Trump made it more difficult to remove U.S. nuclear bombs in Turkey - analysis

By publicly confirming the existence of U.S. nuclear bombs stored in a U.S. airbase in Turkey’s southeastern province of Adana, U.S. President Donald Trump made it more difficult for Washington and Ankara to quietly strike a deal to remove the weapons, analyst Miles A. Pomper wrote in the National Interest on Friday. 

An estimated 50 B61 nuclear gravity bombs are stored in the İncirlik air base which stands about 100 miles from Turkey’s border with Syria, where Turkey launched a nine-day military offensive on Oct. 9.

Trump appeared to confirm on Oct. 16 that U.S. nuclear weapons were being housed at İncirlik, making him the first U.S. official to publicly acknowledge what has been considered an open secret for years, CNN reported

Trump was asked whether he was concerned about the safety of nuclear bombs given the ongoing Turkish incursion into Syria. 

"We're confident, and we have a great -- a great air base there, a very powerful air base. That air base alone can take anyplace. It's a large, powerful air base,” Trump said. 

The United States began pulling nuclear bombs out of NATO countries after the Cold War ended, and since 2000, has removed 40 bombs from Turkey, said Pomper, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. “The bombs were left in Turkey even after a 2016 coup attempt raised serious concerns about their safety.”

Following the failed putsch, U.S. officials began planning how to remove them, but the bombs have not been brought back to the United States.

While taking the weapons out of Turkey carries some physical risks, the greater risks are likely to be political, the analyst said. 

“One U.S. concern is that Turkey could perceive the move as a push away from NATO. That could lead to Turkey seeking closer ties with Russia,” he said. 

Trump’s efforts to provide reassurance for the safety of the nuclear bombs at İncirlik airbase may have made this challenge more difficult, Pomper said, as it has violated the NATO policy of not acknowledging the deployments. 

“By publicly confirming that the weapons were in Turkey, Trump has raised the political stakes should he try to remove them, and made it more difficult for the United States and Turkey to strike a quiet deal to that effect,” Pomper said.