File photo: American and Turkish leaders (photo source: Xinhua News Agency)
TASS reported that the US Department of Defense (DoD) has signed contracts with multiple Turkish companies to update the infrastructure and complete construction projects at facilities of the America’s Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, where the US presently stores approximately 50 B61 nuclear bombs. Why did the US take this step while the two countries have seen escalating frictions recently?
Incirlik Air Base upgraded as planned
The Turkey-US alliance had a rift due to the former’s procurement of Russia’s S-400 system, and the latter has suspended the delivery of F-35 warplanes to Turkey unless the country drops its deal with the Russians.
Turkey, on the other hand, insisted on completing the deployment of the S-400 air defense missile system, and said it might close down America’s Incirlik Air Base and NATO’s Kurecik radar station based on Turkish territory in response to possible sanctions.
However, just when tension was piling up between Istanbul and Washington, the Pentagon announced on its website confirming that the US DoD had signed contracts worth USD95 million in total with eight Turkish construction companies on the facilities and construction of its Incirlik Air Base, which is scheduled to be completed by December 2024.
The long contract term indicates the air base expansion is a long-term project, which implies Washington doesn’t believe Istanbul will act on its threat to close down the base and plans to station in the country for a long time to come.
Hard exit from Middle East
Why did the US decide to fortify its air base in Turkey at such a moment? Li Shaoxian, Director of Arabian Nations Research Institute of Ningxia University, pointed out that the Middle East is a strategic region that the US will never give up, and it still has to rely on Turkey regarding the South Caucasus and Syria issues.
Its main consideration is how to maintain the control over Middle East with the least possible input, and a powerful “proxy” and more consolidated military base in the region are necessary to achieve that goal.
Moreover, the Incirlik Air Base and Kurecik radar station located in the east and west of Turkey are important bases for the US and NATO to keep an eye on the Middle East.
American media reported that the Incirlik Air Base participated in the military operations against the extremist organization ISIS in Syria and Iraq and is equipped with about 50 nuclear weapons.
Kurecik radar station, on the other hand, is fitted with anti-missile early warning radar system and is closely connected with NATO’s missile defense system.
US-Turkey alliance remains intact
According to Li Shaoxian, Turkey’s position as an ally is elevated in the US-lead western bloc, “without which there would be a rift in NATO's eastern front.”
Bloomberg News recently published an article, saying that Turkey, as a stronghold in the Middle East and the second largest military power in NATO, “has no intention to go counter to NATO”. Its escalated tension with the US is only about the purchase of S-400 air defense missile system.
“That Turkey considers itself a western ally hasn’t changed. It won’t leave the western bloc or NATO regardless of its tension with the EU, US or NATO,” said Li Shaoxian.
Turkey’s Daily Sabah said in an article about US-Turkey relations in 2020 that pro-Turkey and against-Turkey forces in the US are neck and neck, which decides the complexity of bilateral ties, but the relationship between Ankara and Washington will remain generally stable in 2020.
“There is a strategic foundation for US-Turkey alliance, which won’t change. Like in NATO, although the two sides have intense confrontation from time to time, the alliance won’t be affected in general,” said Li.
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