Embargo on Turkey in the Context of its Geopolitical Position A Complex Overview

The whole world was wondering who would use the expression „embargo for Turkey“ in the wake of the „expected“ invasion of northern Syria. Among the first to ban the export of arms and military equipment were European countries that have duly filled the entire Middle East with equipment and services worth more than $1,000 billion in the last decade, generating dizzying profits.

In regard to this, there stays open a question of how much influence will the already established embargo on arms imports to Turkey caused by the invasion of northern Syria have. This question remains for now unanswered and only the future will show actual impacts. The fact stays that Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria and destabilization has been sharply and uniquely condemned by EU foreign ministers. At the same time, there was no joint arms delivery embargo. The rest is on requests from the Member States not to supply weapons to potential aggressors in the future. It seems that at this point it will almost never hit the Turkish government at all.

Turkey – arms exports

Turkey has developed its own strong arms industry in the last decade, all with the aim of reducing its dependence on imports. The Stockholm Institute for International Peace Research (SIPRI) in its report reveals that Turkey is among the three countries where the highest rise in arms production and exports was recorded in 2017. Except for Turkey, also Brazil and India are on the list. Companies from these three countries are on SIPRI’s list of the 100 largest arms manufacturers in the world. Turkey is seeking development in its defense industry in order to meet its growing arms needs and reduction in its dependence on major weapons manufacturers worldwide, according to a SIPRI report released in 2019. It also added that Turkey’s ambitions are also boosted by a 25 percent increase in sales in 2017, recorded by two Turkish companies ranked among the top 100 weapons manufacturers in the world.

Turkey’s Aselsan was ranked 68th in the world with sales in total of $ 1.42 billion last year, after registering sales of $ 1.10 billion in 2016, which represents an increase of 29 percent.

It is not only the weapons industry, which grows significantly. Turkey’s space and aviation industry (TAI) is ranked 77th in the world with sales in total of $ 1.22 billion in 2019, representing growth by 19 percent since 2016. The SIPRI Institute points out that three emerging powers have developed their production capabilities in the naval, air and land areas, as well as the production of electronic military equipment and ammunition. The report adds that seven Turkish, Indian and Brazilian companies are among the hundred companies that sold arms in 2017 worth $ 11.1 billion, an increase of 8.1 percent compared to 2016.

Worldwide, total global sales of military equipment and services by the world’s 100 largest arms manufacturers amounted to $ 398 billion in 2017. The largest share of this amount is held by US companies carrying a total of 57 percent, followed by Russia at 9.5 percent and the UK at 9 percent. In a similar context, Turkey’s Anadolia agency said Turkey’s defense and aerospace exports amounted to $ 1.7 billion in the first 11 months of 2019, compared to $ 1.6 billion in 2016, the highest export results in the history of the countries on an annual basis.

At the top of the list of countries importing Turkish defense and aerospace products is the United States with imports in a total of $ 644.29 million, followed by Germany with $ 211.684 million, with Sultanate Oman taking third place with imports of more than $ 150 million.

Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister stated that the country now produces 70 percent of its military equipment alone, and the exports of weapons have increased.

„It is not easy to get precise data on how far Turkey manages to meet its military needs, but this domestic system, in fact, consists of licensed products made from imported parts,“ defense analyst Ivony Stefani Efstati added. From 2014 to 2018, Turkey recorded an increase in arms exports of as much as 170 percent. By 2018, Turkey had become the 14th largest arms exporter in the world, selling most of it to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkmenistan.

Turkey – weapons imports

Turkey has traditionally imported the largest amount of weapons from the United States. As much as 60% of total imports of armaments, equipment and services from 2014 to 2018 were imported from the USA by Turkey. Turkey bought planes, rockets, helicopters, tanks and ships. From 1991 to 2017, it became the fifth-largest importer of weapons in the world. Recently, Turkey has turned to Russia when it comes to buying a $ 2.5 billion defense missile system, the S-400. That decision stirred spirits among her NATO allies.


