Nukes in Turkey will be on minds in London NATO summit: The Economist

U.S. nuclear bombs stored in an airbase in southern Turkey hours by road from the Syrian border will be on many minds when the heads of NATO member states gather next week for a summit in London, the Economist said on Thursday.

The United States has for decades held around 150 nuclear bombs in Europe. But the arrangement has long been a source of debate, and clashes involving one of those nuclear hosts, Turkey, are making matters worse, the Economist said.

Turkey’s relations with its NATO allies are severely tense ahead of the London summit, as Ankara’s military offensive launched last month against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria was strongly criticised by Ankara’s partners in the West.  

Italy and Turkey host between 60 and 70 bombs each, but “the bombs that most worry American officials are stored in vaults at İncirlik air base” in the southern Turkish province of Adana, The Economist said. 

The United States considered removing the bombs in Turkey previously during a military coup in 1960 and a diplomatic spat in 1975. The nuclear weapons drew attention once again in 2016, when Ankara cut power of the İncirlik airbase, which hosted refuelling tankers that some Turkish media reports say assisted f-16 fighter planes that threatened Istanbul and Ankara during a coup attempt. 

“That prompted alarm in Washington about the security of its weapons and the risk that they could become hostages in the strained relationship with Turkey,” The Economist said. Senior officials that visited the base concluded that the bombs did not need to be removed, but in recent years the United States has considered replacing them with dummies, according to the magazine. 

“Pulling bombs out of İncirlik would remove vulnerable targets and implicit leverage,” The Economist said. But clumsily removing those bombs might worsen the diplomatic crisis between two allies and even prompt Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to launch a domestic nuclear-weapons programme, something he hinted at in September, it added.