U.S. nuclear weapons in Turkey cause concern over fraying relations

Escalated tensions between the United States and Turkey over the Turkish military offensive in northern Syria have sparked discussions over the fate of never-publicly-acknowledged U.S. nuclear bombs that have been stored in a Turkish airbase, the Associated Press said on Saturday. 

U.S. President Donald Trump implicitly acknowledged the stockpile this week when asked by a reporter how confident he was of the bombs’ security.

“We’re confident,” he said.

The existence of as many as 50 B-61 bombs that have been stored under heavy guard at İncirlik air base in southern Turkey for 60 years has been an open secret for a long time. 

“There is no known evidence that the nuclear weapons at İncirlik are at direct risk, but relations between Washington and Ankara are at a perhaps historic low and the war in Syria has grown more complex and unpredictable,” the AP said. 

Eric Edelman, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and senior Pentagon official, said on Friday that he believed the nuclear weapons in İncirlik were safe and secure.

“I’m not in favour of taking any actions that would potentially accelerate Turkey’s thinking about pursuing its own independent nuclear deterrent,” he said.

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

“They say we can’t have nuclear tipped missiles, though some have them. This I can’t accept,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in September.

According to Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, who has followed the issue for many years, the Air Force has grown concerned about the bombs’ security in recent years.

“The Air Force is concerned about not only the standard physical perimeters — whether they are good enough — but also about the manpower on the base, whether they have enough to hold back an attack from someone,” Kristensen said.

“They’re afraid of the spillover” inside Turkey, he said referring to the complex situation in Syria after Trump’s decision to pull out American troops.