U.S. sanctions on NATO-ally Turkey could permanently damage relations - analysis

U.S. sanctions against Turkey for its purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defence system could permanently damage relations with a NATO ally and push Ankara closer to Moscow, said an analysis for conservative U.S. outlet the National Interest. 

Washington has already removed Turkey from its F-35 stealth fighter jet programme, a nearly $10 billion blow to Turkish defence contractors, in response to its S-400 deal. Now, Congress is pushing the White House to levy legally mandated sanctions on Turkey, which U.S. President Donald Trump has delayed in the hope of reaching a deal.  

“Sanctions rarely work when a target’s core national interests are at stake. Instead, punitive sanctions often sour relations and cause target states to double down on their recalcitrance,” Enea Gjoza, research fellow and defence scholar at U.S. think tank Defense Priorities, wrote on Wednesday for National Interest. 

U.S. and NATO officials view the S-400 as a security threat that could help Russia track F-35s and undermine the alliance’s military cooperation. Washington applied considerable pressure on Turkey to cancel the deal, including repeated threats of sanctions and op-eds in leading news outlets by prominent senators, according to Gjoza.   

Turkey’s lira has plummeted over the past year, thanks to a contracting economy and previous U.S. sanctions over detained American pastor Andrew Brunson. But Ankara risked more sanctions because the S-400 meets several key needs, said Gjoza: it is cheaper than the U.S.-made Patriot, offers a more comprehensive defence system and is designed to combat the Western-made aircraft within Turkey’s air force, a key consideration in the wake of Turkey’s failed coup in 2016, 

“That fits a pattern of defiance common for nations sanctioned over what they perceive to be core interests,” said Gjoza, pointing to 2014 sanctions that failed to prod Russia to return Crimea, and sanctions against Iran that have failed to force its hand on its missile programme or support of proxies. 

“What sanctions often do achieve is angering the target nation and making a diplomatic resolution more difficult,” he added, citing decades of sanctions against North Korea, Cuba, and Saddam’s Iraq that froze relations in a state of hostility. 

“Removing Turkey from the F-35 programme was the appropriate response to the S-400 sale, but targeting the Turkish economy over a military procurement decision is disproportionate,” said Gjoza. “Implementing sanctions will likely provoke hostility and retaliation while driving Turkey closer to Russia.”