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The S-400s from a different point of view
We are passing through a period that is both interesting and unpredictable. One of the developments that this opinion stems from is the incident of S-400 air missile defense systems that have been occupying Turkey’s agenda. We are witnessing the change of character of a problem that is on an “operative” level and concerns military security. In other words, the problem you decide to solve by purchasing high-level air defense missiles can rapidly and unexpectedly turn into problems of “perpetuity.”
A high-level air defense system, like the S-400s, will only “partially” protect you against a military conflict on a state level and enemy airstrikes beforehand. Here, three important topics become prominent. First, we are talking about a symmetric war between states. Two or more states are at war with each other. For instance, it is known that the terrorist organizations, who target Turkey, do not own medium- and/or long-range missiles and aircraft. That is why, if you have a fundamental security issue with “terror,” you do not need to pay much attention to such a weapon. It will not protect you against the said threat even if you purchase it. You will only relieve the public by showing these systems in military parades. Naturally, it will be primarily discussed if such a choice is rational against such a threat’s definition. Of course, we can project that in the forthcoming decade terrorist organizations and non-state actors can own medium- and/or large-range missiles by looking at the course of events. Just like in Yemen, where Iran-backed Houthis launched consecutive missile strikes against Saudi Arabia, ranging up to 600 kilometers.
The second matter that should be considered while discussing this is your need for these long-range air defense missiles if there is a possibility of war with two or more states that own long-range missiles and effective air forces. Even in this situation, missile systems such as S-400s will “partly” grant you air defense opportunities. On its own, it will not guarantee a complete air defense. Because at war, only an integrated air defense web that includes passive cautions and other missile systems with low and medium levels will work. If you do not own these systems, then your “air defense” is troubled.
Lastly, it is not technically and economically possible to build an air-defense umbrella that will cover 100 percent of all country’s soil. Even the United States, who spends $650 billion on defense annually, whereas Turkey spends $18 billion and Russia spends $56 billion, is not capable of accomplishing this. Because we are talking about an expensive system and its technical restraints. You can only protect locations that are of significant importance that you cannot replace very easily.
Consequently, a high-level air defense system is limited equipment and a limited weapon that is only beneficial to solve military issues on an operative level in case of a war. It will, of course, have a very substantial share in your air defense, yet no high-level defense system will guarantee you a victory in war. It is ultimately only a small fragment of the war machine.
The U.S. administration and its allies are tacitly expressing that they will impose sanctions on Turkey while objecting to the latter’s missile preference. When we deal with this topic entirely, we see that whilst S-400s partially solve an air defense problem on an operative level, it also creates problems regarding perpetuity on a “political level” and in the security architecture as part of economic, political and alliance relations.
This commentary was published in Hürriyet Daily News on 25.05.2019