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Pentagon Warns Turkey of Sanctions Over Russian Missile System

By June 12, 2019June 11th, 2023Print

As published in Foreign Policy:

BY LARA SELIGMAN | JUNE 10, 2019, 8:30 AM

What’s on tap today: Sanctions loom for Turkey over F-35 vs. S-400 spat, U.S. escalates threats of action over the Syrian regime’s assault in Idlib province, and New York’s police commissioner defends the use of facial recognition technology.

U.S. Inches Closer to Sanctions on Turkey

Rift over S-400 purchase deepens. Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan warned his Turkish counterpart in a letter last week the U.S. could levy sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA, over Ankara’s decision to move forward with the contentious purchase of a Russian missile system that U.S. officials say threatens the F-35 fighter jet.

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Turkish F-35 pilot training halted. In the letter, Shanahan notified Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar that he is taking significant steps to cut Turkey out of the F-35 program altogether. Lara Seligman got the scoop about the the letter, which laid out measures including mandating that Turkish F-35 pilots currently training in the United States must leave the country by July 31 and halting training for new students. Turkish defense firms will also eventually be cut from the program, eliminating a significant source of revenue.

Turkey is still showing no signs that it will cave to pressure, with officials telling Turkish media outlets after Shanahan’s letter that Ankara will move forward with the S-400 purchase.

Sanctions will sting. This would not be the first time the United States has slapped sanctions on Turkey, notes Amanda Sloat, a former U.S. diplomat and expert on trans-Atlantic relations at the Brookings Institution. However, she acknowledged the move to impose CAATSA sanctions–and cutting Ankara out of the F-35 program–will have dire effects on Turkey’s already fragile economy and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s popularity as his party faces the prospect of losing the Istanbul mayoral election for a second time.

‘Dangerous trajectory.’ U.S. Defense Department officials stressed that they want to keep the F-35 vs. S-400 spat separate from broader cooperation on a range of issues with a key NATO ally. However, experts note that Erdogan’s move to acquire the S-400 despite such strong opposition may signal the country’s broader pivot away from the transatlantic alliance — toward Moscow.

“This sets Turkey on a dangerous trajectory and it will make the Turkish military more prone to Russian meddling,” Aykan Erdemir, a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

U.S. Warns Syria Against Chemical Weapons

‘Vile and inhuman weapon.’ The United States reiterated threats to act if the Syrian regime deploys chemical weapons, as President Bashar Assad’s forces continue their offensive in the northwestern province of Idlib.

“The United States and our partners and allies are closely watching the Syrian regime and will respond quickly and appropriately to any confirmed use of chemical weapons—a vile and inhuman weapon,” said Michael Mulroy, deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, in a statement to Foreign Policy.

Deteriorating humanitarian situation. Mulroy called on Russia and Syria to halt the airstrikes and shelling that he said have damaged or destroyed dozens of health facilities and schools and displaced more than 300,000 people in Idlib since the latest assault began in April. He blamed Assad and his Russian backers for creating “one of the worst humanitarian tragedies in history.”

What’s We’re Watching

Larger U.S. presence in Middle East? In an interview aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, the commander of U.S. Central Command told the Wall Street Journal that he may recommend a return to a larger U.S. military presence in the area after determining that the recent deployment of U.S. forces helped curtail threats from Iran.

Major defense merger. In a deal that will create a mammoth defense contractor second only to Lockheed Martin, bomb-maker Raytheon and United Technologies Corporation will officially merge into a new entity called Raytheon Technologies Corporation in the first half of 2020, writes Defense News.

Near-collision. Washington and Moscow are trading blame over a near-collision between two warships in the Pacific on Friday, with both countries accusing the other of dangerous and unprofessional behavior. In a video taken from the American cruiser, the two ships come so close that Russian sailors can be seen sunbathing on the stern of their vessels.

Cyber & Tech

China warns tech giants. The Chinese government this past week summoned major tech companies, including Microsoft, Dell, and Samsung, to warn them of dire consequences if the firms cooperate with Trump’s ban on sales of key American technology to Chinese companies, the New York Times reports.

How to respond to a cyber attack. A month ago, the Israeli Defense Forces responded to a Hamas cyberattack with an airstrike that destroyed the hackers’ building in Gaza, marking the first time a military has conducted a kinetic operation directly in response to a cyberattack in real time. The incident shows that countries risk setting a dangerous escalatory course for themselves and others, writes Jonathan Reiber in Defense One.

In defense of facial recognition tech. Facial recognition technology has raised concerns about privacy and government profiling. The New York police commissioner defended the new technology in an opinion piece for the Times, arguing that if used correctly it effectively identifies crime suspects without violating human rights.

Making Moves

Meet the U.S. Marine Corps’ new chief. Lt. Gen. David Berger, who currently oversees the latest technology and training as commander of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, was confirmed by the Senate last week to be the next commandant of the Marine Corps. He will replace Gen. Robert Neller after his tenure ends on July 11.