The US has sanctioned NATO ally Turkey - now what?

“Ankara appears to be on a crash course – not only with its neighbors but also with the entirety of its NATO allies,” expert says.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 29, 2019.  (photo credit: YURI KADOBNOV/POOL/FILE PHOTO)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 29, 2019.
(photo credit: YURI KADOBNOV/POOL/FILE PHOTO)
On Tuesday, the State Department announced it would impose sanctions on Turkey following Ankara’s decision to buy the S-400 defense system from Russia. While the sanctions were anticipated, it was unusual from a member of NATO to sanction another member of the alliance. Turkey quickly reacted by condemning the sanctions, calling them a “grave mistake” and an “unjust decision.”
What could it mean for the countries’ future relationship?
Aykan Erdemir, senior director of the Turkey Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former member of the Turkish parliament, told The Jerusalem Post that the sanctions on Turkey’s defense procurement agency, which include a freeze on export and reexport of goods and services, can significantly impact Turkey’s defense exports and imports. “Although this would be a major blow for Turkey’s defense industry, Ankara still finds comfort that the [President Donald] Trump administration has spared Turkey’s financial sector from sanctions,” he said. “Nevertheless, global investors will perceive CAATSA [Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act] sanctions as yet another sign of Turkey’s growing political risk and are likely to continue their ongoing exodus from Turkish bonds and equities.”
Erdemir noted that Trump, who enjoys a strong rapport with Erdogan, has shielded his Turkish counterpart from CAATSA sanctions for nearly two years. Last week, however, both the House of Representatives and Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, with veto proof majorities, making CAATSA sanctions against Turkey mandatory within 30 days following the signing of the bill into law. “Trump’s decision to go forward with sanctions shortly after the congressional votes appears to be his attempt to salvage his executive authority by avoiding the perception that he was forced by the Congress to issue sanctions,” he added.
“This is the first time that the United States has issued CAATSA sanctions against a NATO member,” he continued. “Back in 2018, Turkey was again the first NATO ally to be hit with Global Magnitsky sanctions for Erdogan’s hostage diplomacy involving an American pastor. Turkey’s peculiar situation has less to do with the Trump administration’s stance than with the Erdogan government’s increasingly rogue behavior.”
“Given the European Union has also sanctioned Turkey for its conduct in the Eastern Mediterranean, Ankara appears to be on a crash course not only with its neighbors but also with the entirety of its NATO allies,” Erdemir noted. “It is difficult to imagine that Erdogan has the ability to pivot Turkey back toward the transatlantic alliance and its democratic values, and thereby, toward a more amicable foreign and security policy. The Turkish president’s political survival requires a further descent into authoritarianism at home and further drift toward fellow authoritarian regimes in Russia, China, and Iran.”
Kemal Kirişci is a nonresident senior fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe’s Turkey Project at the Brookings Institute in Washington. He told the Post that he believes the sanctions are very significant even though they were a long time coming. “I consider them as significant as the arms sales embargo imposed on Turkey after it’s intervention in Cyprus in 1974,” he said.
“That had taken place during the Cold War at a time when Turkey still considered itself part of the West. Today Turkey’s leadership has a very different take on its relations with the West and it coincides with a time when the West in itself is fragmented.”
He noted that the sanctions were long overdue and only held up by the special relationship between the current leaders of both countries.
 “The most significant implication would be that it will increase one significant notch the tension in the Turkey-NATO relationship. Turkey seems determined not to budge under sanctions and maintain its course on keeping and deploying S400s,” said Kirişci.
“This is broadly considered as incompatible with the priorities and interests of the alliance. This suggests that the tension between the two sides will continue to increase.”