The security aspect of the bilateral relationship today does not seem to be as prominent as in the Cold War era, although ties are still very close. Washington's military influence has fallen somewhat in Ankara, mainly because of a steady decrease in levels of U.S. security and economic assistance, which was ended completely in the 1999 fiscal year. Although the economic and political costs of assistance for Turkey had grown in recent years -- security assistance was offered only as market-rate loans and Congress often tried to attach political conditions to economic assistance -- many Turkish foreign and security policy-makers are concerned that termination of aid sends a wrong signal that the U.S. is downgrading its military relations with Turkey.
The Turkish military foresees a spending of over $30 billion on arms in the next eight years and up to $150 billion by 2030. Among the big-ticket items to be contracted over the next decade are 1,000 main battle tanks, 145 attack helicopters, and four airborne early warning aircraft. Over the past decade-plus, Turkey has acquired the building-blocks of a modern conventional force. Probably the most important addition to its arsenal has been the highly regarded F-16 fighter aircraft, which Turks co-produce with the U.S. firm Lockheed Martin. Turkey has acquired more than two hundred F-16s since they began rolling off the assembly line in 1989. Ankara has also contracted with Israel to modernize more than one hundred of its F-4 and F-5 fighters.
Turkey's arsenal also received a major boost in the early 1990s as a result of "cascading," a process that resulted from the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE) limiting the military equipment that states of NATO and the former Warsaw Pact are allowed to maintain16. In addition to F-16s and M-60s, Turkey now has multiple-launch rocket systems, Cobra attack helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, and a counter-battery radar system. It has also undertaken modernization of its navy, significantly increasing the number of modern submarines, frigates, and anti -ship-missile-capable combatants.
A more significant reason for the decline in U.S. military aid to Turkey is the politicization of arms sales. Turkey prefers and depends on U.S.-origin military equipment -- 80 percent of its military inventory is U.S.-made -- but it has found the U.S. an increasingly less reliable source of arms in recent times. For example, a group of pro-Greek Congressmen held up the transfer of three frigates to Turkey for over a year in 1996 to 1997. Human rights concerns in the U.S. have so far stifled Turkey's ability to purchase attack helicopters. In ending foreign aid and withholding arms sales, Washington forsakes means of influencing Turkey17.
On the other hand, if recent events are any guide, the importance of a strong U.S.-Turkish defense relationship will not diminish in the 21st century. The vitality and strategic importance of Turkey’s military alliance with the U.S. is manifested in the presence of thousands of U.S. military personnel at bases in Balikesir, Bandirma and Incirlik, as well as in the joint operations undertaken within the framework of the NATO or the U.N. The signing in February 1999 of a $517 million agreement to purchase Sikorsky helicopters underscored Turkey's continuing appreciation of the value of American defense equipment.
16 As a result of the CFE, Turkey received the excess top-of-the-line equipment formerly owned by the U.S. and, to some extent, its European allies, who were paring down to meet CFE-required limits. In turn, Ankara substituted this equipment for its older equipment as it satisfied its own CFE-required limits. The most important gain for Turkey in this process was its acquisition of nearly a thousand U.S.-made M-60 tanks to replace M-47s and M-48s dating back to Korean War and early- 1960s-era.
17 FMS (foreign military sales) loans initially started as 3 %, and now it has reached the level of 10.8 %, which is, of course, a rather heavy burden. The growing Turkish discontent has been repeatedly brought to the attention of the White House, but no progress was made on this matter.