Amid U.S. media speculation over the removal of nuclear weapons from İncirlik Air Base in southern Turkey, experts argue that the nuclear stockpile held over from the Cold War has lost its use for deterrence and therefore its removal might be beneficial for both sides. Existence of U.S. nuclear weapons in Turkey has been an open secret for decades, but it was acknowledged for the first time in a recent report from Parliament. The report, “Data on Nuclear Weapons,” was released on Oct. 31, prepared by Parliament’s Research Department.
It says the U.S has 150 nuclear weapons in five NATO member countries, including Turkey. More specifically, the report says that some 50 B-61 thermonuclear hydrogen bombs, which are 12-times greater than the atomic bomb that wiped out Hiroshima in 1945, are deployed at İncirlik.
Excusing the soured relations between the two countries, several U.S media outlets have speculated from time to time that that removal of the nuclear arsenal from Turkey would be to punish its NATO ally. Turkish-U.S relations are passing through turbulent times due to U.S support for the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), which was behind last year’s failed July 15 coup attempt, and the PKK Syrian affiliate Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia. Nevertheless, it seems pretty hard to punish Turkey by removing outdated U.S nukes.
Professor Mustafa Kibaroğlu from MEF University in Istanbul and senior lecturer Tom Sauer from the University of Antwerp argue in their article for Insight Turkey, “Mr. Trump, Post Nuclear Ban Treaty, NATO’s Nuclear Weapons in Europe are Obsolete,” that U.S nuclear weapons in European NATO countries, including Turkey, are becoming a liability on a variety of fronts rather than being a deterrent. “There is no consensus on withdrawing them, but at the same time there is no consensus on keeping them. This inertia is a recipe for escalating internal political frictions within the Alliance, and it is all the more problematic in an age where nuclear weapons are being banned.”
According to the article, another compelling reason to withdraw the weapons is the reality that the delivery systems for these bombs are tactical aircraft such as F-16s, which cannot reach Russia. “During the Cold War, these aircraft were supposed to bomb the Warsaw Pact countries. Today, Central European states like Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and the Baltic states have become full members of NATO and the European Union. In short, there is no military justification to retain American tactical nuclear weapons on European territory.”
The article also argues that apart from their symbolic value as a representation of the U.S. commitment to NATO, the nuclear weapons are ineffective and have no deterrence ability. The academics also say that B-61 nuclear weapons at İncirlik need to be modernized in the foreseeable future along with the U.S arsenal in other European countries and that the modernization of each nuclear bomb will cost $25 million, making the total cost of updating the nuclear arsenal at İncirlik around $1.25 billion to NATO member country tax payers.
“If the strength of NATO depends on a few outdated tactical nuclear weapons that will not be used anymore, we are afraid that this state of affairs says a lot about the strength of the Alliance in general,” the article says.