Highly-placed sources indicate that Turkey has been deliberating the acquisition of military nuclear capability for some time, but has been constrained by its need to maintain good relations with the USA and NATO partners generally, as well as the EU.
Turkish acquisition of nuclear weapons would significantly transform the balance of power and the strategic dynamic of the Eastern Mediterranean, the Greater Black Sea Basin and the Caucasus, and would be the cornerstone of Turkey’s ambitious program to restore what it sees as its historical pan-Turkist mission. Indeed, without nuclear weapons — at least as far as regional perception is concerned — Turkey could not compete against a nuclear Iran or be seen as an independent ‘great power’ in the region.
As far back as 1998, Turkish media reports indicated that then-Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had offered Turkey co-operation in the development of nuclear weapons. [Significantly, Nawaz Sharif is poised to make a political comeback in Pakistan in the next general elections].
What is significant is that Turkey played a significant rôle in the early 1980s in helping Pakistan acquire systems for the development of the Pakistani nuclear weapons program, and there is little doubt that Turkey now expects a quid pro quo. Pakistan, despite ill-informed Western media speculation, has been extremely cautious about sharing its nuclear weapons knowledge, and may not deliver what Ankara wants with regard to nuclear co-operation at this point. In 1992, US Senator John Glenn and other US congressmen accused Turkey of supplying sensitive technology to Pakistan in order to aid in Pakistan’s acquisition of uranium enrichment technology.
The Turkish government has been careful about moving ahead with independent nuclear weapons capabilities until this point because such a move could have precipitated a cut-off of Turkey from the US and EU economies and its position within NATO. Now, however, Turkey is reaching a junction point where Turkish membership of the EU is seen by many in the Turkish government as no longer feasible or desirable and the AKP is beginning to feel as though it has the General Staff (GB) more or less under control and not in a position to challenge or overthrow the civilian Islamist government. On the other hand, Russia — which more or less took off the velvet gloves with Turkey in early 2009 to bring Ankara within the Russian strategic orbit — is not in a strong position to stop Turkey moving ahead with its nuclear weapons program, just as it has been unable to stop Iran in its process of acquiring externally-built nuclear weapons and developing its own nuclear weapons production capabilities.
Very senior sources in Israel, Russia, and the US have privately expressed concern that Turkey is proceeding with its nuclear weapons program, and that Turkey has obtained a significant knowledge of nuclear weapons technology, protocols, and operational doctrine from its association with NATO and Israel. Moreover, officials in Israel, Russia, and the US are fully aware that neither the Turkish government nor the Turkish military pays any attention to confidentiality clauses, end-user certificates, or use strictures on weapons, intelligence, or defense systems made available to Turkey by its allies.
One Israeli official told GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs: “We are all fully aware that when the Turkish Armed Forces invaded Cyprus in 1974 they did so using US military equipment in defiance of the use strictures placed on that equipment when it was provided by the US to Turkey. Today, Turkey is in open violation of all of its agreements with the US and Israel with regard to the US and Israeli military systems which are the backbone of the Turkish Armed Forces now occupying northern Cyprus.”
This was the first disclosure that Israeli military equipment was being used by the Turkish military in Cyprus, and that this was a violation of understandings between Turkey and Israel when the equipment was supplied.
The Turkish Armed Forces have long worked with the US military on the use of nuclear weapons, particularly artillery-launched, air-delivered, and theater-level ballistic missile-delivered nuclear warheads and bombs. US nuclear weapons are still based in Turkey. On November 23, 2009, the US left-leaning Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists — an anti-nuclear organization — published a report by Alexandra Bell and Benjamin Loehrke. stating: “Turkey hosts an estimated 90 B61 [nuclear] gravity bombs at Incirlik Air Base. Fifty of these bombs are reportedly assigned for delivery by US pilots, and 40 are assigned for delivery by the Turkish Air Force. However, no permanent nuclear-capable US fighter wing is based at Incirlik, and the Turkish Air Force is reportedly not certified for NATO nuclear missions, meaning nuclear-capable F-16s from other US bases would need to be brought in if Turkey’s bombs were ever needed.”
Turkish analyst and author Mehmet Kalyoncu, writing on September 19, 2008, in Today’s Zaman website, noted: “Ankara is intensifying its lobbying in Western capitals, most notably in Washington, to get the green light to develop nuclear weapons.”