How did Turkey transform from an importing country to an emerging international power?

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Turkey learned its lesson early since the war in Cyprus in 1974 of the last century, and it realized from its time that no country without military strength and defense industries would achieve self-sufficiency and surpass it for exports.

This Turkish conviction witnessed a turning point with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who seemed to benefit from the leading international powers despite their contradictions. However, some of those forces no longer viewed with satisfaction what Ankara had achieved and its ambitions in the military field. This was evident in Washington’s recent sanctions in the form of Turkish defense industries, with the justification for Ankara buying the Russian S-400 missiles.

The new sanctions imposed by the US Treasury Department mainly imposed on the Turkish Defense Industries Authority and its officials, the first of which is its president, Ismail Demir, who stressed that the sanctions would not increase him and his colleagues but an insistence on achieving self-sufficiency, especially in strategic weapons.

Washington justified the sanctions by saying that the S-400 system that Ankara had acquired endangered US technology and military personnel’s security and a weak point for NATO systems, which Turkish officials denied.

How Turkey turned into a rising international power

Observers underestimate the extent to which Turkey is affected by the new sanctions, citing that it did not target the Turkish Ministry of Defense, because in their view, it is linked with Washington by strategic agreements and high and historic military cooperation, and analysts and observers of the Turkish affair are likely that the motive of these limited sanctions is America’s annoyance about the development of Turkish defense industries in a manner that has many fingerprints. In several countries in the region.


The Turkish defense superiority has appeared over recent years in the Syrian arena against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters in northern Syria, and in the last year when the Libyan Government of National Accord forces, with the support of Ankara, succeeded in tipping the field in their favor in the Libyan west, at the expense of the forces of retired Major General Khalifa Haftar. In the past few weeks, the Turkish military activity culminated in resolving the Nagorno Karabakh region’s battles in favor of Azerbaijan against Armenia.

The presence of Turkish drones was overwhelming in all those war arenas, after their industry grew in the last decade until Turkey became one of the four largest countries in the world in the field of manufacturing drones, to the extent that British Defense Minister Ben Wallace expressed during a speech on 11 December The current first is his admiration for Turkish drones and their effects on the ground, especially the BayraktarTB2 while acknowledging Ankara’s innovation in the field of defense despite its restrictions.

The beginning of the attempts

The beginning of the Turkish attempts in the defense industries dates back to 1965, with the start of the dispute over the Cyprus issue and Turkey’s allies’ position regarding it. Washington imposed an arms embargo on Ankara between 1975 and 1978, which prompted Ankara to develop plans to develop its military industry rapidly to cut off the dependence on imports to meet its military needs.

In the mid-sixties of the last century, a special association for marine industries was established, and in 1970 an association was established to strengthen the air force. After the Cyprus war in 1974, the two institutions were combined into one branch.

The big steps came after 1985 in connection with the defense military industry’s transformation, which initially provided only 18% of the Turkish army’s needs. This percentage is currently 70% within a path that includes all sectors. In 1988, a missile manufacturing company was established, and many other companies, and since 2000 Turkey has been a producer of most of its weapons.

Multiple jumps

Since 2002, Turkey has made leaps that President Erdogan himself reviewed months ago, pointing to the rise in the defense budget to 60 billion dollars compared to only 5.5 billion in 2002, and the number of companies operating in defense industries during the same period increased from 56 to 1,500 companies. Turkish Rohsar Bakcan said that in 2019, defense industries achieved exports of nearly $ 2.5 billion, compared to about $ 250 million only in 2002.

These figures may outweigh the hypothesis of American and European disaffection with the increasing Turkish military growth; otherwise, in NATO countries other than Turkey acquire a Russian missile defense system – such as Greece, for example – without receiving an angry response or applying similar sanctions.

A report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute issued today by the emerging powers in the global arms trade stated that Turkey is one of the 4 countries with military companies that is the fastest growing in weapons production. The report titled “Rising Suppliers in the Global Arms Trade” adds that Turkey moved from the 29th position in the world in the field of arms exports in the period 2000-2004, to the 19th place in the period 2010-2014, then it became the 13th in the world in the period 2015- 2019.

An upward force

The institute’s report – known by its acronym SIPRI – says that despite being a rising power in producing and exporting weapons and related equipment, it is still linked to major military powers in obtaining basic components in the military arsenal, most notably the engines. For example, Germany stopped supplying Turkey with an engine for the Turkish-made “Altay” tank after Ankara launched a military operation in northern Syria a few years ago.

Despite this, the report adds that Turkey has managed to increase the military equipment that it exports to some countries in East Asia and Africa, especially in the field of light armored vehicles and small patrol vessels.

According to the same report, Ankara produced various military arsenals, including armored vehicles, frigates, various artillery types, ammunition, and a range of various missiles, training aircraft, radars, and sensors, electronic warfare systems, and communications equipment.

However, the Turkish military industries are still dependent on imports in some defense technology fields, including the engine of the “Altai” tank and the engine of the “TF-X” warplane. According to the Swedish Institute’s report, one of the main obstacles that prevent Turkey from achieving full independence in its military needs is the inability of Ankara to produce complex weapons systems, such as warplanes and submarines, without foreign assistance.

Source: Al Jazeera + Agencies