Defence - Issue 121 - Magazine | Monocle

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Bargaining tools

Turkey — Arms

A few of  Turkey’s recent materiel purchases have prompted bewilderment among its fellow Nato members. Most notable was the decision to spend €2.2bn on the s-400 surface-to-air missile built by Russia, a weapon that was designed with Nato aircraft in mind as its most likely future targets. Turkey is now making at least one arms sale that is likely to prompt equal irritation in Moscow: it has agreed to sell six Turkish-built Bayraktar tb-2 drones to Ukraine for €60m.

The tb-2, which is made by Baykar Makina, has already seen service in Turkey’s recent campaigns against Kurdish militias in Iraq and Syria, a conflict similar – at least in terms of its military dynamics – to the one that Ukraine is waging against Russian-backed insurgents in the east of the country. This is doubtless good business for Turkey but it appears to further complicate the already ambiguous relationship with Moscow overseen by Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“I think the fact that Turkey sells such advanced military equipment to Ukraine shows that it doesn’t really worry about Moscow’s response,” says professor Yossi Mekelberg, of the Middle East and North Africa programme at think-tank Chatham House. “It’s a good business deal, showing that Turkey is a player in the sophisticated arms market but also that it is a political power to be reckoned with. More than playing Russia and the West against each other, Erdogan wants to demonstrate his independence.”

Ukraine had no drone capacity when Russia invaded in 2014 but is now developing its own – including Antonov’s Horlytsia – so the Bayraktars might only be a stopgap. Nevertheless, Moscow’s response – if and when these Turkish-made weapons are deployed against Russia’s proxies in Ukraine – will be instructive.

Right target?

Bulgaria — Air force

It is Bulgaria’s biggest military purchase since the collapse of communism: bgn1.8bn (€920m) is earmarked to replace elderly Soviet-built Mig-29s. Bulgaria will talk to the US about buying eight Lockheed Martin f-16s, ruling out rival offers of new Saab Gripens from Sweden and second-hand Eurofighter Typhoons from Italy.

The decision prompted a spat between Bulgaria’s prime minister, Boyko Borissov, and its president, Rumen Radev, a former commander of the Bulgarian Air Force, who says that the f-16 has been chosen for political reasons. “The primary motivator for the f-16 is the political relationship that it brings with the US,” says Justin Bronk, research fellow for airpower and technology at think-tank Rusi.

Splashing out

Greece — Security

Greece is beefing up its coastal border security. The nation’s Hellenic Coast Guard has struck a deal for three new patrol boats with Italian shipbuilder Cantiere Navale Vittoria to the tune of €42m. That might seem like a big purchase for cash-strapped Greece, and it is: the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (also known as Frontex) is covering 90 per cent of the cost. In return the ships will be used on non-Greek Frontex missions for four months of the year.


Dr Bessma Momani

Political scientist

Waterloo, Canada

A Saudi-led military intervention has plunged Yemen into one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent history, while the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside a Saudi consulate in Istanbul sparked international condemnation. So it would be a good PR move for Canada to axe a ca$15bn (€9.9bn) deal to supply Riyadh with Canadian-made light-armoured vehicles (lavs). But that’s not the whole story: billions of dollars and 1,850 Canadian jobs are at stake. With the recently announced closure of a General Motors plant in Ontario there’s unease around the future of Canadian manufacturing – and Justin Trudeau will be reluctant to lose more jobs before the 2019 election. Dr Bessma Momani, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, explains the prime minister’s political predicament.

How important are Canadian military products to Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia is by far the largest arms buyer in the world and the US is by far their largest seller; the UK is number two, then it’s France. The actual military capabilities of what Canada sells to them is pretty low. For example, selling an lav isn’t the same as selling a bomber jet. There’s a great deal of misunderstanding around the Canadian lavs. While there’s evidence they’re being used inside Saudi Arabia – perhaps repressing some of the Shia minority in the eastern provinces – they’re not being used in Yemen.

Would cancelling the deal have any bearing on Riyadh’s conduct?
It would do nothing to change the Saudis’ behaviour: the lavs can be made in other factories and the Americans are really the only powerful influencer on Saudi foreign policy. It would only be a symbolic protest for Canada.

What would be the political ramifications for Trudeau if he cancelled the deal?
The Trudeau government inherited the contract from the previous government and, frankly, it doesn’t give them a lot of wiggle room. There are billions of dollars in penalties, a population that is very frustrated with the loss of manufacturing jobs and the argument that Trudeau is all symbolism and no substance. Cancelling the deal would serve the Conservative party’s purposes and feed into their campaign against Trudeau.

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