Missile Confusion: Turkey’s Dance with the Chinese

I am confused. This morning, Anadolu Agency reported that Turkey’s Defense Minster, Ismet Yilmaz, wrote in response to a parliamentary question about Turkey’s missile defense tender that Turkey’s future system will “not be integrated” with NATO’s missile defense system.

Here is the tweet:

Reuters picked up on the story and wrote the following:

Turkey will go ahead with plans to order a $3.4-billion missile defense system from China, Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz said, despite U.S. and NATO concerns over security and compatibility of weaponry. Yilmaz said in a written response to a parliamentary question published on Thursday that Ankara will use the long-range system without integrating it with NATO’s system.  Turkey originally awarded the tender to China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corp in 2013, prompting U.S. and NATO officials to say the deal could raise questions over security. Turkey later said it was in talks with France on the issue, but Yilmaz said no new bids had been received. “The project will be financed with foreign financing. Work on assessing the bids has been completed and no new official bid was received,” the minister said.

As of January 2015, Turkey was reported to have decided to put-off “making a hasty ‘final-final’ decision” on the long-delayed T-LORAMIDS tender. The Turkish leadership, according to Burak Bekdil, was continuing discussions with the United States’ Lockheed Martin/Raytheon for the PATRIOT system and MBDA for the SAMP/T, but were watching how both countries’ governments handled the events surrounding the 100 year anniversary of the “Armenian Genocide.” According to Burak Bekdil’s report:

The procurement official did not comment directly on whether Congress’ decision would be a parameter in selecting a winner in the contract, or whether the US contender would be blacklisted for political reasons. But he said: “Our procurement decisions are not free of deliberations on foreign policy.” Both the procurement and defense officials said that although all three bidders are in the picture, they admitted that talks with CPMIEC have not been productive.” I cannot say negotiations with the Chinese contender have evolved as we expected,” the procurement official said. The defense official said: “[CPMIEC is] still in the game. But they don’t stand where they stood when we selected them. We expect all bidders to improve their offers in line with four criteria: better technological know-how, local participation, quick delivery and price.”Turkish procurement officials earlier admitted that technical negotiations with CPMIEC had dragged into several problematic areas and “this option now looks much less attractive than it did [in 2013].”

To add more fuel to the linkage between missile defense decision-making and the Armenian Genocide issue, Daily Sabah – a newspaper that, lets say, has strong ideological sympathies for the AKP – wrote the following:


Was this a Freudian slip, or did Yilmaz gaffe? Here is where the caveats have to come in: Yilmaz is not, lets say, a very strong Defense Minister. He is not exactly a known commodity in Turkey. I suspect that these types of decisions are above his pay-grade and the buck for these political sensitive decisions stops at a rather large office inside Ak Saray.

In any case, one can tease out three plausible explanations for Yilmaz’s comments. First, he gaffed and Reuters jumped the gun (likely). Second, he is trying to indirectly pressure the Europeans (the U.S. has little hope of winning this, unless Turkey changes its tender terms.) Third, it was a Freudian slip and Turkey has decided to purchase the HQ-9.

Option 1 may be the most plausible.

And for good measure:

But wait! To make things even more confusing, Yilmaz just double downed on his “we wont integrate the missile defense system” proclamation, per a CNNTurk tweet:

To recap: Turkey is still keeping its missile options open, but wont integrate the system it eventually chooses with NATO systems. On the technical side, the issue connecting explanations 2 and 3 is simple: Turkey, as a matter of state policy, has prioritized the development of an indigenous defense sector. To do so, Ankara conditions its purchase of foreign military equipment on offsets. According to the U.S. government, offsets can come in many forms. For example:

  • Offsets: Industrial compensation practices required as a condition of purchase in either government-to-government or commercial sales of defense articles and/or defense services as defined by the Arms Export Control Act and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.
  • Military Export Sales: Exports that are either Foreign Military Sales (FMS) or commercial (direct) sales of defense articles and/or defense services as defined by the Arms Export Control Act and International Traffic in Arms Regulations.
  • Direct Offsets: Contractual arrangements that involve defense articles and services referenced in the sales agreement for military exports.
  • Indirect Offsets: Contractual arrangements that involve goods and services unrelated to the exports referenced in the sales agreement.
  • Co-production: Overseas production based upon government-to-government agreement that permits a foreign government(s) or producer(s) to acquire the technical information to manufacture all or part of a U.S. origin defense article. It includes government-to-government licensed production. It excludes licensed production based upon direct commercial arrangements by U.S. manufacturers.
  • Licensed Production: Overseas production of a U.S. origin defense article based upon transfer of technical information under direct commercial arrangements between a U.S. manufacturer and a foreign government or producer.
  • Subcontractor Production: Overseas production of a part or component of a U.S. origin defense article. The subcontract does not necessarily involve license of technical information and is usually a direct commercial arrangement between the U.S. manufacturer and a foreign producer.
  • Overseas Investment: Investment arising from the offset agreement, taking the form of capital invested to establish or expand a subsidiary or joint venture in the foreign country.
  • Technology Transfer: Transfer of technology that occurs as a result of an offset agreement and that may take the form of: research and development conducted abroad; technical assistance provided to the subsidiary or joint venture of overseas investment; or other activities under direct commercial arrangement between the U.S. manufacturer and a foreign entity.

