Implement CAATSA sanctions on Turkey

The Department of Defense (DOD) quickly removed Turkey from participation with the US-made F-35 fighter jet program, a venture the country has been a part of since 2002

September 5, 2019 22:01
3 minute read.
F35 Adir fighter jet

The F35 fighter jet plane, also known as the Adir, on the Tarmac at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas. (photo credit: LOCKHEED MARTIN / ALEXANDER H. GROVES)

The Trump administration has stalled the implementation of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) on Turkey, which prohibits any nation from purchasing military hardware from Russia.

In July, Turkey defied Washington’s warnings by taking delivery of Russian S-400 missiles, a defense system incompatible with NATO systems.

As a result, the Department of Defense (DOD) quickly removed Turkey from participation with the US-made F-35 fighter jet program, a venture the country has been a part of since 2002. The decision was unsurprising. Congress and the DOD were not going to allow Turkey to risk NATO and US national security interests. Last month at the Pentagon, Undersecretary of Defense Ellen Lord stated, “At this point, the Turks have made a decision. We have said the F-35 and S-400 are incompatible.” The removal of Turkey from the F-35 program will cost the Turkish economy an estimated $9 billion.

Prior to the delivery of the weapons, Turkey was given an alternative to purchase the US- made Patriot missile system. A $3.5 billion deal was presented to the Turks in hopes of convincing the once-reliable NATO ally to change course. However, Turkey rejected this offer, too. Russia convinced the Turkish government that it would offer something the Americans would not, technology transfer of the S-400. Moreover, Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly offered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan joint production of the S-500 missiles, the next generation defense system. “There is absolutely no question of [Turkey] taking a step back from the S-400s purchase. That is a done deal,” Erdogan said. “There will be joint production of the S-500 after the S-400.”

Erdogan is relying on President Donald Trump, not Congress, to keep US-Turkish relations afloat. “I believe Trump won’t allow Turkish-US relations to become captive of the S-400 issue.” So far Erdogan’s gamble has paid off. Trump confirmed Erdogan’s beliefs by stating, “Because of the fact that [Turkey] bought a Russian missile, we’re not allowed to sell them billions of dollars’ worth of aircraft. It’s not a fair situation.”

The president must strongly consider that Turkey was offered a fair deal. Erdogan had an opportunity to purchase the Patriot missiles at a discounted price and Congress issued countless warnings and statements far before the delivery of Russian weapons took place. The president should know that this is a fair situation.

To make matters worse, the US position went from “Do not deliver the missiles” to “You’ve taken delivery but don’t turn it on.” In an interview with Bloomberg News, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “There could be more sanctions to follow but frankly what we’d really like is for the S-400 not to become operational.” Such a position undermines our security and legitimacy among others who are considering purchasing Russian arms. NATO allies now fully believe that Congress can be bypassed as long as they have a good relationship with the president.

The correct decision is for Congress and the administration to take a unified stance and sanction Turkey based on existing law. Congress must convince the president of violations committed by Turkey to implement the bipartisan CAATSA bill.

US Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe recently tweeted, “President Erdogan knows the consequences of its decision to purchase the S-400 from Putin – we made it abundantly clear. @RealDonaldTrump made the right decision to remove Turkey from F-35 program, and I look forward to the next steps on CAATSA sanctions.”

Erdogan strategically took delivery of the Russian arms in July, knowing that Congress would soon be in recess, hoping the pressure would simply diminish. Don’t give Erdogan what he wants. Congress and the administration must make enforcing CAATSA against Turkey a top priority.

The writer is a Middle East analyst and director of external relations at Allegiance Strategies, LLC. Follow him on Twitter @D_abdulkader.

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