By turning to Russia and China for a missile defense system, Turkey could be jeopardizing relations with its NATO allies.
Early in 2015, reports came in that Turkey is likely to remain with a Chinese deal to purchase its missile defense systems from Beijing.
Turkey’s plans to modernize its Turkish Armed Forces to adapt to a new security environment apparently include acquiring sophisticated and affordable missile defense systems.
While a missile defense system compatible with the NATO systems would assure Turkey of being able to successfully intercept missiles along with other NATO countries, a non-NATO missile defense system could severely jeopardize its relations with its NATO allies and the U.S.
Turkey’s quest for a missile defense system appears to have begun in 2009, when United States decided, as part of its European Phased Adaptive Approch (EPAA), to field a sophisticated missile defense system in Europe. The justification by the US at that time was to counter possible missile threats from Iran.
When NATO later began reviewing countries to field this system, Turkey, near Iran, might have seemed a natural choice. Throughout those discussions however, Turkey evidently steered clear of claiming that Iran and Syria might be threats to Turkey. Turkey is evidently not eager to convey that its missile defense shield is meant to counter threats from Iran. Ever since the EPAA was planned, Turkey had even asked the U.S. and NATO not to mention Iran as a threat in its EPAA plan.
Turkey seems to have been working hard to improve its relations with Iran, especially after President Rouhani came into power, as part of Turkey’s policy of ‘Zero Problems with Neighbours.” In 2010, for instance, Turkey removed Russia and Iran from its “Red Book’s” list of Turkey’s adversaries.
In 2009, existential missile threats from Israel or even Syria resulted in Turkey desiring four long-range missile defense systems capable of destroying incoming missiles before they could enter Turkish airspace. Several countries, such as Russia, China, the U.S., a France-Italy consortium (EUROSAM), and Israel, had also vied for the bid. After the Lisbon Summit of 2010, however, in a decision that attracted a lot of criticism against Turkey from Iran, it was decided that Turkey would host the early–warning radar systems as a component of a missile defense shield. However, there was no decision taken on deploying interceptors in Turkey—unlike Romania and Poland, where it was planned that interceptors would be fielded.
With the Syrian crisis, Turkey may also have felt susceptible to being inadvertently attacked by inaccurate missiles as a result of the conflict there.
Even though, at Turkey’s request, NATO Patriot interceptors were deployed in Turkey to counter Syrian missiles, Turkey opened its bidding to Russia, China, France and the U.S. for missile defense interceptors. The reason for doing so was simple. The Patriot missile defense system are only capable of providing protection to nearby lands in their vicinity and also since the Patriots cannot intercept short range missiles. Another possible problem in Turkey’s view is that the NATO missile defense shield would share information with Israel, a plan with which Turkey is apparently not comfortable. Even though Turkey has been assured that the data collected by early warning NATO systems in Turkey would not be shared with Israel, Turkey appears to remain apprehensive.
In September, 2013, Turkish reports came in that the China Precision Machinery Export-Import Corporation (CPMEIC)—on which the United States has imposed sanctions — had won a $4bn contract to help Turkey develop missile defense interceptors. Turkey is eager to avail itself of technology transfers rather than to purchase entire weapons systems. The deal with China allows Turkey to co-develop a missile defense system rather than buying it from another country. Moreover, China has also offered to provide the weapon system at an affordable cost. This decision however, was not viewed in positive light by NATO and the U.S.
As Turkey is a member of NATO, to ensure that the EPAA will be able to provide blanket protection to Europe from ballistic missile threats, all missile defense systems of member nations need to be compatible with each other. NATO is least likely to be comfortable making a Chinese missile defense system compatible with its own. NATO is likely concerned that that Chinese system would be able to gather information on U.S. and NATO’sand develop counter-measures to nullify those advantages.
In 2014, reportedly due to some disagreements with China on the joint production of the defense system, Turkey apparently began reconsidering its decision to go forward with China, and Turkey commenced talks with France.
But early in 2015newreports indicated that Turkey was, after all, likely to purchase systems from China, though the issue of technology transfer from China to Turkey still needs to be sorted between the two countries.
However, there is still hope for the U.S. and EUROSAM. Should the U.S. or the EUROSAM be able to rework the prices of its weapon and missile defense systems while also allowing Turkey technology transfers.
While the deal with China is likely to take place, Turkey does have other options worth considering. In April 2015, Turkey struck a “strategic industrial alliance” with Ukraine that would include cooperation in the field of development of missile defense system.
Turkish officials have also expressed interest in the short range S-300 and the S-400 missile defense systems from Russia. Turkey seemed to have shown a keen interest in the Russian S-300 during the International Defense Industry Fair held in Turkey in May. Russia and Turkey have undergone successful test firing Russia’s Igla-S shoulder fired air defense system with a Turkish combat platform.
Any deal struck with Russia, China or any other non-NATO country, however, would likely result in Turkey having to buy its own satellite and radar systems: if Turkey has a new defense system,
NATO and the U.S. may no longer be willing to continue sharing the same. However, Turkey is not the only country to acquire non-NATO defense system. Greece too possesses the Russian S-300 defense systems.
It is too early to predict if a Chinese missile defense system in Turkey could jeopardize Turkey’s relations with its NATO allies. But with the recent withdrawal of NATO Patriot missile defense system by Germany and the US from Turkey, it only remains to be seen if the trust factor between Turkey and NATO remains.