Turkey’s emphasis on this strategy has long transcended politics. During the 1990s, for example, Ankara’s defense relationship with Israel was based – at least in part – on Tel Aviv’s willingness to play ball with Turkey’s defense industry (and overlook human rights concerns while doing so).

The key difference in this regard is twofold: First, the AKP has adopted anti-western rhetoric to bolster its populist appeal. The rhetoric, while based on genuine political disagreements, is nonetheless an election tactic designed to reinforce the AKP’s post-Gezi/17 December political narrative. Second, missile defense, since 2010, is now a central part of the Alliance’s commitment to burden sharing and collective defense.

NATOMissileOffsets are one thing. The Alliance is another. If Yilmaz’s statement is accurate, than we have a problem. Turkey’s standard argument is that other NATO states – and in particular Greece and the Baltics – have Russian/Soviet systems that are outside of NATO’s emerging missile defense network. Turkey therefore will not be the only member with an independent missile defense system. True. But those systems predate the inclusion of missile defense as a key component of the Alliance’s updated approach to collective security. (And the Cyprus S-300 issue has its roots in Turkey’s objection to the system. Greece has also purchased Patriot, even using them to paint Turkish F-4s during the annual summer dog fights over the Aegean that cost both countries millions in wasted dollars.)

Ankara also argues, albeit indirectly, that they worry about the use of their systems for an “out of area conflict.” Thus, during a conflict with a  neighboring country in the Middle East, Turkey wants the flexibility to use the system as it pleases, rather than face potential restraints should it go to war with an adversary that the West has no appetite to fight.  (Syria is a good example of this, but there is another, smaller, state that comes to mind that shall remain nameless.)

These arguments have their merits, but they miss the point. Ankara’s pursuit of offsets and its concerns about fire control are political – and thereby can be addressed via other means within the Alliance itself. If Ankara does opt to go outside of the Alliance structure, it will undermine the concept of collective security at a time when it relies on NATO PATRIOT batteries forward deployed in Turkey for defense against Syrian Scud attacks.

The timing of Yilmaz’s statement could not have come at a worse time. In the past few months, Russia has invaded a sovereign country, increased the number of (presumably nuclear armed) bomber flights around various NATO states, got caught running subs through Sweden’s archipelago, and is developing a new cruise missile. (Hint: At least one is aimed at a target in Turkey. Bank on that.)

As Jeffrey Lewis and I have spoken about on our weekly podcast, Russian policy vis-a-vis NATO is to try and split the alliance, which thereby weakens the collective response to issues like, say, the blatant invasion of a neighboring country under entirely false pretenses. This is why Turkey’s decision-making matters. Neither the PATRIOT or SAMP/T would be used to defend Europe proper: the systems are battle field systems, designed primarily to target shorter range ballistic missiles (think Syria, not Russia. The HQ-9 is sold as an AWACS killer and not a missile defense system per se, but I digress). But that is not the point.

The point is that Turkey is a member of NATO. NATO is a collective defense organization. And in 2010, Turkey and its NATO allies agreed to a Strategic Concept that identified missile defense as a key component of its approach to collective security – which Turkey currently relies on for ballistic missile defense. The European system is a smarter choice for a whole host of technical reasons; not the least of which is that they can plug it into the US funded command and control system, which then would allow for the system to access cueing data from the TPY/2 down the road in Kürecik.

This decision, regardless of the technical merits of the systems under consideration, is political. Ankara will, in all likelihood, never be able to export a viable missile defense system, which means it will probably never get a good return on its investment. The intention is different: develop an industrial base to support a defense sector, rather than missiles in particular. Political.

As for Turkish defense policy, that decision too is political. NATO asks that missile defense be part of a collective approach to security issues. NATO guarantees Turkish security. Turkey’s faith in that guarantee is, at its core, political. So this decision would give is a good sense of which way the political winds in Ankara now blow.

About aaronstein1

I am an Istanbul based PhD Candidate a King's College London.
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