Bordered by three states known to have pursued both ballistic missiles and WMD capabilities, Ankara has set its sites on purchasing missile defenses.
Turkey first engaged with Israel in 1997 for the Arrow interceptor, believing that system was best suited to defend against Iran’s growing ballistic missile capabilities. The interceptor has an exploding warhead and is designed to intercept missiles with a range up to 1,500 km. These design features, in theory, allow for the Arrow to intercept the incoming missile at a higher altitude and before the break up of the missile upon atmospheric re-entry. At the time, Turkey and Iran were experiencing terrible tensions stemming from Tehran’s alleged support for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
While the United States remained fixated on Iraq’s scud missile development, Turkey was making plans to defend against the Iranian missile threat. The United States, however, was wary of the export of the Arrow to Turkey, due to concerns that the transfer would violate the missile technology control regime (MTCR) – an informal group of supplier states working together to prevent the spread of ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicles. As the Arrow’s primary funder, the U.S. needed to sign off on the deal before Israel could export the technology.
In 2001, the George W. Bush Administration dropped the U.S. objections, and entered into negotiations with Turkey and Israel for the joint production of a Turkish missile defense system. Negotiations were halted in 2001, however, after Ankara experienced a large financial crisis.
The issue of missile defense returned to Turkey during the negotiations for NATO’s new Strategic Concept. (Click below the jump for more.)
As part of President Obama’s decision to pursue the phased adaptive approach to missile defense in Europe, Turkey was chosen as one of the locations for the forward deployment of the AN/TPY-2 radar. While supportive of missile defense as a concept, Turkey had a particular problem with the desire to name Iran and Syria as specific threats to the NATO alliance. Ankara argued that NATO had never named any country as a specific threat, and maintained that doing so would push the Iranian leadership to be more recalcitrant in their dealings with the international community about its nuclear program. Turkey, which had managed to muscle its way into the middle of the P5+1 nuclear talks, was working to facilitate a diplomatic solution.
Ankara was also intent on ensuring that the planned NATO missile system covered all of Turkey’s territory and that Turkish military personnel would be present at the site. Ankara was also wary of sharing intelligence with non-NATO member states (i.e. – Israel). Turkey reasoned that the NATO missile shield, should it be used to protect Israel, could embolden the Israelis to launch a preventative strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Moreover, Turkey wanted to ensure that it would have a say in how the system is used and to a guarantee that its territory would be protected.
After NATO agreed to most – but not all – of Turkey’s terms, Ankara and Washington quickly concluded an agreement for the deployment of the radar. In tandem, Turkey announced a tender for sale of long-range air and missile defenses. Nearly a decade after talks with the Israelis broke down, Ankara appeared poised to finally procure missile defenses.
Turkey considered bids for the Patriot PAC (Patriot Advanced Capability)-3, Eurosam’s AMP/T Aster 30, Rosoboronexport’s S-300, and China Precision Machinery Export Import Corp.’s HQ9. The PAC-3 was rumored to be the top choice, but Raytheon and Lockheed Martin were unwilling to transfer design information to Turkey. Eurosam, on the other hand, was willing to transfer to Turkey critical design information. The Russian and Chinese missiles were cheaper, but NATO had made clear that if Turkey opted for either one, it would not be able to integrate them with the planned NATO missile shield.
Despite its long-standing interest in acquiring missile defense, Turkey opted not to award a winner for the contract. While never stated outright, Turkey appears to have wanted to purchase the Patriot, but was determined to have access to the design information. Raytheon and Lockheed refused, which prompted Turkey to kick the can down the road.
This decision sheds light on how the Turkish leadership views its current security status. Turkey has opted to turn to NATO for its defense from ballistic missile attack, indicating that it may soon ask the alliance to deploy Patriot on its territory.
It also indicates that Ankara is committed to using foreign supplied technologies to jump-start its own domestic defense industry. These two approaches, indirectly, reveal that NATO remains the centerpiece of Turkey’s defense planning. However, Turkey’s growing assertiveness and desire to have a more flexible foreign policy is evident in the way it pursued the missile defense tender.
Ankara, therefore, is likely to revive the tender in the near future, but will make the decision based upon its access to the technology, rather than a knee jerk reaction to the turmoil and unrest in the Middle East, particularly in Syria.
Aaron Stein is an Istanbul based PhD candidate at King’s College, London and a researcher specializing in nonproliferation at the Center for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM). You can follow him on twitter @aaronstein1. He blogs at turkeywonk.wordpress.com.