I’ve written here before about how Turkey surprised the Pentagon by holding war games with the Chinese Air Force. I also raised concern about the Obama administration’s willingness to sell Turkey our next generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighters without so much as reporting to Congress on the possibility the stealth technology upon which U.S. national security will depend might be reverse engineered should Turkey give its new allies China and Iran access to the plane. On this latter issue, the Senate Armed Service Committee is asleep at the switch: All it needs to do is demand the Pentagon report to it about the possibilities and vulnerabilities of the leakage of F-35s technologies should a current or future Turkish government, or rogue individuals within, allow the Iranians or Chinese to access the plane. The Pentagon will not conduct a thorough assessment unless an appropriate committee in Congress mandates it.
While Senators Carl Levin and John McCain drop the ball on American security, however, NATO is becoming increasingly concerned about Turkey’s outreach to China and Russia. The Turkish military is now considering the purchase of its own air defense system from either Russia or China. Because neither the Chinese nor Russian systems are compatible with existing NATO systems, Turkey would need to share NATO codes and technology with our adversaries to make its systems work. An unnamed Western expert quoted in the Turkish press explained, “If, say, the Chinese win the competition, their systems will be in interaction, directly or indirectly, with NATO’s intelligence systems, and this may lead to the leak of critical NATO information to the Chinese, albeit inadvertently. So this is dangerous.”
Turkey was once a strong U.S. ally. Today, it is increasingly a liability. The United States should not dispense with alliances carelessly, but cultivating diplomatic goodwill should never trump recognition of reality. “Trust, but verify” was one of Ronald Reagan’s signature phrases. When it comes to Turkey, it’s time for far less trust and far more verify.