US-Turkey tensions will only worsen if the status-quo remains

With Washington rebuffing Ankara’s attempts to resolve festering bilateral issues, the shaky relationship between the two NATO allies doesn’t appear to be turning the corner anytime soon.

The new statements by President Erdogan about Turkey-US relations are still echoing.

In most of my articles, I have stated that President Biden, since he took office on January 20, would act distant toward Ankara, and there would not be a healthy ending in Afghanistan. Neither support to the YPG-PKK terror group nor the patriot crisis, which started with President Obama’s second term, has been resolved since then.

Consequently, criticism of the White House administrations against Turkey regarding Pastor Brunson and human rights gradually increased, and the problem of trust became even more crucial. The bilateral relations between President Trump and President Erdogan were not expected during President Biden’s administration.

Unfortunately, we have witnessed Turkey’s perception in the US Congress has gotten worse and worse over the last eight years. While the number of members in the Turkish friendship group in Congress was 150 in the past, now it is down to 84. Congress has passed most bills against Turkey, and this damages Turkey-US relations even further. We can say that the active and united anti-Turkish groups are one of the reasons for the US to move further away from Turkey.

President Erdogan’s statements made after the UN General Assembly summit, as well as his television interview with CBS, signalled that US relations would deteriorate: “I hope that we as two NATO countries will act in a friendly, not hostile manner towards each other. But as two NATO countries, the current trajectory is not good. Unfortunately, the point that we have reached in my relations with the United States in my nearly 19 years as Prime Minister and as President is not at a good point.”

It should be noted that Erdogan said, “I have worked well with George W Bush, Mr Obama, and Mr Trump, but I cannot say that for Mr Biden.” President Erdogan’s statements of “We will continue the acquisitions of new S-400 systems” and “the US will pay the price in Afghanistan” are the other facts indicating the relapsing bilateral relations.

Even if Turkey emphasises that it wants to cooperate with the US in Afghanistan, we can also interpret the US carrying out all logistics through Qatar as indicating a lack of desire to work directly with Turkey. With the US leaving Afghanistan altogether, we know that they will follow a foreign policy in Afghanistan only as an observer and will fight terrorism in the region with remote air operations if necessary.

Washington is also closely following the Erdogan–Putin meeting. I want to note that the US will enforce new sanctions without delay within the scope of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) as a result of new defence deals made between Turkey and Russia and the continuation of S-400 acquisitions.

President Erdogan’s clear statement of acquiring new S-400s also raises the possibility that Ankara is prepared for the new steps to be taken by the US. However, we also have to remember that heavy sanctions may cause some fluctuations in the Turkish economy.

While it is desirable to solve the unresolved problems in Turkey-US relations with a bilateral dialogue, the increase in tensions benefits many anti-Turkish groups, especially Russia, China, and Iran.

I frankly think that the silence of other NATO allies should also be noted separately. At the same time, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg believes that the two NATO Allies should pave the way to solve problems.

However, it is also worth mentioning that no one can claim that Ankara has not initiated a dialogue to solve the crises: we know that Ankara has been pushing for direct contact with Biden for eight months and that this had happened only once in April when an Erdogan-Biden meeting took place in Brussels. Turkey has even stated, from time to time, that it is seeking to establish a joint working group within the framework of NATO and to form collaborative working groups and solutions.

Regarding the YPG-PKK issue, one of the main problems between Turkey-US relations, the US stands its ground. The US House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act of $778 billion last December, which includes $177 million that the Pentagon requests for the YPG/PKK. That is to say that the US will continue to provide moral and material support to this terrorist organisation next year as well. We can see the possibility for a scenario in which Turkey-US relations, which were already on shaky ground in 2021, could worsen in 2022.

The F-35 dispute

It has been announced that the $1.5 million “Strategic and Legal Consultancy Services’’ contract made with Washington-DC-based Arnold & Porter has been extended until August 2022. Arnold & Porter “conducts studies to produce strategic proposals for Turkey to stay in the Joint Strike Fighter Program, to tackle complex geopolitical and commercial factors and to provide follow-up on the legal affairs.”

However, I do not understand the reasoning behind the extension of its contract even though this company has not been very successful since the agreement was signed. It should be known that no lobbying and law company can be successful against the articles of an act that contains definite provisions, like CAATSA. On top of that, two F-35s that were guaranteed to be delivered to Turkey were given to the US Air Force’s inventory in one of the articles of Defense Budget approved by the US Congress.

“We have purchased the F-35s, we have paid $1.4 billion, yet these F-35s were not delivered to us. First of all, the US must fix this. Of course, we will do what needs to be done based on international law,” President Erdogan said. Erdogan made a similar statement on June 28, 2019, in Japan, saying, “We will take this issue to the International Arbitration Tribunal.”

However, some legal experts and specialists I discussed the issue with noted that no result would come from this appeal to the international court. Law Nr. 5764 on “The Approval of the Memorandum of Understanding on Supporting the Production and Continuous Improvement of the Joint Strike Fighter and the Financial Management Principles Document,” which was approved by the Turkish Grand National Assembly on May 22, 2008, explains the articles of the agreement one by one.

Article 17 of the published Act states: “The disputes between the Participants arising within the scope of or in connection with this MoU [Memorandum of Understanding] shall be resolved through dialogue only between the Participants and no appeals will be made to any individuals, national courts, international courts or any other individuals or institutions for the solution of the problem.”

Thus, of course, the compensation for the paid planes should be received, but I believe that the way this should be done has to be ironed out.

It is not clear whether there will be a Biden–Erdogan meeting at the G20 Leaders Summit in Rome on October 30–31 and the Climate Summit scheduled for November 1–2 in Glasgow. However, this meeting would be highly crucial for preventing the crises and allowing the two NATO allies to understand each other better.

Otherwise, the problems in the Turkey-US relationship will not benefit either regional peace or NATO.

Foreign Policy Expert on U.S.-Turkey Relations, ME, Security, NATO, Transatlantic / Journalist / 2019 Ellis Island Medal of Honor Recipient