Jul 17, 2019

U.S. blocks Turkey from F-35 program despite Trump's reservations

Trump and Erdogan at a 2018 NATO summit. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The U.S. has formally announced the removal of NATO ally Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program. The move came after Turkey purchased a Russian S-400 air defense system over vocal objections from Washington.

The big picture: Wednesday's announcement is about military hardware. But it’s also a manifestation of the widening divide between Turkey, the U.S. and NATO. While this breaking point long loomed on the horizon, both U.S. and Turkish officials hoped it could be avoided.

  • Turkey is now banned from buying an aircraft that, until now, it helped build.
  • It’s also receiving a Russian system that was designed to shoot down advanced aircraft, and could gather valuable intelligence on the F-35 and its weaknesses.

Between the lines: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had long been warned that the Russian missile system was incompatible with NATO’s security. But he has used the issue to fan Turkish nationalism and hedge his geopolitical bets, while apparently believing he could avoid any harsh consequences.

  • Senior Turkish officials recently told Bloomberg that Turkey was “too vital to U.S. security interests, and too important to Europe as a potential gateway to millions of refugees, for the West to risk forcing a complete break.”
  • Pentagon officials briefing reporters Wednesday attempted to separate this issue from questions about the broader alliance, which is under severe strain. Erdogan is both warming to Russia and increasingly willing to provoke the U.S.
  • President Trump stressed his “very good relationship” with Erdogan on Tuesday, and said he was reluctant to take this step because it would cost “a lot of jobs” and was “not really fair” to Turkey.

Reality check: While Trump repeated Erdogan's claim that Turkey only bought Russian missiles because the Obama administration didn't give it any alternative, that's not the case. The U.S. repeatedly offered to sell Patriot missiles to Turkey, but negotiations fell apart when the U.S. refused to share sensitive technology.

What to watch: The S-400 decision also exposes Turkey to potential U.S. sanctions. Trump is the "wildcard" in such discussions, Foreign Policy reports, in part because of Erdogan's influence with the U.S. president.

Go deeper

U.S.–Turkey ties slide further amid advanced weapons impasse

A Russian cargo aircraft delivering S-400 components to Murted Air Base in Ankara, Turkey. Photo: Rasit Aydogan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The U.S. removed Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet program on Wednesday, escalating a months-long standoff over Turkey's purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems.

Why it matters: Turkey is a strategic U.S. ally in the Eastern Mediterranean and Central Asia and an important partner in American relations with the Muslim world. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to move forward with the S-400 purchase risks undermining NATO military coordination and exposing U.S. and broader NATO alliance capabilities to Russian intelligence.

Go deeperArrowJul 20, 2019

Ex-Michael Flynn business partner convicted for illegal foreign lobbying

Michael Flynn. Photo: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

Bijan Rafiekan, a former business partner of ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn and a member of the Trump transition team, was found guilty Tuesday of acting as an unregistered foreign agent for the Turkish government and lying about it to the Justice Department.

Why it matters: Rafiekan's prosecution was one of 11 cases transferred by special counsel Robert Mueller to other jurisdictions over the course of his investigation. Flynn, who has been cooperating with prosecutors since December 2017, was enlisted to testify about Rafiekan's role in hiding Flynn Intel Group's illegal lobbying on behalf of the Turkish government. The agreement fell apart earlier this month, however, as a result of a dispute between prosecutors and Flynn's new attorneys, per Politico.

Go deeperArrowJul 23, 2019

The great global collision

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

CFR President Richard Haass, author of "A World in Disarray," suddenly needs a more dire title. Pointing to "the world’s deterioration," he's eyeing the "U.S.-China trade war, hottest July ever, Hong Kong on the edge, odds of US-Iran, Turkish-Kurdish conflicts mounting, new India-Pakistan Kashmir crisis, Japan-S Korea diplo/eco confrontation, looming Brexit."

Why it matters: None of those are passing events. All are long-term crises that require expertise and bandwidth that are lacking in the always short-staffed Trump administration.

Go deeperArrowAug 7, 2019