There is still time to implement a series of technical arrangements to fix the Russian S-400 air defence system issue that has taken Turkish-U.S. relations hostage, wrote distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council Hans Binnendijk in an article published on the Defense News website on Monday.
It is not too late to think creatively and reverse an unravelling of ties that could lead to Turkey’s withdrawal from the NATO alliance while scoring a major diplomatic victory for Russian leader Vladimir Putin, the article said.
Turkey and the United States are embroiled in a dispute over Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 missiles, which Turkey began to take delivery of earlier this month. Washington, which maintains that the system poses a security threat to the F-35 fighter jets, has ejected Turkey from the F-35 development programme and further threatened the country with economic sanctions.
Pointing out that the dispute can escalate with Russia offering Turkey the Su-35 as a possible replacement for the F-35, the article said Turkey had upped the ante by threatening to attack Kurdish militia in Syria that have aided the West in its fight against the Islamic State (ISIS).
It is crucial to remember that Turkey is a NATO ally, Binnendijk wrote, and a divorce from the country, whose military forces are integrated into NATO’s equipment and force structure, would be catastrophic for both sides.
The article pointed to technical steps that could be taken to prevent such a disaster, including delaying delivery of the F-35s until all Russian S-400 technicians leave Turkey and prohibiting Turkish S-400 from operating whenever their F-35s fly within the S-400 radar range.
Turkey could also be offered improved terms for the purchase of the U.S. Patriot and allowed to keep the S-400s, but ensure they remain disconnected from both the NATO air defence network and the F-35’s computers, thereby making the S-400 a much less effective air defence system.
Should Turkey agree to such conditions, according to Binnendijk, it still might be possible to avoid a termination of the F-35 sale and avoid a major rift within NATO.