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New Era in the US- Turkey Defence Partnership

New Era in the US-Turkey Defense Partnership Cenk Sidar Director, Defense Programs, American

Issue 15

At the same time, President Obama has announced the withdrawal of American forces in Iraq, and a renewed intention to involve Iraq’s neighbors in securing Iraq’s stability in their absence. Afghanistan, where Turkey has made a significant contribution, becomes more and more important. There is a talk about sending new combat and support troops to the region. Additionally, the Obama administration’s emphasis on diplomatically challenging Iran’s nuclear ambitions brings American and Turkish policy for resolving the crisis into greater harmony, and may even make use of Turkish mediation. Finally, Obama’s statement on the Armenian issue, that what mattered was not his views but those of Turks and Armenians, suggests that he will refrain from saying anything on the issue that would create a rupture with Turkey.

More broadly, Obama’s visit to Turkey makes it clear that he appreciates the important role Turkey must play in bringing security and stability to the Balkans, Caucasus and Middle East. This is a tribute not only to Turkey’s growing diplomatic leverage, but also the continued importance of its military in a volatile region. Turkish-American military cooperation in Afghanistan highlights this fact on an ongoing basis. Both America and Turkey now find themselves in an era where large-scale conventional wars are unlikely, and thus have a shared interest in restructuring their military forces accordingly.

Turkey has recently launched an important campaign to improve its indigenous defense industry by designing and manufacturing weapons systems itself rather than just purchasing them abroad. The importance of this initiative for Turkey’s national security is obvious. Fortunately, the campaign’s success is in no way incompatible with increased Turkish-American cooperation. In fact, many of the most promising current projects have a co-development/co-ownership component. The Joint Strike Fighter Program is an excellent example of how Turkey and the U.S. can cooperate in production stage of one of the world’s most technologically advanced aircrafts.

For its part, America could increase the number, attractiveness and the viability of such projects by easing the restrictions and bureaucratic hurdles on technology transfer that are currently in place. These have caused frustration by creating delays and compatibility issues, and are seen as one of the principle drawbacks of purchasing American technology. Resolving these concerns does not require eliminating security restrictions, but could be achieved by speeding up the process through which decisions are made while also making it more consistent.

The biggest challenge to cooperation in the coming years is likely to be economic rather than geo-political. The current financial crisis will limit resources available for arms procurement and R&D on both sides of the Atlantic. There may be pressure within Turkey to cut costs by searching for cheaper alternatives to American suppliers. Also, there could be pressure on the defense companies and a risk of canceling some big projects. In short, the challenge will be for defense industry planners in both Turkey and America to think creatively about how to take advantage of their current alignment of interests. Projects that have a sound enough financial basis to be viable now will thrive when world economies improve. And cooperative endeavors that establish a firm foundation now will be best suited to overcome any periods of increased tension that may come in the future.

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