Does Erdoğan want Turkey to join the nuclear weapons club?

After Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s statements last week hinting that Turkey might take steps to acquire nuclear weapons, experts and politicians have different opinions about what Erdoğan really meant. 

“Several countries have missiles with nuclear warheads, not one or two. But we cannot have them. This I cannot accept,” Erdoğan said during a ceremony last week.

Refik Özen, a lawmaker of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the head of Turkish Parliament National Defence Commission told Sputnik Turkish that it was natural for Turkey to acquire nuclear weapons if they were required for national security. 

“Those who react should first take a look at themselves, it is alright if those reacting do not have nuclear weapons, but if you have nuclear weapons and objecting Turkey’s wish to possess them, then there is no legitimate explanation,” he said. 

Eray Güçlüer, an academic and a terror expert, said that Erdoğan’s statement indicated next steps for Turkey’s efforts to minimise dependency to the West in defence procurement and to strengthen its domestic defence industry. 

Russia’s lower house State Duma Defence Committee vice chair Yuri Shvitkin told Sputnik that Erdoğan’s statements aimed at protecting national interests. “Turkey’s actions shows that it aims no aggression against any state,” Shvitkin said. 

“It is important to possess nuclear technology in order to spread globally the existing conventional balance and deterrence, the next will be space technologies. Form Erdoğan’s words it is understood that efforts for acquiring this technology will accelerate,” Sputnik quoted the expert as saying.

Turkey signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1980, and has also signed the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, which bans all nuclear detonations for any purpose.

Turkey has been trying to acquire technologies that can help the country to become a nuclear power since Ankara signed the treaty in 1980, said Austrian political scientist Heinz Gärtner.n “Erdoğan’s statements also reflect a distrust to U.S. nuclear umbrella and the United States’ ability to protect its NATO partners,” he said.

Turkish president was not signalling an imminent decision to develop nuclear weapons but was rather using nuclear weapons as a straw man to make a broader argument about Ankara’s place in the world, said Aaron Stein, Director of the Middle East Program for the Foreign Policy Research Institute, in his article published on the War on the Rocks on Thursday. 

“To understand the future of foreign policy under Erdogan, it is critical to internalise Turkey’s shifting view of the so-called liberal international order, and Ankara’s role within transatlantic institutions that established many of the norms with which Ankara is now uncomfortable,” Stein said. “It is changes in how Turkish political elites view Ankara’s role in the world, and how the world order should be defined, that explain much of the country’s recent decision-making, the concerted top-down effort to decouple from the United States, why Ankara views certain international norms as antithetical to its own interests, and how it hopes to balance relations with Washington and Moscow,” he said. 

Stein said Turkey had been preparing itself for a new distribution of power in the global order, viewing China’s rise and, to a lesser extent, Russian revisionism as indicative of American decline.

“Observers should treat Erdogan’s recent comments instead as a window into his worldview and his resentments, wherein he argues the West is not treating Turkey equally. To right the wrong, Erdogan wants to remake the system, and to have a seat at the table to dictate the rules when that day comes,” Stein said.