Turkey supports nuclear status quo in NATO
NATO decided not to implement any major changes in its nuclear policy.
By Aaron Stein for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 23/05/12
On Sunday (May 20th) and Monday, all 28 NATO members met in Chicago to discuss key issues affecting the Alliance. In the run up to the meeting, the Alliance agreed on a draft of the Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (DDPR), which concluded that "the Alliance's nuclear force posture currently meets the criteria for an effective deterrence and defence posture."
Turkey's President Abdullah Gul attends a meeting at the NATO Summit in Chicago on Sunday (May 20th). [Reuters]
The DDPR echoes the tenets of NATO's 2010 Strategic Concept, which states that as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO "will remain a nuclear Alliance." However, the specific role for tactical -- ie shorter-range -- nuclear weapons is noticeably vague when compared to NATO's previous statements on forward deployed nuclear weapons.
In a departure from the 1999 Strategic Concept, the current iteration states that the security of the Alliance is guaranteed by the long-range weapons of the United States, Britain and France, and not the 200 forward deployed nuclear weapons based at six airbases in Belgium, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey.
The DDPR reiterates that the strategic forces of the US, Great Britain and France guarantee the ultimate security of the Alliance, and also echoes calls in the 2010 Strategic Review that the withdrawal of NATO nuclear weapons is tied to reciprocal steps by Russia.
Turkey hosts between 60 and 70 tactical nuclear weapons in specially designed underground bunkers at the Incirlik Airbase. Approximately 50 bombs are slated for delivery by US aircraft, while the remaining ten to 20 are reserved for delivery by Turkish aircraft.
Despite rumblings within the Alliance about the weapons' utility, NATO had been expected to reaffirm the current nuclear force level at the 2012 summit, Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, tells SES Türkiye.
The Alliance has not yet been able to come to a consensus on reducing or withdrawing the US nuclear weapons from Europe, owing to concerns from a number of Eastern European countries about a resurgent Russia and fears that the removal of the weapons could weaken America's commitment to defend Europe.
"There are a couple of layers to this position," Kristensen said. "The basic theme seems to be that some of the Baltic countries have generic concerns about Russia, and they entered NATO to get the ultimate security guarantee. They want to see that it is real and that the US is committed to defending them."
Turkey is considered to be one of the countries in favour of the continued deployment of American nuclear weapons, and has taken steps to ensure that its contingent of aircraft is capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium, on the other hand, have advocated for the withdrawal of the weapons, arguing that the weapons have no military value, and that the Alliance could and should rely on the strategic forces of the United States for deterrence.
Given the differences in opinion, and the numerous challenges the Alliance faces -- from Afghanistan to more austere military budgets -- NATO opted to stay the course and push off any radical changes in its nuclear policy.
Turkey in particular, worries that the rapid withdrawal would undermine NATO's commitment to collective security and weaken the military burden-sharing component of the Alliance.
"The fear on the Turkish side is that the launch of missile defence, combined with the initiatives of some of Western European Allies to pull back the tactical nuclear weapons that they are hosting would lead to a reappraisal of the role of US-forward deployed weapons in Europe, and eventually an unmanaged process of pull back and consolidation," Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Istanbul based Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy (EDAM), told SES Türkiye.
The nuclear issue is set to become a bit more complicated as the United States begins to consolidate the four different versions of the B61 into a new bomb dubbed the B61-12. The effort is part of a programme aimed at extending the life of the US nuclear stockpile without testing. The current plans envision the modification and redeployment of the B61-12 in Europe to begin by 2019.
The new weapon will have a yield up to 50 kilotons, and will be outfitted with a new tail kit similar to the ones used for American smart bombs. The bomb is designed for delivery by the F-35, but the current design is not suitable for delivery by the Tornado, Germany's current dual capable aircraft. Berlin has indicated that it will not purchase the F-35, raising questions about whether Germany's stance will eventually force the removal of American nuclear weapons from its territory.
It is assumed that Turkey will replace its current fleet of dual capable F-16s with the F-35, but no official announcement or budget figures have been released to date. Thus far, Ankara has only indicated that it will purchase 100 F-35s and has not released any information on how many dual capable F-35s it intends to order.
Nevertheless, Turkey's current contingent of dual capable F-16s are slated to receive a modification that would allow them to carry the new B61-12, in the event that there are gaps between the delivery of the F-35s and the new bomb.
"Obviously, if Turkey decides to purchase the upgraded version of the F-35 that would indicate that Turkey wants to retain the ability of its air force to deliver the NATO tactical nuclear weapons on its territory," according to Ulgen.