The sanctions imposed by the State Department on the issue of S-400s are the first really hard blow of the USA against Turkey. It will have military, political, and economic repercussions. At the same time, it breaks the taboo, which had secured the well-known peculiar immunity of Turkey from the West, due to its important geostrategic position. In practice, this means that these sanctions may be the beginning, or at least they may not just be the only ones. It is unknown at this time, if outgoing President Trump gave his permission, or whether accepted the move under pressure from the state bureaucracy. Finally, lessons from this case can be extracted from Greece.
By Zacharias V. Michas
On the military level, the ban on any kind of export of any kind of military equipment implies the formal – which existed unofficially – suspension of spare parts for US-made weapons systems. At the same time, it raises insurmountable obstacles to the Turkish defense industry trying to export weapons systems, as they all contain American subsystems. This parameter indirectly but clearly constitutes sanctions of an economic nature, with all that this implies for the Turkish economy as a whole.
The US move is sure to cause serious turmoil in the Turkish stock market and in the already vulnerable exchange rate of the Turkish lira against the dollar and the euro. While the decision of the recent European Council was a positive message for the Turkish economy, the US sanctions are a much heavier negative message. This is because the move by Washington will strengthen all the member states within the EU that seek to punish Turkey.
The US sanctions also nullify Erdogan’s invitation to international investors to make productive investments in Turkey on very preferential terms. At the same time, international credit rating agencies unreservedly recommend Greece as an investment destination.
The political consequences are also expected to be significant. The State Department statement contained a recommendation to Ankara to try to resolve the S-400 issue immediately in talks with the United States. It should be noted that a request for such talks was made by the Turks a long time ago, without being listened to.
It is therefore reasonable to assume that the real message from Washington to Ankara is that any talks cannot take place under the pressure of a Turkish fait accompli. If anyone dictates the terms of their conduct, it will not be Turkey, but the Americans. That is the purpose of sanctions.
On the issue of the importance of the principle of procurement of the main high-tech weapons system of the Russian defense industry by a NATO country, the discussion can not be about anything more than how to remove it. Not the conditions of its preservation, as sought by the Turks.
Given the importance of prestige to oriental leaders such as Erdogan, the chances of the Turkish president receiving the message and overturning a stern must be considered extremely limited. It would be a confession of defeat, which would de facto destabilize his regime. The blow suffered by the Islamist government is crucial in every way and essentially brings the knot to the scallop.
Invoking Turkey’s geostrategic importance to NATO in order to maintain immunity and prevent sanctions may have worked effectively in the recent European Council, it may have moved NATO bureaucracy, but it is now losing its scope. In fact, Erdogan is facing the consequences of his political choices.
Indicative of his immodesty is that he also raised the issue of the Azeri minority in Iran, with the poem he recited during his presence in Baku, where the epics of the Nagorno-Karabakh recent war were celebrated. This issue is extremely sensitive and Tehran has reacted strongly. Iran is not playing with this issue, which is why it viewed the Erdogan challenge as hostile.
Because Washington is well aware of all this, it means that in deciding to announce sanctions, it has taken this parameter into account as well. In other words, it does not “buy” Erdogan’s indirect messages that it can cause problems for US allies. This, however, is leading Ankara’s strategy to a dead end and the Turkish president himself to a reaction, the magnitude of which will be seen in the coming days.
In the most extreme version, the Turkish reaction could theoretically be a withdrawal from NATO. The chances of this happening are still considered negligible, as the resulting reshuffles would be huge. Erdogan is aware that NATO membership provides him with some protection, especially at a time when the Turkish economy is being tested. Theoretically alternative support solutions from Russia and China are not offered without serious costs.
In the event of an escalation, the immediate removal of the nuclear bombs hosted at the Turkish airbase in Incirlik would be highly likely. At the same time, a relocation process could be launched, with alternatives including the Akrotiri base in Cyprus and Souda in Crete.
Regarding the lessons that Greece must learn from this development, the first and most important is the need to maintain two sources of supply of main weapons systems. In the Greek case a typical example is the Air Force, with the mixture of American F-16 fighters and French Mirage-2000s and Rafale. The problem that Turkey has been facing for some time now with keeping its air fleet on operational alert is extremely instructive.
A matter of principle
A second lesson is to avoid any negotiation under the weight of faits accomplis. This is a situation that Greece has faced extensively on the Greek-Turkish front in recent decades. It is a position of principle, which every Greek government must not violate, that you do not negotiate under the state of faits accomplis.
When you know in advance that your interlocutor wants a dialogue to legitimize faits accomplis to your detriment, even by sitting at the table, you have made the first critical retreat. If this is the case in US-Turkish relations for the S-400, it is even more so when your interlocutor seeks to legitimize faits accomplis related to your national sovereignty and sovereign rights.
The third lesson to be learned by the Greek side is equally important. Bilateral relations cannot be protected and peace is not guaranteed through constant retreats. At least in the case of Turkey, which is constantly testing the limits, trying to achieve at least a marginal shift each time in a way that brings it practical gains to the Greek-Turkish front. Every step back puts Greece in a worse position and not because the international environment will necessarily be more unfavorable for the Greek side.