Sputnik discussed this with Gareth Jenkins, an Istanbul-based researcher with the Silk Road Studies Program at John Hopkins University.
Sputnik: Fears have been voiced that Trump's pressure on his EU allies will eventually lead to the break-up of the alliance. How likely is such a scenario, in your view?
Gareth Jenkins: There has been the problem with NATO for the last 30 years nearly about what it's purpose is. Now with Trump criticizing the level of spending, for example, the military spending in Europe, those questions have been reinforced, I don't think we're going to see a NATO break up in the next few months or anything like this, but certainly it needs to find a new role which it still hasn't since the end of the Cold War.
Sputnik: Donald Tusk has called on President Trump 'to respect his European allies since the United States doesn't have that many friends', how likely are the US and Europe to drift away from each other and what political reverberations it could have?
Gareth Jenkins: I think one of the problems is that Trump doesn't understand exactly why Germany has had so little defense spending and has been reluctant until relatively recently to send troops abroad because it is for historical reasons, because we've had two massive world wars in the 20th century as a result of German militarism. I understand what Trump's saying, but at the same time to expect Germany to spend the same amount of money on defence as the US is with Germany since the end of the Second World War has not had an international military role, I think it's realistic, but I think there needs to be a reassessment really, if you look at the way NATO is structured, it is still structured really primarily to defend Europe. When we look at the world today, Europe isn't actually under threat from conventional, even a nuclear war, I don't think so. At the same time, I can see what he is saying, but I don't see why he's saying the US is protecting Germany, I don't think the US really is protecting Germany, because I don't think Germany is under threat anymore, not from any conventional war.
Sputnik: NATO members seem to be alarmed by what they perceive as Turkey's close realignment with Russia and the US Ambassador to NATO alleging that Moscow is trying to win Turkey over to its side; what are the chances that Turkey will be either forced or agree to choose between its NATO allies and Moscow? And what implications will it have for President Erdogan?
Gareth Jenkins: Russia has been very clever because it's been able to engage Turkey on certain things. Of course, Turkey and Russia are on completely different sides in Syria, for example, and yet they've manage to cooperate in other areas. The reason, I think, is that we've now seen Erdogan completely dominate security policy. If you go back a few years, all of his decisions would've been taken by the Turkish military and Erdogan doesn't really understand a lot of the technical issues, but I don't think Russia really wants to form a strategic alliance with Turkey either, I don't think it wants to be a substitute for Turkey instead of NATO, but you can see that Russia, when it's concerned about what it sees as NATO's aggression in Eastern Europe, it actually really plays to Russia's interests to try to weaken the alliance by cultivating better relations with Turkey.
Sputnik: Why has Ankara chosen the Russian missile system over other options, and how likely are NATO allies to continue the pressure on Ankara to forgo this purchase?
Gareth Jenkins: I don't think Erdogan when he made the decision he understood the technical issues. Previously Turkey had been ready to buy a Chinese system and it actually signed a contract with the Chinese, and then it abandoned that and dropped that, and then it went with the S 400s. It's not a question of the technical capabilities — the S-400s are generally regarded as being an extremely good system and, of course, the S-500s when they come on stream will be even better. But there are concerns in NATO, particularly, with the defend identifiers, we're going to have the latest NATO airplanes — the F-35s that are going to be deployed in Turkey — it's all going to get very complicated. I don't think Erdogan really understands all of these technical issues, I think that's why he's made the decision, he regarded it more like buying a car.
Sputnik: Do you believe then the S-400 order will be canceled ultimately?
Gareth Jenkins: There is certainly a lot of pressure from the US at the moment, the US has been saying to Turkey — you can buy them, but don't use them — which is, of course, a huge waste of money. They've also been offering the US patriot system at a very cheap price or say just go and buy the European system, you don't have to buy American, just don't buy the Russian system. I think it's going to be very difficult because if there are these technical challenges, it's like trying to run computers and trying different operating systems, and you don't have the compatibility there to run them both at the same time, so Turkey has to make a decision. One of the challenges for Turkey is, because it is in NATO, so much of it equipment is related to NATO, and if it's going to go with the S-400s it is not just a question of buying that system in isolation, it really has to think through whether it wants to stay in NATO. My feeling is that in the end it will balk at the cost of the amount of damage in relations between Turkey and the US in particular, but also with other NATO allies over it.
Sputnik: Now Erdogan is expected to hold bilateral meetings with US President Donald Trump. During this summit, what are your expectations of the talks, considering the strains in relations over the US partnership with YPG (the PKK's Syria affiliate, according to Turkey, and also the issue of Fethullah Gulen's extradition?
Gareth Jenkins: I don't think we're going to see any real movement on those two issues, on what we might be able to see some movement is the American pastor who's been in prison in Turkey for the last 20 months now; we may see him released. Of course, in all of these sorts of meetings we have the leaders meet. Particularly when you have regimes such as the Trump regime and the Erdogan regime, a lot of the real work is not done in the meetings between the leaders themselves, it's with the aids the lower ranking people who do all of the detailed work. Certainly something needs to be done to try to repair this relationship.
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