BY HILAL KAPLAN –
Turkey has a painful history with the United States. Under a series of agreements, signed during former President Ismet Inönü’s rule, Turkey was positioned together with the U.S. against the Soviet threat.
One of the first pieces of evidence of the U.S. view of Turkey as a “satellite country,” which would be tied to its apron strings, was the incident that went down in history as “Johnson’s Letter.”
The said letter, sent by the former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson in June 1964 to then-Prime Minister Inönü was so far from the diplomatic discourse that the Republican People’s Party (CHP) did not disclose the text to the public until it lost power.
“Do not even think about interfering in Cyprus. Or tens of thousands of Cypriot Turks will die. And if you do, you cannot use American military supplies under the agreement we made in 1947,” Johnson briefly said in the infamous letter.
Nothing had changed since then until the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power in the early 2000s. Turkey was a country knocking at Israel’s door for the modernization of its tanks and dependent on the U.S. for drones.
Currently, the Turkish defense industry has reached a localization rate of 70%. But, Turkey still does not have its own air defense system. The country made several attempts to purchase the Patriot air defense system from the U.S. in the last decade. However, this request has been denied on several occasions due to issues like technology transfer.
It is important to note that the Italian-French Eurosam for the SAMP/T Aster 30 Eurosam was willing to transfer critical design information to Turkish defense contractors. That is why in January of 2018, Turkey awarded Eurosam, ASELSAN and Roketsan a contract for the definition study for the future Turkish Long-Range Air and Missile Defense System.
Understandably, Turkey is not categorically against signing an air defense system deal with its Western allies. But the U.S.’ unwillingness to share their technology drove Turkey toward Russia and purchase its S-400 defense system.
The U.S., in the meantime, stood by idly for some time and made occasional threats such as “there will be consequences,” but never actually offered any real alternatives to Turkey.
Its reluctance to understand Turkey’s frustration at not being able to purchase the Patriot systems and the decision to withdraw Patriots from Turkey by NATO allies like Germany forced President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s hand to turn to Russia for a solution.
The U.S. administration’s decision to go ahead with Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) sanctions against Turkey seems poised to go down in history as a turning point, not only for Turkey-U.S. relations but also for the future of NATO.