WASHINGTON -- Republican lawmakers in both chambers are urging the Obama administration to use diplomatic and military levers to pressure Turkey into abandoning its plans to purchase a long-range missile-defense system from China.
Critics of the possible deal, announced last month, are concerned it could endanger the integrity of NATO's evolving ballistic missile shield as China might seek to use the system it sells to Turkey to illicitly extract data from the alliance's inter-connected missile defense network. Because of this fear, opponents argue Ankara should not be permitted to connect the FD-2000 antimissile system it is interested in purchasing from a Chinese company with the broader alliance missile shield. There are also doubts that the Chinese technology could be made compatible with other NATO antimissile assets.
"We strongly urge you to exert all available diplomatic pressure to prevent Turkish procurement of a [China Precision Military Import and Export Corp.] missile defense system and ensure NATO will never allow such a system to be integrated into NATO's security architecture," say a group of GOP senators in a letter drafted for submission, possibly on Friday, to Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
The state-owned CPMIEC company was sanctioned by the U.S. government earlier this year for violating the 2006 Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act.
As of press time, the letter had been signed by Senators Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.). A copy of it was provided to Global Security Newswire.
Members of the House also are concerned about the security ramifications of the possible weapons deal.
House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) in an e-mailed statement said news of the deal sent "a chill through the spine of members of Congress who care about NATO and Turkey’s alignment with the West."
Turkey, as a NATO member, is participating in the alliance plan to build a ballistic-missile shield that would cover all NATO territory. While the United States is supplying most of the critical assets for the shield, other member states are expected to augment it by enhancing and inter-connecting their own domestic antimissile capabilities.
Ankara maintains it has the sole right to decide which missile-defense system to buy.
"It is definitely, it’s going to be national capability first and foremost, and it’s going to be a national decision," Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Levent Gumrukcu was quoted by Voice of America as saying this week.
Ankara insists the FD-2000 would be fully interoperable with other NATO antimissile assets and says it has made this a requirement of any deal with the CPMIEC firm.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Monday said it was critical that all member states’ national missile defenses be inter-operable with one another.
The U.S. State Department though, has already gone on record as saying the FD-2000 "will not be inter-operable with NATO systems or collective defense capabilities."
"It is in no one’s interest that Turkey choose a system … which could never be integrated with the rest of NATO’s defense capabilities," Rogers said. "In essence, Turkey would be weakening itself for little apparent gain."
Even if the FD-2000 could be integrated with NATO assets, there are still the worries in Congress that the software would be compromised by digital back-doors created by Chinese developers intent on gaining access to alliance data.
"Since Turkey is fully integrated into NATO’s missile defense network, such as the NATO Air Defense Ground Environment, we are concerned about the risk of third-country access to NATO and U.S. classified data and technology," reads the senators’ letter to Hagel and Kerry.
The Turkish government said it chose the Chinese system over other antimissile systems offered for sale by U.S., European and Russian manufacturers because at $3.4 billion it is considerably less-expensive and potentially could be co-produced with Turkey, allowing for technology transfer.
Should Ankara finalize a development contract with the CPMIEC firm, the senators want the United States and NATO to consider expelling Turkey from the alliance’s Air Defense Ground Environment, through which the country receives considerable financial support for its air-defense radars.
The U.S. State Department says multiple senior officials, including Kerry, have already voiced opposition to Ankara about the possible deal with China.
"We have conveyed our serious concerns about the Turkish Government’s contract discussions with the U.S.-sanctioned company for a missile defense system that will not be interoperable within -- with NATO systems or collective defense capabilities," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said at a Monday press briefing.