Among other exporters, arms dealers in Turkey, the most interesting is Russia with the agreed export of the S-400. Despite US threats, the 67th annual NATO Partner bought a modern $ 2.5 billion S-400 air defence system from Russia. And this is not the first time one NATO member has purchased a weapon from Russia’s cold rival. Also Greece, through Cyprus, purchased an older version of the S-300 air defence system from Russia. Even in 2004, Croatia embarked on the procurement of the S-300 as well, but at that time, the plan was not fully realized and had a very crooked ending. The system was lost in 2004 when all the equipment was allegedly boarded in Rijeka and then sailed to the United States. Following this, the 1st Missile Division of the 205th Missile Brigade RS S-300 was disbanded.

Worldwide, the Chinese only managed to get the S-300 in 1999, and Iran only last, in 2016, where the estimated costs of the system were about $ 700 million.

This trade is of significant importance for Russia bringing successful sales profits. Russia has sold the S-300 missile system to Syria, as was confirmed by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Also during the forthcoming visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to India, there shall be signed a contract for the delivery of Russia’s S-400 missile system to the country, worth nearly six billion dollars.

As a reaction in Washington, there are concerns that Moscow could spy on NATO through its weapons systems – most notably the modern American F-35 fighter aircraft whose sale to Turkey could now be halted by Turkey. Previous models, such as the S-300, were conceived in the Soviet Union as part of a large national air defence system. The speciality of the S-400 is the fact that it can be used alone. This is precisely what allows Turkey to operate Russian weapons outside the NATO network. The question states how the Turkey wants to use the S-400 against air strikes. In Russia, the modern short-range air defence system assumes this role. It is delivered in two-packs with its own troops. Moscow has suggested that it would be willing to sell Ankara and other weapons.

Turkey also hopes to transfer technology from Russia. Reportedly, some parts for the S-400 should be manufactured in Turkey. „However, this will soon have a symbolic involvement,“ Alexander Golts believes, referring to the production of „a few screws, nothing more.“ Following unconfirmed reports by Russian media, Moscow has objected to giving Turkey access to electronic settings, such as recognition software that should differentiate a friend from an enemy.

European arms sellers to Turkey

Many European countries have suspended arms exports to Turkey after the start of a military offensive in northern Syria. Nine European countries have imposed a ban or have increased controls on arms exports to Turkey. These are the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Except these European counties, Canada is on the list as well.

Dominic Rab, the British foreign minister, said the country would continue to sell arms to Turkey but would not approve new arms export licenses that could be used in the conflict in Syria. Germany and Spain said the embargo will only be applied to new contracts. „I do not believe the sanctions will have any effect, and Ankara will continue operations,“ defence analyst Ivony Stefani explained for Efstati.


Germany has increased exports of conventional arms and military equipment by 125 percent since 2009. In 2018 Germany exported EUR 243 million worth of arms to Turkey, which represents nearly one-third of Germany’s total arms exports. At the same time, the German media recalls. „In light of the Turkish military’s offensive in northeast Syria, the federal government of Germany will not issue a new permit for military equipment that Turkey could use in Syria,“ said German Foreign Minister Mass.

However, the Ministry of Economy proved different approach towards the situation: „At the end of last month, the government approved the sale of 6.35 billion euros worth of weapons, and by the end of the year we could break the record of 7.86 billion in 2015.“ These numbers represent even 75 percent increase in sales compared to 2018.

According to army-technology.com, last year, they mainly exported naval platforms and armoured vehicles, OPV-80 patrol vessels, Type 214 submarines, Leopard (MBT) tanks, diesel engines to Asia and Oceania countries, Europe and the Middle East.


France has increased its exports of mainstream conventional weapons by 261 percent since 2009. It also announced that it would not issue licenses to export military equipment to Turkey on the same day as Germany. „In anticipation of this offensive ending, France has decided to suspend all planned shipments to Turkey. This decision shall take effect immediately,” as per the joint statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the French Ministry of Defense.

According to official figures from the French government, total arms sales have increased by one third over the past year and now amount to 9.1 billion euros, Reuters reports. According to the agency, France is among the major exporters of weapons in the world. Its sales significantly increased when contracts were concluded for the sale of „burst“ aircraft to Qatar and India, as well as nuclear submarines to Australia. French arms exports to the Middle East also rose to four billion euros.


