Turkey, will have to acknowledge this. Otherwise, the final separation of Turkey from the Euro-Atlantic system cannot be avoided. With all the negative consequences for global and Eurasian geopolitics.