A piece was published in Turkey’s Hürriyet on May 5 by its editor-in-chief Sedat Ergin analyzing the prospects of the Biden administration removing American nuclear bombs from Turkey.
It has been estimated that the Pentagon maintains 50 B61 tactical nuclear weapons at the Incirlik Air Base in the country among an estimated 350 of those kept in Europe under the auspices of a NATO nuclear sharing or burden sharing arrangement. Both expressions are used. The other 300 bombs are reputed to be in Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. Those in Turkey have the advantage of being closer to Russia and the Middle East. The Incirlik Air Base, in Adana, is not far from Turkey’s border with Syria.
It was only in 2019 that an American official appeared to acknowledge the existence of the bombs. In a meeting in the Oval Office with the president of Italy President Donald Trump was asked by a reporter if he was concerned about the “as many as 50 nuclear weapons at Incirlik Air Base,” at a time when Turkey had launched a major military incursion into Syria and backed anti-government rebel groups in conflict with those supported by military forces of the U.S. in the country. Neither country had, or now has, any right to station troops in the sovereign nation of Syria.
Trump answered obliquely – “We’re confident. We have a great air base there, a very powerful air base.” – but didn’t deny the assertion.
Because of the adamant opposition of Washington, then and now, to Ankara purchasing S-400 anti-aircraft weapons from Russia, and with President Biden recently using the word genocide in regard to Turkey’s treatment of Armenians during World War I, many observers, including the author of the article mentioned above, are musing over whether Washington will keep its nuclear weapons in Turkey.
By way of background, the arrangement with NATO to base the B61s in European nations also contains the proviso that they can be loaded onto and delivered by host countries’ bombers. That is in flagrant violation of the first two articles of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which read:
Each nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly; and not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce any non-nuclear-weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, or control over such weapons or explosive devices.
Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to receive the transfer from any transferor whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly; not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; and not to seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.
Yet the US continues to maintain theater nuclear weapons in five European nations under a mandate from NATO.
In that context the author states of the Turkish air base where Washington keeps its nuclear bombs:
“Without a doubt, Incirlik has a very essential place in the infrastructure provided to the US nuclear weapons in Europe. By allowing the possession of US nuclear weapons in Incirlik and becoming the host to these weapons, Turkey has assumed a significant role in NATO’s nuclear deterrence. In this respect, Incirlik forms one of the most critical pillars of NATO’s nuclear umbrella under current conditions. Of course, the proximity of this base to not only Russia but also to the Middle East is undoubtedly a factor that needs to be taken into account.”
That is, Turkey, because of its location as much as any other factor, remains too critical to US and NATO war plans relating to Russia and nations like Syria and Iran to in any manner weaken the strategic relations between the two countries.
Biden and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are likely to confirm that continuing relationship next month in Brussels. The summit statement and the new Strategic Concept will both reaffirm NATO as a nuclear alliance, one that reserves the right to use nuclear weapons for defensive, and not only defensive, purposes.