A US House of Representatives resolution enjoying bipartisan support will make Turkey liable to US sanctions should it proceed with its attempt to purchase the S-400 missile defence system. Turkey has faced criticism from the United States and other NATO allies over its decision to purchase the S-400 missile system, since it signed a deal to purchase the system back in 2017.

In the United States, House Resolution 372, which is scheduled to be voted on this week, would, if passed, declare that “Turkish acquisition of the Russian S–400 air and missile defense system would constitute a significant transaction within the meaning of section 231 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017 (22 U.S.C. 9525)”; and will call for “full implementation of sanctions […] if Turkey acquires the Russian S–400 air and missile defense system”.1

So what are the penalties in question?

US Code 22 Title 9525 states that “A person that violates, attempts to violate, conspires to violate, or causes a violation of subsection (a) or any regulation, license, or order issued to carry out subsection (a) shall be subject to the penalties set forth in subsections (b) and (c) of section 1705 of title 50 to the same extent as a person that commits an unlawful act described in subsection (a) of that section.”2

US Code 50 Title 1705 states that:

UNLAWFUL ACTS
(a) It shall be unlawful for a person to violate, attempt to violate, conspire to violate, or cause a violation of any license, order, regulation, or prohibition issued under this chapter.

CIVIL PENALTY
(b) A civil penalty may be imposed on any person who commits an unlawful act described in subsection (a) in an amount not to exceed the greater of—
(1) $250,000; or
(2) an amount that is twice the amount of the transaction that is the basis of the violation with respect to which the penalty is imposed.

CRIMINAL PENALTY
(c) A person who willfully commits, willfully attempts to commit, or willfully conspires to commit, or aids or abets in the commission of, an unlawful act described in subsection (a) shall, upon conviction, be fined not more than $1,000,000, or if a natural person, may be imprisoned for not more than 20 years, or both.

According to Hurriyet, the value of the deal signed with Russia was $2.5 billion, meaning that Turkey would be on the hook for $5 billion in sanctions were it to go ahead with the deal. Delivery date is scheduled for July 2019. As Erdoğan would clearly resist any attempt to impose a penalty, any enforcement actions against Turkish assets would be almost certain to spark retaliatory measures, and could put considerable strain on the two countries’ relationship.

The Resolution also makes it clear that Turkey’s continuing participation in the F-35 fighter jet programme was at stake. Despite Turkey being “a critical partner in the F–35 Joint Strike Fighter program since 2002, with significant industrial participation, including manufacturing of certain F–35 components, plans to host a maintenance facility for regional F–35 operators, investments of more than $1.25 billion in the program, and plans to procure 100 F–35As”, were Turkey to proceed with its purchase of the S-400s, the United States would prevent it from taking delivery of any F35s. 3

Finally, the preamble to the Resolution lists a number of concerns about the longstanding relationship between Turkey and the United States. According to the text of the draft of the Resolution, Turkey’s “cooperation with Russia and Iran, its military occupation of northern Cyprus, its rollback of democratic norms and institutions, including attacks on the free press, and its continued unjust detention of United States citizens and locally employed United States Embassy staff is deeply problematic for the United States-Turkey relationship.”4

The United States has a ten-fifteen-year competitive advantage over other nations with the F35 according to John Venable of the Heritage Foundation. Were Turkey to acquire an F35, Venable expressed his concern that it would be able to characterise the fighter jet. Even the manufacturers of the F35, Lockheed Martin, despite the considerable commercial imperatives to sell an additional hundred jets to Turkey, are reportedly backing the US move citing concerns about the jet being paired with the S-400. He also added that the Federal Government is looking at alternative manufacturers for the parts that are currently being produced by Turkey in the event that Turkey were to be cut out of the programme.

However, in a stinger for the Turkish side, it is not clear that Russia entirely trusts Turkey either. According to the Tass news agency, acquisition of the successor S-500 air defence system has not yet been greenlighted by the Russian military. 5 While this does not mean that strategic considerations will not overrule concerns over loss of military secrets, it does suggest that the Russian military has some concerns about sharing some of its most valuable and sophisticated military technology with NATO member, however strained Turkey’s relationship with the West may be.

Michael McCaul, Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee discussed the Turkey sanctions and the proposed legislative action at a recent appearance at the Heritage Foundation:

Image by sixtwelve – Flickr: Moscow: National Parade., CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26065590

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Footnotes

  1. 22 USC 9525: Imposition of sanctions with respect to persons engaging in transactions with the intelligence or defense sectors of the Government of the Russian Federation
    Text contains those laws in effect on May 19, 2019. http://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?req=(title:22%20section:9525%20edition:prelim). Accessed 20 May 2019.
  2. 22 USC 9525: Imposition of sanctions with respect to persons engaging in transactions with the intelligence or defense sectors of the Government of the Russian Federation. Text contains those laws in effect on May 19, 2019. http://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?req=(title:22%20section:9525%20edition:prelim). Accessed 20 May 2019.
  3. Text: H.Res.372 — 116th Congress (2019-2020). https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-resolution/372/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22resolution+372%22%5D%7D&r=2&s=1. Accessed 20 May 2019.
  4. ibid
  5. Press review: Can Iran make the Bomb in under a year and Turkey wants Russia’s new S-500s. Retrieve from http://tass.com/pressreview/1059022. Accessed 20 May 2019.
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