Serbia has had close diplomatic and economic relations with Turkey in recent years. According to Turkish authorities, available in the United Nations International Trade Database, from 2014 to 2018, Serbia exported to Turkey weapons worth a total of $5,993,366.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

According to the Foreign Trade Chamber of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the dedicated industry of Bosnia and Herzegovina is strengthening its position in foreign markets. This is evidenced by the fact that last year Bosnia and Herzegovina exported weapons, ammunition and similar products worth around KM 205 million. Bosnia and Herzegovina exported the most to Saudi Arabia, worth KM 75 million, followed by Turkey – KM 29.5 million. This is followed by Egypt (KM 24.27 million), Afghanistan (KM 23 million) and the United States (KM 16 million).

United Kingdom

The UK also records. Orders last year rose from five to £ 14 billion, which is the most since 1983. 80 per cent of these orders relate to Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Qatar. The UK has increased its exports of mainstream conventional arms by 30 percent since 2009.

Geopolitical vision of Turkey

Due to its important geostrategic position, several US and NATO bases, missile systems radar and the Alliance Command Center are located in Turkey. There are also about 50 US nuclear bombs in the airbase of Ingirlik near Adana in southern Turkey. Recent repeated statements of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan show the significance of these for the country: „Some countries have nuclear warheads, only one or two. But we must not have them. That, I cannot accept.“ He mentioned Israel. „Israel is close to us. We are almost neighbours. They have missiles and thus scare off other countries. No one can touch them,“ the Turkish leader said at a gathering of his ruling AKP party.

It was the first time Erdogan had raised the subject. These statements may have sought to strengthen his position among voters and within the party, but it may have been a warning that Turkey would not be just a passive observer if Iran and Saudi Arabia go nuclear.

Turkey has been developing a nuclear energy program for some time now, with Russian assistance, but given that it is a signatory to the Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it remains on the development of energy facilities.

Political analyst Ziya Meral, of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London, believes that at present there is „no tangible evidence that Turkey is turning to the development of nuclear weapons“. „It would take a decade of financial investment and fighting significant global pressure, which would make the development of nuclear weapons a very costly and damaging process for Turkey,“ Meral told CNN.

Turkey, under the leadership of Erdogan, has ceased to be an obedient ally of NATO, which protects the southern flank of the alliance from Russian expansionism. Namely, he envisioned a different and more independent Turkey, which would elect and change its allies as needed.

Former U.S. President´s, Donald Trump’s, national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster sees this attitude of Turkey as the greatest geopolitical shift since the Cold War. He said that Turkey under President Erdogan is „moving away from Europe and relying more on the Middle East and the East so that it can turn the situation to its advantage.“

Following this is the view taken by commentator Aaron Stein, who wrote on the War on the Rocks foreign policy website that Erdogan „uses nuclear weapons to negotiate Ankara’s better position in the world and to send a message to its former Western allies that they are dishonest and need to take a different approach.“ attitude towards Turkey „. Erdogan, Stein says, has already complained that Western „financiers“ are undermining the Turkish economy.

Last year, as the Turkish lira dropped in international markets, he said those responsible for trying to harm Turkey through a failed coup attempt were responsible.

The importance of Turkey as an international power was expressed also by President Erdogan. During his address to the Trump administration over the detention of U.S. Pastor Andrew Brunson, Erdogan stated, „This is not some random country. This is Turkey.“

In short, CNN reports, it becomes clear that Erdogan views the world and his position through the relationship of world powers – the US, China and Russia – which could mean that Turkey will move away from Washington’s policies.

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote on Twitter that the US „should have long given up on fiction“ that Erdogan’s Turkey is an American ally. „The US should withdraw all nuclear weapons, no longer rely on Turkish bases, and restrict intelligence sharing and arms sales,“ Haass wrote.

Erdogan also met Putin in August 2019, when while admiring the new Russian Su-57 fighter jet, the discussion or military equipment flourished. Fearing that the US would refuse to sell the F-35 to Ankara, Erdogan turned to Putin and asked him, „So now we’re going to buy this model?“ As Stein concludes, „Ankara is not leaving NATO or facing the East; instead, the current leadership is rejecting and changing current rules and playing its own game, which could be a worse option for Washington.“

Author: Rusmir PIRALIĆ

Photo: Bulent Kili, AFP, (accessed at https://thedefensepost.com/2019/06/26/turkey-soldier-killed-efrin-syria-ypg/, 25.01.2020)