Will Turkey Steal Our Bombs?
The New York Times has this story up this evening: Erdogan’s Ambitions Go Beyond Syria. He Says He Wants Nuclear Weapons.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, wants more than control over a wide swath of Syria along his country’s border. He says he wants the Bomb.
The story mainly talks about Turkey’s ongoing nuclear program (which preceded Erdogan), but buried in the middle is an item that really should be more highlighted:
There is another element to this ambiguous atomic mix: The presence of roughly 50 American nuclear weapons, stored on Turkish soil. The United States had never openly acknowledged their existence, until Wednesday, when Mr. Trump did exactly that.
Making a nuclear bomb from scratch is very expensive, and requires lots of high and classified technology, It also requires raw uranium, but Turkey has its own deposits. And Russia has been giving Turkey reactors and other assistance. The Times story also talks about A. Q. Khan and his nuclear black market:
According to “Nuclear Black Markets,” a report on the Khan network by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London think tank, companies in Turkey aided the covert effort by importing materials from Europe, making centrifuge parts and shipping finished products to customers.
But why go to all that expense and time when the US has bombs at Incirlik that Turkey could just take for itself if it wanted? Edrogan rolled over Trump on the Kurds; why would he think Trump would stop him if he pulled tanks up to the gates of Incirlik (which Turkey owns) and told us to clear out. Now.
After all, he drove us out of northern Syria so fast we had to send in planes to blow up the ammunition we had to leave behind. Don’t think Erdogan hadn’t planned that.
Besides, if he gets his hands on some already working bombs, he not only shaves several years off his timetable, he doesn’t have to worry about paying for those Russian reactors and being dependent on Russian nuclear technology.
The Obama administration was apparently worried about just this sort of thing.
When Mr. Erdogan put down an attempted military coup in July 2016, the Obama administration quietly drew up an extensive contingency plan for removing the weapons from Incirlik, according to former government officials. But it was never put in action, in part because of fears that removing the American weapons would, at best, undercut the alliance, and perhaps give Mr. Erdogan an excuse to build his own arsenal.
Moving 50 nuclear bombs, even tactical weapons, is a complicated operation which requires carefully planned logistics and a place nearby to keep them at least temporarily.
Still, if I were the Pentagon, I would be sneaking those bombs out right now, before Trump or Erdogan hears about it. It’s clear that Trump isn’t going to stop Erdogan from getting his hands on the bomb; he cuts and runs at the first sign he’s being outbullied. And a Turkish will, naturally, cause Iran to step up its own program, which it can do since Trump cancelled the joint forces agreement.
We’ve all been worried about Trump might do with the nuclear football. But that’s not the only way he can blow up the world; he’s so incompetent that he might let others do it for him.
PS: I’m really not convinced Putin has gamed this out, either. There is historical animosity between Turkey and Russia, plus the Chechnyans and other Russia-hating groups are right nearby. Turkey probably doesn’t have the means and certainly not the experience in securing nuclear weapons, so it is very possible that one or more of them could end up in the hands of people who would love to see Moscow go up in smoke.
On the other hand, if Russia get its hands on those bombs first — and they are already taking over the bases we’ve abandoned — they can learn an awful lot about our nuclear arsenal. Including, perhaps, how to bollix it.