Turkey stunned U.S. officials in September when it reached a provisional deal worth up to $3.4 billion with a Chinese company blacklisted in the United States to build Turkey's first long-range air and missile defense system. Monday, Congress drew a line in the sand over it: If the 2014 U.S. defense spending bill goes through as proposed, it will ban the use of U.S. funding to integrate Chinese missile defense systems with U.S. or NATO systems, effectively making it impossible for Turkey to operate Chinese equipment with many partner nations.
The provision is one of many hardball tactics in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and is clearly aimed at short-circuiting Turkey's plan. Turkey, which entered NATO in 1952, indicated it favored the Chinese company, China Precision Machinery Export-Import Corporation, in part because some components would be built in Turkey, providing a boost to the country's economy. U.S. and NATO officials strenuously objected to Turkey's plan, warning that Turkish companies involved in building components for the Chinese system could face U.S. trade sanctions. They also said the Chinese and U.S. systems wouldn't work together.
"If they select a system that's not inter-operable, that's their choice," Heidi Grant, the U.S. Air Force's deputy undersecretary for international affairs, told Reuters last month in an interview. "They've chosen not to be inter-operable. Our role is to make sure they're informed of our recommendation of the best systems to be inter-operable with the U.S."
Turkish officials left the door open last month that the U.S. or European companies that competed for the contract could still win the bid by asking the companies to extend the time duration of their bids. China's system beat out a joint venture from Raytheon Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp., which offered their Patriot missile system; Russia's Rosoboronexport; and the Italian-French collaboration Eurosam. However, Turkey has refused thus far to back away entirely from the Chinese company, which has been sanctioned for selling weapons to Syria, Iran or North Korea that are banned under U.S. law. Congress' new provision seems clearly aimed at getting Turkey to do just that.
The new proposed NDAA includes a variety of other national security provisions on which Congress wants leverage. In one example, it asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to provide an unclassified account of details of the Parwan Detention Facility, a shadowy facility near Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in which detainees are held. Control of the detention center was relinquished to the Afghan government formally last year, but the political fight continued this year over how the U.S. and Afghan governments would handle the most dangerous detainees.
The proposed defense bill also attaches strings to U.S. funding for the war in Afghanistan after 2014. It says the most important element of the coalition drawing down forces there and transitioning the country back to Afghan control is the United States and Afghanistan reaching a bilateral security agreement that has been stalled for months. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said he does not want to sign the deal until after Afghanistan's elections next year, frustrating U.S. officials, who say they must have a deal in place sooner than that to plan for the future.
The NDAA bill fully funds the Afghan military and continued reconstruction for the time being, but bans the use of the second half of the money set aside until Hagel, the U.S. defense secretary, certifies that that the security agreement with Afghanistan is signed and is in the interests of the United States.
The defense bill also "recognizes the continued threat posed by Iran," as a fact sheet about the bill Monday notes. It calls for a review of Iran's global network of terrorist and criminal groups and how they support or reinforce Tehran's overall strategy. The NDAA also requires a report to Congress on military partnerships with nearby Gulf Cooperation Council countries, which include U.S. allies like Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Congressional leaders also called for a continued ban on the transfer of detainees from the military facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States, and forbids the construction of new detainee facilities in Cuba, squashing the military's desire to upgrade there. The Obama administration has said repeatedly it wants to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, but those efforts have been stalled for years.
"The proposed defense bill is the first step toward untangling the knot that is Guantanamo," said Human Rights First's Dixon Osburn in a statement Monday. "It provides a path forward to foreign transfers that balances our security interests and our legal obligations."
The new bill won't make everyone happy, however. It calls for the United States to keep in service the troubled "Block 30" aircraft in the Air Force's RQ-4 Global Hawk drone program. The unmanned vehicles in that program were found to be operationally ineffective and expensive. Its maker, Northrop Grumman, effectively lobbied Congress to extend the life of the program despite Pentagon and White House objections.
The new proposed NDAA is based on defense spending bills that passed in June out of the armed services committees in the House and Senate, congressional officials said. It's expected that both chambers will vote on it this month. Even with recent congressional gridlock, a defense spending bill has passed each of the last 52 years.
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