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The New Look in Missile Defense: Thinking Through Turkish Stakes

The New Look in Missile Defense: Thinking Through Turkish Stakes

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In this brief originally published in September 2009, the author argues that the Obama administration's decision to reconfigure its missile defense plans in Europe will have significant implications for Turkey and its alliance relationships.
In this brief originally published in September 2009, the author argues that the Obama administration's decision to reconfigure its missile defense plans in Europe will have significant implications for Turkey and its alliance relationships.

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Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Sep 28, 2010
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WASHINGTON — The Obamaadministration’s decision to take adierent tack on ballistic missiledeense architecture has opened avigorous debate in policy circles onboth sides o the Atlantic. For some,strategic reassurance in Central andEastern Europe and a tough line onRussia should have been paramountconsiderations. For others, near-termoperational needs and strategic lex-ibility are the touchstones. Few doubtthe need to address NATO’s exposure toIranian ballistic missiles o increasingrange and accuracy. Without questionthe new approach makes southernEurope and the Mediterranean thecenter o gravity or theater missiledeense over the next decade, withpotentially important implications orTurkey and its alliance relationships.
Southern exposure
The Bush administration’s plan or mis-sile deenses in Poland and the CzechRepublic turned on an assessment o Iran’s commitment to the developmento longer-range theater and multi-stage intercontinental ballistic missiles(ICBMs). In recent years, Iran hasclearly made a substantial investmentin the development o missiles withranges in excess o 1,000 kilometers.This growing capability has reinorcedU.S., European, and Israeli concernsabout Iran’s nuclear intentions, notleast because it would make little senseor Tehran to invest in weapons o thisrange merely to deliver relatively smallconventional warheads with limitedaccuracy. That said, the Obama admin-istration argues that Iran’s short andmedium range missile programs haveprogressed more rapidly than its ICBMambitions. As a result, Iran’s growingstrategic reach is being elt rst andoremost in the eastern Mediterranean,southern Europe, and the Gul. NATO’ssouthern allies, above all Turkey, areparticularly exposed. The new missiledeense architecture is aimed ataddressing these shorter range “theater”risks.This exposure is nothing new orTurkey. During the rst Iraq War,Baghdad threatened to target Turk-ish territory with its Scud missiles i Ankara allowed the United States touse Incirlik airbase and other acilitiesor air strikes against Iraq. The threatwas reiterated at the time o Opera-tion Provide Comort (later NorthernWatch). These experiences and the tardy NATO response to Turkish requests orair deense reinorcements —repeated in2003—had a considerable infuence onTurkey’s deense debate. It spurred Turk-ish interest in cooperation with Israel’sArrow anti-missile program, and helpedto place air deense at the top o Ankara’sdeense modernization agenda.
The New Look in Missile Defense: ThinkingThrough Turkish Stakes
by Dr. Ian O. Lesser
September 28, 2009
Dr. Ian O. Lesser is a senior transatlantic fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF). The views expressedhere are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of GMF.
, DC
The Obama adminis-
 tration’s decision to recongure
its missile defense plans in
Europe will have signicant
implications for Turkey and itsalliance relationships. The new
architecture will align more
closely with near-term risks fromIran and elsewhere, and willoffer improved defenses and
strategic reassurance to NATO’s
southern allies, above all, Turkey.
To capture the benets of this
shift, the United States and
NATO need to explore thepossibility of basing some
elements of the new system
in Turkey. With NATO, Turkeycan also play a leading role in
new missile and air defenseinitiatives in the eastern
Mediterranean. All of this willcast a spotlight on Turkey’s
policy toward Iran’s nuclear
ambitions, and looming 
decisions on sanctions and the possible use of force.
Exposure to Iranian and Syrian missile systems continuesto shape Turkish deense priorities. Just as Washington waselaborating its new approach to missile deense, Turkey announced its plan to buy the American Patriot (PAC-3) airdeense system, with an initial investment o some $1 billion.Russian and Chinese systems are another option or Turkey.Less capable in some respects, and more dicult to integratewith existing Turkish and NATO systems, these alternativesare cheaper and could oer greater opportunities or tech-nology transer. But turning to non-Western sources or astate-o-the-art air deense system would have ar reachingimplications, quite unlike the sourcing o attack helicoptersor other items rom Russia. Air deense radars capable o surveillance across a large area are an integral part o thesesystems. The presence o Russian or Chinese designed radarsin the eastern Mediterranean would have potentially seriousimplications or intelligence and warning. At a minimum, itwould complicate Turkish coordination with allies in a regionwhere military transparency and air sovereignty are leadingconcerns. Turkish strategists should be very amiliar withthis question given their own concern about the proposedCypriot purchase o Russian S-300s a decade ago. In thatcase too, radars and their reach were as much a concern asthe surace-to-air missiles themselves.
A Maritime approach and beyond
