This story began in 2013, when Turkey's Defense Minister announced that that nation - a key member of the NATO alliance - was considering the purchase of a missile defense system.
The problem was, they weren't think of buying it from Marconi, Siemens, Rheinmetall, Bofors, Dassault, Olivetti, or Boeing or any other western seller. The were considering buying it from China:
Now, you'll note that initially, Turkey's decision was clear and that Western contractors were not even in the running until pressure was brought against Ankara:
After a crucial meeting of Turkey's top procurement panel, the Defense Industry Executive Committee, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey would continue to negotiate with all three bidders in the disputed program.
In September 2013, Turkey selected China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corp. (CPMIEC) for a $3.44 billion offer. But after increased pressure from NATO allies, Ankara opened parallel talks with the second- and third-comers in the bidding — the European Eurosam, maker of the Aster 30, and the US Raytheon/Lockheed Martin, offering the Patriot system, respectively. Davutoglu said talks with all three bidders would cover an extended period of six months.
Turkey, as the article notes, has been using the contract to forestall American recognition of the Ottoman Empire's massacre of over a million Armenian Christians during the First World War. For the West, however, the matter is more pragmatic: if Turkey buys Chinese systems, this will impose a strain integrating those systems into the NATO defense architecture:
"The Turkish program consists of radar, launcher and interceptor missiles. It has been designed to counter enemy aircraft and missiles. Turkey has no long-range air defense systems.
"About half of Turkey's network-based air defense picture has been paid for by NATO. The country is part of NATO's Air Defense Ground Environment. Without NATO's consent, it will be impossible for Turkey to make the planned Chinese system operable with these assets, some analysts say.
"NATO and US officials have said any Chinese-built system could not be integrated with Turkey's joint air defense assets with NATO and the United States."
So what might really be going on here? Turkey remains immensely unpopular with Arab nations in the region, particularly in those nations that were once part of the Ottoman Empire. But Turkey also remains, in that region of the world, the most powerful of the Middle Eastern countries. So why would Turkey even consider a militarily dubious move of buying a Chinese missile defense system, when its own defense experts had to have known of the looming compatibility issues with the rest of Turkey's NATO-standard equipment?
My high octane speculation is that the Turkish government, and Turks in general, are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with Washington's handling of the crises in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, a mishandling whith has seen the rise of radicalized groups, and which has destabilized the region on Turkey's doorstep. To put it differently, Turkey is now on the front line of the growing regional unrest, and as the major regional power, its interests have been ill-served, and it may be, behind the public shows of support for NATO, that quietly, out of the light of the tv cameras, Turks are entertaining very different ideas, of a break in reliance upon NATO for its security. An arms deal with China might have been the first step toward defense standardization, not with NATO, but with the East. So in my opinion, add Turkey to that list of "wobbly allies" after France, Germany, Italy, and so on.
For the moment, Turkey has decided to sit on any deals with China, and is looking again at the West. But for my money, don't expect that to last for very many years.
See you on the flip side...