Ankara's confrontation with Washington on the delivery of the Russian-made S-400 air defense system has been one of Turkey's top foreign policy issues in the last several months.
As Daily Sabah writes in the article S-400s shape the direction of Turkey-US talks, almost all actors in Turkey, from foreign policy experts, economy experts and security specialists to energy and geopolitics pundits, have somehow discussed the implications of this issue for Turkey and Turkish-American relations. Even the Turkish people, in their ordinary everyday social engagements, have started discussing the technical qualities, advantages and disadvantages of the S-400 missiles. This is an unusual situation for a security-related discussion that necessitates some technical expertise.
Due to the broad-scale discussions in the media and other public platforms, the public is predominantly in favor of Turkey's procurement and deployment of the S-400. The Turkish public is somehow convinced about the necessity of an air defense system. They are also angry about the unwillingness of Turkey's NATO allies to provide such a strategic weapons system in a time of vulnerability. Such an attitude by no means equals to unconditional support and trust of Russia on this issue and other security-related matters.
The U.S.' unfair treatment of Turkey and unnecessary diplomatic pressure, increase the favorability of the Russian position despite the rift between Turkey and Russia on many other fronts. Like many other issues in its relations with Turkey in the last several years, Washington is mismanaging its ties with Turkey and continuing to lose its credibility and the favor of the Turkish public.
In a foreign policy survey, conducted by Kadir Has University Center for Turkish Studies, 81.3 percent of the respondents considered the U.S. a threat to Turkey. The U.S. tops the threat perception of the Turkish public. Turks from all political views have reached a consensus on Washington's unfavorable position.
Whereas more than a quarter of the Turkish public, according to the survey, considers Russia as Turkey's strategic partner. The attitude toward Russia is surprisingly positive, and with the S-400 deal, Russia not only gains money and strategic advantage, but it also wins the support and favorability of the Turkish public.
The transformation of the Turkish public's attitude needs to be taken seriously because no matter which government comes to power in Turkey, the negative attitude against Washington will continue in the short and medium terms.
Washington still works on new sanctions against Turkey and is considering CAATSA (Countering America's Adversaries by Sanctions Acts) to pressure Turkey further on the S-400 issue. Additional American sanctions against Turkey will have a limited marginal impact in terms of deterrence; such sanctions will only further alienate the Turkish public and Turkish policymakers against Washington.
Unlike the views of some Washington analysts, President Erdoğan and his party are not the primary driver of Turkish-American tension from the Turkish side. President Erdoğan, on the other hand, possesses the credibility to change this bleak picture if Washington decides to take some constructive steps.
Like many other diplomatic disputes some analysts in Turkey interpreted this rift between the two NATO allies as a structural change in the nature of relations and security cooperation, some others considered this issue as just one of the confrontational items in the list of disagreements that include the continuous U.S. support for the PKK-affiliated People's Protection Units (YPG) in Syria and American inertia in dealing with the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) issue. Some expected Turkey to yield on this issue but the vast majority of analyst's support Turkey's insistence on the issue due to its national security concerns in such an unstable environment.
The main question for Turkey is not the justness of its arguments and position on the S-400, the YPG, and the FETÖ issues, but what to do diplomatically under the conditions of asymmetric power relations? Despite the situation of asymmetry, Turkish authorities will contend on these three issues because those are fundamental national security concerns for Turkey and the majority of the Turkish population believes that Turkish authorities should insist on those issues for the survival of the country. Such a perception from the side of Turkish policymakers and the Turkish public will not change any time soon.
Conciliatory steps from the side of Washington toward Turkey, on the other hand, may have a significant positive impact in transforming the problematic relations. Symbolically July 15, the anniversary of the FETÖ's coup attempt, maybe be an opportunity for Washington to demonstrate some concrete gestures in the direction of normalization of Turkish-American relations. Such normalization may not happen quickly, but this may initiate a new constructive momentum.