Devilish details complicate Turkey's role in NATO missile defense
Major practical problems are emerging in the aftermath of last weekend's Lisbon summit, where NATO leaders agreed to create a collective missile defense system, a proposal Turkey only signed onto reluctantly. One key problem relates to Turkey's own national air defense program, in which Ankara seeks to buy long-range, medium-altitude air defense and missile defense systems. In addition to US and European companies, Russian and Chinese firms are also vying for this multibillion-dollar contract, and their potential involvement faces huge opposition from the United States and other Western countries. Under the NATO plan approved in Lisbon, the Western alliance seeks to deploy special X-band radar in Turkish territory for early detection of missiles launched from the region. Ideally, in the event of such a launch, US-made SM-3 interceptors – based on US Aegis destroyers to be deployed in the eastern Mediterranean and possibly in Romania – would then be fired to hit the incoming missile mid-flight. Turkey's national air defense system is being designed to counter both aircraft and ballistic missiles, and would be independent and separate from the NATO missile shield. But since both systems are, by nature, anti-ballistic missile schemes and both are supposed to protect Turkish soil, they will have to be integrated in some way. Turkey's decision on which firm to award the national contract to is expected late next year at the earliest. The US and some of its Western partners are staunchly opposed to the integration of any Russian or Chinese system into the NATO missile shield. "American officials already have said that non-NATO elements would cause serious interoperability problems," said one Turkish official. One Ankara-based defense analyst said Western worries are related to both defense and commercial concerns: "They simply don't want Turkey to select Russian or Chinese options, and part of their concern is commercial." Should Russia and China be dropped from the list of contenders, the competition will be left to a rivalry between US and Italian-French companies. In addition, Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul recently said that when deciding on NATO's missile shield plan, one of the factors for Turkey is whether the shield could in any way contribute financially to Turkey's national air defense system. This effectively means that Turkey wants a contribution from the US, and perhaps other Western countries, toward price cuts on US' Lockheed Martin and Raytheon's Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) and Italian-French Eurosam's Aster 30 options for the national shield. In its current state, however, NATO's general missile shield plan does not call for collective assistance for the creation of member nations' own air defense programs. Still, analysts have said Turkish officials hope the US, for example, could subsidize Turkey's system. These issues need clarification, and solutions, before NATO reaches an agreement with Ankara for the deployment of X-band radar. At Lisbon, Turkey managed to persuade its NATO partners not to mention any countries as specific threats, although French President Nicolas Sarkozy explicitly said the ballistic missile threat was coming from Iran. At Turkey's request, the need to protect all NATO territory was also included in the decision text. Turkey has close and developing ties with Iran. At a UN Security Council meeting in June, Turkey and Brazil, two non-permanent members of the council, were the only countries to vote against fresh sanctions on Iran over Tehran's controversial nuclear problem. Another potential problem between Ankara and NATO over the missile shield plan was averted yesterday when Ankara appeared to retract an earlier demand to be in command of the alliance's missile defense system. "The issue is who will have its command," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last week ahead of Lisbon. "It should definitely be given to us, especially if it is a plan within our borders, covering our land. Otherwise it is impossible to accept such a thing." Yesterday, however, he said: "We have said that the command system should be at NATO."