The House and Senate versions of the draft National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2019 were unveiled by Congress on July 23. Both include a provision to temporarily bar the transfers of F-35 joint strike fighters (JSF) to Turkey.
According to the final 2019 defense bill, the Defense Department would be required to submit a report to lawmakers within 90 days about the relationship with Ankara, all its foreign weapons deals, and Turkey’s move to purchase the S-400 air-defense system from Russia before any more sales could go through. Until then the US would sit on any weapons transfers to Turkey. Ankara’s decision to buy the Russian S-400 air-defense system, the “F-35 killer,” has greatly aggravated bilateral ties between the US and Turkey, a relationship that was already clouded by many other issues.
The House is expected to vote on the legislation this month, with the Senate taking it up in early August. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had warned Congress against punishing Turkey by cutting off transfers of F-35s in retaliation for its plans to buy the Russian anti-aircraft system, but his opinion was ignored. The State Department has been putting pressure on Ankara to try to make it reconsider the S-400 deal, in favor of purchasing the less capable, US-made Patriot system. US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell told the Senate “We’ve been very clear that across the board, an acquisition of S-400 will inevitably affect the prospects for Turkish military-industrial cooperation with the United States, including F-35.” Turkish officials view the US demand as blackmail.
Turkey is one of twelve partner nations in the F-35 program, nine of which have received the fighters through foreign military sales. Ankara has planned to purchase the 100 F-35 aircraft it technically already owns by investing $1.25 billion into the project. US legislators fear that using the F-35 and the S-400 together could compromise the F-35 and allow Russia to gain access to the sensitive technology. As a result, the true owner has been denied access to his property by both houses of US Congress.
The bill includes a compromise waiver under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) for the countries purchasing Russian military equipment, as long as they are taking steps to wean themselves from it.
The deal with Turkey is a part of a broader picture. The Philippines, also a long-time ally of Washington that has long relied on the United States as its main source of military hardware, is at risk of falling under US sanctions if it proceeds with its purchase of grenade launchers from Rosoboronexport, a blacklisted Russian firm. India has been threatened with sanctions should it decide to buy the Russian S-400.
The US State Department’s Office of Cooperative Threat Reduction has announced a tender for the monitoring of open-source information about arms deals involving the Russian Federation and the CIS countries. The information will be used for shaping the sanctions policy.
This policy goes beyond weapons deals to encompass economic issues as well. One can pay off. Take Germany, for instance. It has been threatened by sanctions in the event that the Nord Stream 2 gas project goes through. The English version of the German newspaper Handelsblatt reported that plans are afoot for a new LNG terminal in Brunsbüttel, a town in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein. Once the costly infrastructure to cool and liquefy LNG is in place, the German government can demonstrate that the US is wrong to accuse it of being almost fully dependent on Russian gas. There are plans to invest an estimated €450 million ($530 million). Once built, the terminal cannot sit idle. The shipments of American LNG will be guaranteed.
But indeed there is no such thing as a free lunch. If Berlin wants to get cheap Russia gas, it will also have to spend some time and effort on building the infrastructure to receive Moscow’s LNG, and at that point, paying a lot more for American sea-transported LNG will hike the country’s overall energy expenditures
Perhaps Turkey could come to some kind of compromise with the Americans on the S-400, if it buys the Patriot as well. Maybe India will find a way to evade sanctions, if it agrees to the US offer of THAAD..
On July 24, US Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), announced that they are working on comprehensive legislation, which officially is aimed at ratcheting up the sanctions pressure on Russia. The text of the proposed legislation does not say so, but the true goal is to lean on other nations to buy US-made goods or else. Forget about the international rules stipulated by the UN Charter and WTO documents — “arms-twisting” has become an element of US foreign policy.
Nobody likes to be ordered around and blackmailed. In the long run, this policy will encourage other countries to reconcile their differences and unify, in an effort to push back against the US. Today Russia China, the EU, and many other actors face a common problem — the “do as I tell you” approach used by the US to tackle international problems, whatever they are. Those who had doubts about the merits of a multipolar world order are beginning to see things in a different light. Any state structure needs checks and balances to maintain an equilibrium, and so does the world. The BRICS summit that kicked off in Johannesburg, South Africa on July 25 symbolizes some global changes, in which poles of power outside of the US are emerging to reshape the political world map.