Turkey's American and NATO allies have not responded well to the announcement that Turkey plans to buy an air defense system from China, bypassing American and European systems.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters: "We, of course, have conveyed our serious concerns about the Turkish government’s contract discussions with a U.S. sanctioned company for a missile defense system that will not be interoperable with NATO systems or collective defense capabilities. Our discussions will continue." (The Chinese manufacturer of the winning system, China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corp., is under U.S. sanctions for doing business with Iran, but it seems unlikely that is Washington's real issue with the deal.) And the U.S. ambassador to Turkey added: "Turkey is a NATO ally. When we see the need for its defense we act as an ally and we are going to do that for as long as we are allies... We hope you will choose a NATO compatible system so that you will have the best air defense system in the world.”
And officials who spoke anonymously were significantly more negative. From Defense News:
“How could Turkey, protected by NATO assets, ignore the alliance’s concerns and opt for an air defense system to be built by a non-friendly country?” asked a NATO defense attaché in Ankara....
“This is clearly a nod to the SCO [Shanghai Security Cooperation],” a European and NATO ambassador here said. “And a powerful message to [Turkey’s] NATO allies… that Turkey may no longer be the staunch ally it used to be.”
And from Today's Zaman:
“The US is very, very unhappy about Turkey's selection of China [as their provider]. US President Barack Obama has twice taken up the missile issue with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during their face-to-face meetings and reminded the Turkish prime minister about the interoperability problems that … a non-NATO system will create,” said a defense industry source in Ankara, quoting the US sources.
Turkey's main opposition party, the Republican People's Party, tried to take advantage of the rift:
“The United States especially and our NATO allies are showing their reactions. The Chinese firm is under U.S. sanctions and Turkey is a member of NATO. Turkey-EU relations have come to the brink of rupture under this government and by this agreement, the same will happen with NATO as well,” deputy leader Faruk Loğoğlu said.
And Turkey's government officials appeared to take a step back from the announcement, pointing out that the deal isn't necessarily complete yet (Turkey has chosen to start negotiations on the terms of the deal exclusively with the Chinese manufacturer, but those talks could fall through). President Abdullah Gül said: “The purchase is not definite. ... There is a short list and China is at the top of it. We should look at the conditions, but there is no doubt that Turkey is primarily in NATO.”
But they also emphasized that they didn't appreciate U.S. lecturing:
"We do not consider anything other than Turkey's interests," Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc told reporters.
"It is not possible for another country to say, 'I have a problem with them, I had put them on a black list, a red list, how could you give them a tender?'" said Arinc, who also serves as the government's spokesman....
"We are a member of NATO and we have had good relations from the beginning with NATO countries, especially the United States. However, when it comes to the subject of defending Turkey ... we have the power to take a decision without looking to anyone else," he said.
As Turkey defense analyst Aaron Stein notes, China fulfilled the Turkish conditions for the sale -- joint manufacturing of the system and full transfer of the technology to the Turkish side -- which Raytheon, the American bidder, wasn't: "[T]he selection of a Chinese firm was not intended to send a signal to the West. The evidence strongly suggests that Ankara chose the system because of its emphasis on coproduction arrangements for military procurements." And he notes:
The selection of a Chinese systems is actually a validation of the NATO security arrangement. If Turkey were REALLY concerned about its security, it would have chosen the American or European system. Instead, Ankara reasoned that it can rely on NATO systems, while it begins its decades long effort to build its own missile defense system.
But the fact that Turkey prioritized local industry over NATO compatibility is, in some sense, a rebuff of NATO. But at the same time, Raytheon's refusal to meet Turkey's terms is also a rebuff of Ankara. One wonders if U.S. officials are, behind the scenes, delivering that message to Raytheon executives.