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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 April 2019

Turkey-US stand-off shows that arms are no substitute for real diplomacy

The flaws of using the weapons trade as a tool of international influence have been clearly proven by recent events

A US F-35A stealth fighter jet at an unspecified location. EPA
A US F-35A stealth fighter jet at an unspecified location. EPA

The traditional diplomacy of talks and negotiations has always been vital to the pursuit of stability and unity in the Middle East. But today this idea is taking a back seat, as arms deals are increasingly becoming a diplomatic tool for global powers. Turkey’s arrangements with Russia and the US are a case in point. Ankara has participated in the F-35 fighters programme of its US ally since 1999, but in 2017 it also decided to buy the Russian S-400 air defence system. Washington has expressed concern that the deal will ­expand Russia’s influence in the wider region, undermining US ­efforts in the Middle East and causing divisions within the Nato alliance.

In a bid to prevent this, the US is putting pressure on Ankara to cancel its agreement with Russia. In recent days, the US Senate introduced a bipartisan bill to block F-35 transfers to Turkey, if Russia’s rival weaponry is delivered. This move has contributed to an escalation of tensions, ahead of a Nato conference next week and could cost the US a key ally. Turkey also has a lot to lose if it fails to maintain the delicate balance between US interests and further co-operation with Russia. Yet, Ankara has shown no signs of backing down. It has instead confirmed it will go ahead with the deal. “A compromise will be difficult” Nicholas Danforth, a Turkey expert, told The National “so long as Turkey continues to see this purchase as a symbolic declaration of independence from Washington.”

Turkey clearly has a responsibility for the increasingly strained atmosphere, however this situation is indicative of a wider trend. World powers are increasingly resorting to arms deals as a way to bolster relationships and reap healthy profits. This shift follows President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in October 2018. Signed in 1987, the treaty successfully banned production and possession of ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500-5,500km in Russia and the US. Today, not only can the two nations make such weapons, but other countries no longer have to make firm and lasting choices between US and Russian-made arms, as they did in the days of the Cold War. Even close Arab allies of the US such as Saudi Arabia are currently exploring Chinese and Russian alternatives. The Turkey-US standoff offers proof that – in stark contrast to previous diplomatic efforts to build consensus and find solutions to existing problems – viewing arms deals as a means to provide a strategic foothold in the region has the potential to ramp up tensions and create a more unstable and dangerous world.

Updated: March 30, 2019 08:23 PM

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