The Debate

NATO’s Mounting Opposition to Turkey’s Chinese Missile System

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The Debate

NATO’s Mounting Opposition to Turkey’s Chinese Missile System

NATO officials are calling the Chinese system a “virus” and Turkey’s decision a “crazy idea.”

NATO member states are strongly opposed to Turkey’s decision to purchase a Chinese-built missile defense system, with one NATO official calling the missile system a “virus,” according to a report in the Turkish newspaper, the Hurriyet Daily News.

“NATO’s own command and control system that ‘mashes’ input from allied networks is far more important than a Chinese air defense system in Turkey,” an unnamed defense attaché from a NATO member state was quoted as saying by Hurriyet Daily News. “There is no place for China within this critical system. We would not wish to see a virus in a complex system.”

An unnamed NATO ambassador in Ankara, Turkey’s capital city was even blunter, telling Hurriyet: “I have no idea why the Turks do not see the simple fact that the alliance’s security threat perception in the next 20 years is based on China. Air and missile defense will be the top defense issue in the foreseeable future, with China being under the magnifier.”

As previously reported, Turkey is likely to purchase the Chinese-built air and missile defense system over competitors from the U.S., EU and Russia. Although many worried that this was a signal that Turkey is “abandoning” the West for China, Aaron Stein, the nonproliferation program manager at the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, told The Diplomat that Turkey’s main rationale for purchasing the Chinese system was Beijing’s willingness to co-produce the systems and transfer technology. Other reports suggest that cost was also a crucial factor in Turkey’s decision.

The Hurriyet article suggests that the main concern among NATO officials with Anakara’s purchase of the HQ-9 missile system is the lack of interoperability. In particular, the NATO officials interviewed expressed concern about integrating the HQ-9 with NATO’s Identify Friend or Foe (IFF) system, which operates on “Mode 5,” a code that enables the system to distinguish between friendly and adversary aircraft.

An unnamed U.S. defense official was quoted in the article as saying: “To make the Chinese system NATO-operable, the Turks would require Mode 5 codes and I see no reason why the [U.S.] National Security Agency should give a nod to this crazy idea.”

This is not the first time U.S. or NATO officials have expressed concern with Turkey’s decision to go with the Chinese missile defense system. Last week, for instance, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Turkey that the system must be compatible with other NATO systems.

“What is important for us is that the system acquired by the individual country … must be able to work and operate with the systems in other countries. I expect that Turkey will also comply with that,” Reuters quoted Rasmussen as saying.

The U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Francis J. Ricciardone, similarly stated, “This is not a NATO system. China is not a member of NATO. This is one of the issues,” the U.S. has with the decision.

Meanwhile, State Department spokeswomen, Jen Psaki, expressed concerns with the fact that the Chinese company involved in the deal has repeatedly been sanctioned by the U.S. for its deals with countries like Iran, Pakistan and North Korea.

“The main concern here was that the Turkish government was having contract discussions with a U.S.-sanctioned company for a missile defense system that was not operable with NATO systems,” Psaki said.

Turkish officials have said that the deal is not final while largely dismissing all stated concerns.

Turkish Defense Minister İsmet Yilmaz has previously said that purchasing the Chinese missile defense system will not harm ties with the U.S. The Hurriyet article quoted Yilmaz as saying that he sees no problems with integrating the system.