German threat to reject AWACS mandate is problem for NATO not Turkey, experts say

ALI ÜNAL @ali_unal
ANKARA
Published

The bitterness continues to linger in the Turkish-German relationship since the German Bundestag passed a resolution on June 3 that recognizes the 1915 Armenian incidents as a genocide. The tension grew last week when the Bundestag's Defense Committee Chairman Wolfgang Hellmich threatened on July 7 to reject an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) mandate for Turkey, if the Turkish government refused again a visit by the German delegation to İncirlik Air Base. Experts say that a rejection of an AWACS mandate by the Bundestag won't hamper Turkey's security, and it would be a problem for NATO, not Turkey. AWACS aircraft play a role in detecting threats and directing missions.

In June Turkey denied permission for a German parliamentary delegation including German State Secretary for Defense Ralf Brauksiepe to visit İncirlik Air Base, while ultimately allowing a visit by Germany's defense minister Ursula von der Leyen on June 30. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on June 23, "The visit by non-military delegations and especially of politicians to the İncirlik base is not considered appropriate."

Last week, German politicians made this issue of permission a matter of national pride, as German deputy Wolfgang Hellmich threatened to reject an AWACS mandate if Turkey once again rejected permission for their visit. This issue was raised by German Prime Minister Angela Merkel during her meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the sidelines of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Warsaw over the weekend. According to Turkish diplomatic sources, President Erdoğan told Merkel that İncirlik Air Base is not available for public shows and marketing.

Defense experts state that a Bundestag veto decision against the deployment of German AWACS personnel to Turkey would have a limited effect on Turkey's security.

NATO operates a fleet of 18 AWACS aircraft, while the Turkish Air Force operates a fleet of four Boeing E-7T Peace Eagle AWACS aircraft. NATO officials do not announce the number of the AWACS aircraft that are deployed in Turkey. Defense expert Arda Mevlütoğlu says Germany provides around 30 percent of the personnel for the NATO AWACS fleet, while adding that it is possible to replace such personnel from other NATO members. "However, this would further complicate the issue, since finding AWACS qualified personnel could be a problem," said Mevlütoğlu. Defense analyst Turan Oğuz said that there are 2,000 military personnel from 16 countries including Turkey serving in NATO's E-3A AWACS division and therefore it could be "technically" possible to replace German personnel in case of a veto decision by Bundestag. "This situation could lead to political difficulty or delay, rather than technical difficulty. Therefore this matter needs to be resolved between NATO, the U.S. and Germany," said Oğuz.

Regarding the effects of the Bundestag's decision on Turkey's border security, both Oğuz and Mevlütoğlu underlined that this matter should be considered as NATO deterrence, rather than the security of Turkey. "The presence of NATO AWACS aircraft is important for exhibiting the unity and solidarity of NATO," said Oğuz. Mevlütoğlu said that the deployment of NATO AWACS aircraft sends a strong political message against Russia. "A lack of support from an important ally like Germany could have consequences for the Alliance's posture against Russia."

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