The new U.S. approach envisages an initial reliance on thesea-based Aegis system deployed in the Mediterranean,with an additional shore-based network to ollow. Turkey could well be a candidate or part o this new land-basedarchitecture, either or early-warning radars or the intercep-tors themselves. Facing multiple missile risks on its borders,Turkey should have a keen interest in integrating its new airdeense system with a NATO-wide architecture which would,presumably, include the very capable elements deployedas part o the new U.S. plan. An expanded U.S. capacity tocounter missile risks in the eastern Mediterranean could evenreduce the need or additional and very costly investments inair deense beyond the Patriot purchase already envisioned.To the extent that this becomes a NATO initiative, Turkey willbenet. Indeed, a NATO “hat” might be necessary or Turkey even to consider hosting new U.S. radars and interceptorsat Incirlik or elsewhere. This would smooth over theinevitable political acceptance challenges, and could go someway toward reinorcing NATO’s badly tarnished credibility among the Turkish public and security elites. With substan-tial new assets in its backyard, Turkey should be among theleading Alliance stakeholders in addressing the question o enhanced missile deense as part o NATO’s strategic conceptreview.Other aspects o sea-based missile deense could be less com-ortable or Turkey. In some circumstances it might be useulto deploy Aegis equipped vessels in the Black Sea. Thesetransits would obviously be subject to restrictions imposedby the Montreux Convention, and it is dicult to imagineconditions under which Ankara would avor such deploy-ments unless Turkish territory was directly threatened.Having deused one crisis with Russia over missile deense,it is also hard to imagine why a U.S. administration wouldcourt another crisis by orward deploying air deenses toRussia’s fank. But uture contingencies can bring their own,unanticipated operational needs. All the more reason to makemissile deense plans a central topic or U.S.-Turkish policy coordination.
Proliferation risks and strategic reassurance
As the controversy over the recasting o America’s missiledeense plans makes clear, the question o deense architectureis only partly about operational needs, narrowly dened.
“Facing multiple missile risks on
its borders, Turkey should have a
keen interest in integrating its newair defense system with a NATO-
wide architecture which would,presumably, include the verycapable elements deployed aspart of the new U.S. plan.”
 The objections rom Poland and the Czech Republic (whereit is worth noting that public opinion became increasingly disenchanted with the planned deployments) have nothing todo with their own exposure to Middle Eastern missile arsenals.In any prospective conrontation with Iran, the battle is likely to be ought near the territory o their southern NATO allies,or urther in the uture, over their heads. Their concerns arein the realm o political signaling; about their geopoliticalsignicance or Washington and strategic reassurance vis-à-vis Russia. These are not illegitimate concerns, and must beweighed against current operational demands.They must also be weighed against requirements or strategicreassurance elsewhere. Current patterns o prolieration havelet NATO’s southern allies dangerously exposed, and Europeas a whole more exposed than the continental United States.In theory, Turkey is the most exposed, although Ankara’simproved relations with neighbors such as Syria and Iransurely reduce this risk in the eyes o the Turkish leadership.Citizens and leaders understandably worry more aboutweapons they ear may be aimed at them. The Turkish publicremains relatively relaxed about Iran’s nuclear program.
ButTurkey’s deense planners cannot be so sanguine about theimplications o prolieration around the region. Turkey hasmuch to lose rom the prospect o a nuclear or near-nuclearIran, not to mention the potential or multiple new nucleararsenals. Turkey is vulnerable to the cascading eectso nuclear and missile prolieration over the wider neighbor-hood, rom the Aegean to South Asia, including eectson conventional military balances and doctrine. Moredramatically, Turkey, with its Western security ties, is exposedto the retaliatory consequences o American, European, orIsraeli action against Iran or other prolierators on Turkey’sborders. The physical vulnerability o Turkish cities, as wellas Incirlik airbase and oil terminals on the Mediterranean,coupled with growing Turkish unease about the credibility o NATO guarantees, give Ankara a strong interest in strategicreassurance alongside enhanced deenses.
The Russian dimension
The Turkish stake in new missile deense arrangements goesbeyond the need to reduce its own physical vulnerability.Turkey’s critical energy and commercial ties to Russia,and its sensitivity to sovereignty issues in the Black Sea andelsewhere (a sensitivity Ankara shares with Moscow) leave thecountry highly exposed to growing Western riction with Russia.At a minimum, Turkey could nd itsel torn between com-mitments to NATO allies and its valuable links to Russia. Inthe worst case, Ankara could conront destructive confictsin its backyard that would orce Turkey to choose amongcompeting interests. All o this gives Turkey a keen inter-est in risk reduction vis-à-vis Russia. The decision to cancelmissile deense plans in Poland and the Czech Republic—atleast or the moment—improves the prospect or a workableU.S.-Russia dialogue on arms control, Iran, and other issues.Given a Justice and Development Party (AKP) oreign policy that seeks “zero problems” and tries to cultivate strategicrelationships on multiple ronts, Turkey is among the leadingregional beneciaries o the new look on missile deense.
Taking advantage of the shift
In theory, the new U.S. approach to missile deense in Europeoers Turkey the prospect o improved relations with Russia,greater consensus on containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, amore eective response to immediate threats to Turkish terri-tory, and renewed reassurance rom NATO allies. But captur-ing these theoretical gains and avoiding perceived threats toTurkish sovereignty will require much closer coordinationbetween Ankara and its allies.First, the way is now clear or Washington and Ankara to putmissile deense on the top o the strategic agenda, and or amore concrete discussion o prospective basing options, in-cluding some that could be relevant to the uture o Incirlik.I there is no operational need or U.S. missile deense assetsashore in Turkey this, too, can too be made clear early on.
Transatlantic Trends
Key Findings Report (2009). Washington, DC: The German Marshall Fund of 
 the United States.
“The Turkish stake in new missile
defense arrangements goes beyond
 the need to reduce its own physicalvulnerability.”

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