U.S., Turkey, NATO and a Changing World

U.S., Turkey, NATO and a Changing World

29 Jun 19

On Wednesday, May 29, 2019, the Turkish Heritage Organization hosted a panel discussion on the U.S., Turkey, NATO, and a Changing World at the National Press Club. The panel featured esteemed guests General (ret.) Wesley Clark (Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander) Professor Cagri Erhan (President of Altinbas University) and was moderated by Dr. Geoffrey Gresh (the Head of the International Security Studies department at National Defense University).

U.S., Turkey, NATO and a Changing World
On Wednesday, May 29, 2019,  the Turkish Heritage Organization hosted a panel discussion on the U.S., Turkey, NATO, and a Changing World at the National Press Club. The panel featured esteemed guests General (ret.) Wesley Clark (Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander) Professor Cagri Erhan (President of Altinbas University) and was moderated by Dr. Geoffrey Gresh (the Head of the International Security Studies department at National Defense University). 

The panel began with brief introductions of the speakers by Dr. Gresh and the opportunity for each speaker to give opening remarks on the topics of U.S, Turkey, and NATO. 

Professor Erhan opened the discussion on the history of the NATO summit in 1999, the traditional realms of NATO outside of the Atlantic region and the NATO transformation taking place today. Erhan stated that “many people think that Turkish-American relations go back to WWII, but in fact it goes back over 200 years.” Erhan further stated that it is also important to note that the Turkey and US partnership is not only one found within NATO. Professor Erhan continued with a general overview and also criticized the travel warning put in place by the U.S. following the coup d’etat attempt in Turkey. Professor Erhan stressed that we need to remove this and encourage a more people to people, university to university, and student to student based interaction not purely a government to government interaction. Closing his opening remarks, Erhan shared that “we are on the edge of an era not seen in 500 years” in terms of a potential shifting away from the dominant power in the world no longer existing in the West. China, he argued, is the new emerging power and is also an economic partner for Turkey. Professor Erhan continued that “trade should be free and trade barriers must be removed, as long as international law is maintained.” 

U.S., Turkey, NATO and a Changing World
Next, General Clark discussed his background with Turkey, his admiration of Ataturk and his professional experience with NATO and Turkey. General Clark shared that “Turkey has been a very important part of the North Atlantic alliance from the very start. Nations have their own interests. But we can walk through these interests step by step respecting the other nation’s national interests.” General Clark continued sharing that “NATO forms the basis for the U.S. relationship between the U.S., Europe, and Turkey and serves as a key element in  responding  to the new security challenges the world has faced and faces today.” Clark stressed the importance of NATO and how it has been a very powerful platform within and beyond NATO borders in regions that can potentially impact the member states. Clark also mentioned that Turkey has served as a major cornerstone for NATO connecting major regions of the world. 

Dr. Gresh mentions that “we are at a tense point in the relationship between the U.S. and Turkey in this changing world and it is important to remember that Turkey has always been an important bridge between the East and West.” Dr. Gresh then opened the panel for questions covering the topics of Russian influence and the S-400/F-35 debate. Professor Erhan responds first by discussing the importance of the strategic aspects between the US and Turkey and shared that Turkey is a neighbor to Russia and over 60% of Turkey’s supply of gas stems from Russia, so Turkey can’t neglect the importance of Russia from an economic perspective.” General Clark responded stating that “we are very happy that Turkey is a member of NATO and we need to keep them a strong member” and that the world is interconnected and we of course want to preserve security, but this potential influence puts countries like Turkey right in the middle.” 

U.S., Turkey, NATO and a Changing World
Dr. Gresh then pushed a little further into the debate surrounding the S-400/F-35 defense systems in which Professor Erhan wanted to clarify what he argued as many misconceptions surrounding the Turkish decision to purchase the S-400 and the system itself. Erhan commented that Turkey had originally wanted to purchase the U.S. Patriot system and “after ten years of negotiations no outcome was produced. Turkey sent letters to the U.S. and the U.S. hadn’t replied for 17 months.” In the meantime, Erhan continued, there was a growing threat and need for a missile defense system so Turkey turned to Russia. Additionally Erhan wanted to emphasize that these “are just purely defense missiles and not attack missiles. The defense system is just to protect from a likely attack.”

General Clark responded with his deep concern that “the sale of Russian equipment is in reality the sale of Russian intelligence networks and the potential compromise of our entire network system interconnected through the NATO integrated system.” Further, Clark stated that moving forward with the S-400s is a deeply disappointing decision by Turkey but shared some optimism that he “hopes there will be ways that we can work technically and strategically to bridge the gap to bring Turkey its own NATO integrated system.” 

Dr. Gresh then opened the panel discussion to questions from the audience members. To see more from our event watch the full video above, and subscribe to stay up to date with more THO events and publications.

U.S., Turkey, NATO and a Changing World