What should be done with US nukes in Turkey?

16.08.2016
Since the failed coup, Turkey must accomplish the reorganization of its own political-military structures. Arrests and investigations are only the tip of the iceberg. Real sovereignty can be achieved only after such provocative actors as the US leave Turkish territory.

The failed coup in Turkey has become the source of many discussions and troubles. All of them are interlinked with the US, NATO, Fethullah Gulen, the EU, Syria, and the refugee crisis. Many are fearful of democratic norms and human rights and the possible influence of Washington in the near future. 

On August 4th, a New York Times report under the title “Turkey’s New Anti-Americanism” asked: 

“What to do with a vital ally that is veering far from democratic norms? American officials say they have begun to study options including whether NATO might one day have to decide on some kind of consequences, so far unspecified, for antidemocratic behavior. Even the mention of possible action by NATO would be likely to infuriate Mr. Erdogan. But it is hard to see how Turkey can be a trusted ally if it embraces principles and practices so at odds with the West, or how the country can ensure its own continued development and security without NATO as an anchor.”

But can the US be trusted seeing as how factual evidence of links between American diplomats and the coup organizers has been discovered? And what about Mr. Gulen, who has still not been extradited to Turkey? 

At the same time, the Financial Times writes that “Russia would greatly benefit from having an ally in Turkey within Nato, as it would help with Russia’s wider issue of seeing Nato as an encircling enemy.” In reality, Russia really can cooperate with a number of NATO members as long as there are no provocations near Russian borders like Georgia in 2008 or Ukraine in 2014. 

But there is an even more specific topic which has drawn more attention in the US than in the EU: what will happen with the United States’ nuclear weapons based at the Turkish military Incirlik Air Base? About 50 B61 bombs are still stockpiled there, and some experts and politicians are disturbed by this issue.

Questions as to security and protracted instability in Turkey are also being raised in connection to this. Last week, the LA Times discussed the necessity of withdrawing US nukes from Turkey. The author of the article offers the example of the Islamic Revolution in Tehran, when the US embassy was seized, and poses the questions: What happens when crowds of Turkish nationalists will attack the Incirlick base? How safe are the American weapons? What would the White House do? A chain reaction was born following these kinds of speculations. On August 15th, Thomas Watkins from AFP wrote that it would be better if the US withdrew these nuclear weapons to Europe. Many media outlets across the world have reposted the article without any commentary or critical approach. 

But the main source for this article is based on a report by the Stimson Center in Washington. This pro-Israeli think-tank released a report on August 15th entitled “US Nuclear Weapons in Turkey at Risk of Seizure by Terrorists, Hostile Forces.” (http://www.stimson.org/sites/default/files/file-attachments/B61-Life-Extension-Program.pdf

The report emphasizes: “Ending B61 Presence in Europe Would Save 3.7 Billion Over Five Years.” As told by the report’s co-author and co-founder of the Stimson Center, Barry Blechman: “These bombs are ill-suited for modern warfare and incredibly costly.” 

The Stimson Center’s approach is logical and rational in the context of current budget sequestration and the Third Offset Strategy of the US Department of Defense. On the other hand, it seems to fit the logic of the United States’ long-term strategy for the region. 

Turkey is an important actor in the Middle East, the Balkans, and the Caucasus. It is a bridge between the Black Sea and Mediterranean areas. During the Cold War, the US used Turkey as a proxy against Soviet Union. The Cuban missile crisis of 1962 was started because of American missiles in Turkey, which prompted the Soviet Union to respond by placing arms in Cuba.

And for all these reasons, it is key that Ankara makes the move. 

Mr. Erdogan can be the first to ask that the US withdraw its nukes before Washington will start their evacuation according to a new developed action plan. First of all, this would be a demonstration of political will and would improve the image of the Turkish President inside the country. Secondly, it would be in accordance with national interests and, especially after the visit to Russia, would raise the two countries’ confidence in each other. Thirdly, Turkey could effectively achieve special conditions from Moscow for gas supplies. Fourthly, the nukes are indeed obsolete, not too useful, and from a surveillance standpoint, the Incirlik base can be controlled by Russian intelligence from its air base in Syria. 

All of these serious steps will be difficult to take. But since the failed coup, Turkey must accomplish the reorganization of its own political-military structures. Arrests and investigations are only the tip of the iceberg. Real sovereignty can be achieved only after such provocative actors as the US leave Turkish territory.