- - Sunday, March 17, 2019


Turkey’s continued pursuit of an advanced air defense system from Moscow — Russia’s S400 missile-defense system — threatens the very existence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization at a time “the most successful alliance in history” has profound political and budgetary problems.

The Trump administration has taken a hard line toward requiring the nation’s allies to pay their share of the bill for the common defense. The Turks stiff the Americans because until now they knew they could get by with it. Freeloaders will always freeload if they can.

There are other frictions, and some of them get a little relief. After two months of imprisonment, the Turks finally released Andrew Brunson, who maintains that he had no ties to political groups and was just the pastor of a local Christian church who had lived in Turkey for more than two decades.

“There’s a lot of bad stuff happening in Turkey right now,” Pastor Brunson, a teaching elder of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, says. “Most of it is not toward Christians but toward people who are accused of supporting Fethullah Gulen,” he said of the exiled Turkish cleric now living in Pennsylvania, whom Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused of plotting against him.

Mr. Erdogan made the remarkable suggestion on March 6 that in future the Turks ” may work with S-500s,” the next-generation of the Russian system. His government says it will install the Russian system with the Turkish air force laying out the deployment. Vice President Mike Pence has repeated warnings to Turkey against purchasing of the Russian system. “We will not stand idly by while NATO allies purchase weapons from our adversaries,” he told a recent conference of Western security analysts. Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, the top U.S. commander in Europe who is also the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, voiced a similar sentiment.

President Erdogan and his government ignored the warning that Washington would not supply promised F-35 fighter jets if Turkey buys the Russian S-400 system. This follows the U.S. State Department approval of a prospective $3.5 billion sale of the American Patriot system to Turkey, which includes advanced radar systems, control centers, launching systems and guided missiles. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar nevertheless says Turkey expects delivery of F-35 fighter jets in November.

“Despite some statements, the F-35 process goes smoothly,” Mr. Akar told a recent meeting of top Turkish generals. “Our pilots and maintenance teams continue training in the United States. “We expect delivery of F-35s in November to eastern Malatya province, where relevant preparations for infrastructure were completed.”

Turkey has resumed imports of Iranian crude oil under a special arrangement with Washington. But the purchase of major Russian military equipment by a NATO ally, closely tied into U.S. and West European armaments suppliers, is unprecedented. It’s another example of President Erdogan’s increasingly erratic foreign policy, including a warming of relations with extreme Islamic political organizations. Mr. Erdogan spends most of his time in the capital Ankara and in central and eastern Asia Minor to escape what strict Muslims regard as the frivolous atmosphere in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city with substantial foreign communities and influences.

The European Parliament this week formally suspended the process of Turkey’s long-awaited entry into the European Union. The 1963 Ankara Agreement made Turkey one of the EU’s main economic partners in the Middle East. Turkey is a member of the EU Customs Union and the Europeans have not yet approved Turkey’s entry into the EU political apparatus.

Turkish officials brushed the vote aside. The EU accession process is “meaningless,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said last week. “The European Parliament’s stance against Turkey should be to promote ties, interaction and dialogue between Turkey and EU. Turkey expects the new European Parliament, to be formed after the elections in May, will adopt a constructive approach to the Turkey-EU relations in the upcoming period, take qualified and objective decisions and boost Turkey’s EU integration process.”

Opposition to Turkey’s full membership in the European institutions reflects a long-standing wariness in Europe about Turkey’s Islamic cultural heritage. Sentiment is growing against the relatively large-scale immigration of Arab and other Muslims, in part to make up for the declining Muslim birth rate in Central and Western Europe.

“The content of the European Parliament’s 2018 Turkey report is an attempt to axe the process of increased joint efforts to gain a new momentum in Turkey-EU relations,” presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kaln said. He said far-right political movements in Europe reveals a prejudiced attitude against Turkey. But the government seems not to understand its own contribution to halting this momentum, and suspicions grow in the West that Turkey may be an unreliable ally.

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