Ankara and Washington must begin to work on their essential strategic relationship, which can still be salvaged despite the current deterioration over Turkey’s purchase of Russian defence systems, wrote retired U.S. Lieutenant General Ben Hodges in an article he penned for the non-profit Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA).
Ankara’s procurement of the S-400 air defence missiles from Russia has strained its ties with Washington, which maintains the systems are not compatible with NATO equipment and may compromise its F-35 fighter jets.
Washington has removed Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet programme over the purchase and warned of possible U.S. sanctions to follow.
If relations continue to deteriorate, Hodges wrote, Ankara could buy additional Russian systems or even close U.S. access to İncirlik Air Base located in southern Turkey.
However, this does not mean that this essential strategic relationship is permanently ruptured, he said.
There are still strong signs of political pluralism and motivation to maintain relations with Ankara, the article said. These include the opposition victories in local elections this year, strong criticism voiced by the business community at the sacking of the central bank governor, and factions within the ruling party that are preparing to form splinter parties.
Turkey must be preserved as an essential ally and bulwark against Russian aggression and Islamic extremism in the greater Black Sea region, according to Hodges, who said this would also help stem further refugee flows.
According to the retired general, there are three core problems that must be resolved to keep Turkey on side.
First, the United States must change its strategic framework to recognise Turkey’s unique perspective and its role in the broader region, including to its south. The current strategic framework is obsolete, Hodges said.
Secondly, Washington must figure out “ownership” of the relationship inside the U.S. government, he said, and accordingly it must understand that providing weapons to Kurds to defeat ISIS may have prevented the United States from understanding Ankara’s security concerns.
Ankara has long criticised U.S. support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an offshoot of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), in its battle against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria.
Turkey does not recognise the YPG as a separate entity, saying that it is a Syrian satellite of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has waged a decades-long insurgency on Turkish soil.
Lastly, both countries must work to remove mutual suspicions that hinder serious discussions and efforts to resolve conflicts, the article said.
The U.S. side regularly voices suspicions that Turkey could leave NATO, that it has a secret Islamist foreign policy, and that it is beholden to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Meanwhile, many in Turkey believe that the United States has a long-term plan to establish a Kurdish state on Turkey’s border or that it is otherwise collaborating with the country’s enemies, the article said.
NATO is much stronger with Turkey as a member and maintaining an alliance with the country will allow the United States to combat Russian aggression in the greater Black Sea region, Hodges wrote.