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The Sick Man of NATO

Though it has been a NATO member since 1952, Turkey has long been a source of friction within the larger Western defense framework, owing to its unique history, geostrategic position, and domestic politics. But by actively pursuing closer economic and security ties with Russia, Turkey is testing its allies' tolerance like never before.

OXFORD – As NATO marks the 70th anniversary of its founding, it is confronting a crisis unique in its history. Turkey, a NATO member since 1952, has concluded a deal to purchase an S-400 air defense system from Russia. Should the sale go through, the future of Turkey’s membership in the Alliance – and its wider ties to the West – will be called into question.

Despite warnings from the United States and NATO, Turkey seems determined to follow through with the S-400 purchase. And this, in turn, has provoked increasingly strident threats from the US. Official statements suggest that Turkey could face sanctions on multiple fronts.

For example, in March, four US senators introduced a bipartisan bill that would end Turkey’s participation in the F-35 fighter jet program if it goes through with the deal. And, given the sensitivities surrounding NATO military technologies in general, many other channels of defense procurement and cooperation between the US and Turkey could also be disrupted. In fact, Turkey’s dealings with Russia could even trigger the US Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which would result in sanctions not just on its defense sector, but also on its fragile financial industry.