Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Cauterize--Don't Amputate--Turkey

Turkey is no longer an ally (except formally) but is not an enemy. Prepare for the latter without ruling out regaining the former.

Turkey is a problem child:

After several years of verbal jousting with the U.S., Turkey last week accepted an initial delivery of a highly advanced Russian air defense system, the S-400. Supporting equipment to bring the system up to full operational capability continues to flow into the NATO ally. We are at an inflection point, which (at worst) could precipitate Turkey’s withdrawal from the 70-year old alliance.

The S-400 could gain intelligence on NATO air defenses and the F-35, plus Turkey proves to be less than an ally as it reaches out to Russia and Iran.

We must react to that problem, but without making things worse than Turkey is making the situation. And Turkey could come to its senses.

France went wobbly for many decades (leaving the military command of NATO without leaving the political alliance) and Greece was questionable as well for a large amount of time (because of hostility to Turkey and America). Both came home.

We should not try to eject Turkey from NATO (is there even a process for that?). But NATO should quietly reduce exposure to Turkish betrayal without openly pushing Turkey to leave NATO.

Canceling the F-35 is unavoidably high profile but necessary. And the  problem is not a technical one that can be resolved if the Turkish S-400 is walled off from NATO air defenses and the F-35--NATO has an Erdogan problem. Unless we can sell Turkey a "monkey version" of the F-35 that is non-stealthy and non-networked, with only the shape (with differences to conceal stealth properties) of the F-35 and otherwise no more capable than a late model F-16, there is no way the Erdogan government should have this plane.

We should get our gravity nuclear bombs out of Incirlik and prepare an alternative to that base in Turkey.

We should cut off Turkey from NATO's integrated air defense system. As long as Turkey is acting friendly with Russia, Turkey has no real aerial threat to it. So we don't put Turkey at risk while not putting the rest of NATO at risk from Russian intelligence.

We should reduce alliance intelligence sharing with Turkey, limiting it to terror threats so Turkey doesn't face terror attacks needlessly.

We should reduce planning cooperation and sharing with Turkey in order to safeguard information from Russia.

We should reduce NATO warship operations in the Black Sea to avoid being trapped there by Turkish action and instead operate modularized auxiliary cruisers there armed and equipped in the Black Sea.

And we should keep lines of communication open with Turks who reject Erdogan and his Islamist authoritarianism.

But otherwise we should cooperate with Turkey in maintaining their weapons and keeping non-critical lines of communication open both in and out of government should the Erdogan government--or his successor--rethink its role in the region and its hostility to America and Europe (and Israel).

There is a new hope of deviating from Erdogan's Islamist path:

All this is important for America, whose relationship with Turkey matters to its interests in Europe, the Middle East, the Caucasus, and the Eastern Mediterranean. In the short term, Turkey is unlikely to be easier to deal with. Its domestic politics almost guarantee it will be convulsed by internal controversies that will block any clear strategic direction. This may make Erdogan and his coalition more inclined to nationalist grandstanding, including against the United States. But there is hope for the longer term. A Turkey that returns to a healthier democratic system is now feasible, though it may have to get worse before it gets better. As real political competition gathers momentum now, it makes Turkey likelier to be a partner to the United States again later.

Maybe NATO should review our long relationship with our Black Sheep frenemy Pakistan for the options and problems of balancing relations of a state unsure of whether it is friend or enemy. Pakistan was less than an ally but even that status is better than an open enemy. Let's keep that in mind with Turkey.

And improve upon that Pakistan record, of course.

UPDATE: I would not kick Turkey out of NATO. That abandons pro-NATO and anti-Erdogan forces in Turkey and will allow Erdogan to paint any Turk who supports NATO as anti-Turkish.

Further, it provides an opportunity for the two non-Arab powers in the Middle East--Turkey and Iran--to join forces. We don't want that.

Although the author is absolutely right that we should pull our nuclear bombs out of Turkey. ASAP.

Work the problem.

UPDATE: As I recently wrote. Don't go from ally to enemy as the default because Turkey isn't living up to the ally role--just aim to be friends.