Turkey’s nuclear dreams are a nightmare for the international community
Turkey’s role in the greater Middle East is under international scrutiny after reaffirming its intention to become a regional middle power in the emerging multipolar international system. To do this, it is gradually moving away from the west (and the North Atlantic Alliance) in an attempt to pivot to the east (Eurasia). The purchase of the Russian-made S-400 missile system marked the beginning of this risky foreign policy change that is increasingly worrying its Western allies. Turkey’s ambitions, however, are hampered by the lack of a nuclear arsenal that would serve as a vehicle for its independence from the NATO shield.
The importance that Ankara attaches to nuclear weapons emerges from the corresponding statement by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in September 2019 at the Central Anatolia Economic Forum. “Some countries have missiles with nuclear warheads, not one or two. But (they tell us) we can’t have them. I cannot accept that, “he said, adding,” we have Israel close by, almost as neighbors. They frighten (other nations) by owning them. Nobody can touch them. ”The Turkish President concluded with the words“ We are working on it ”, implying that their efforts to acquire a nuclear arsenal are already under way. The Turkish President also announced his intentions to the UN General Assembly in 2019 when he criticized the “Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons” (which Turkey signed in 1980), because these countries, like Turkey, banned the development of nuclear weapons. It should be noted that Turkey signed the “Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty” back in 1996. However, the revisionist goals of the Turkish leadership leave little hope that Turkey will meet its obligations under both treaties.
Will Turkey soon become a nuclear weapon state?
“I hope it won’t happen, but Turkey seems to be looking for it,” said Dr. Moritz Kütt, nuclear weapons expert and researcher at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg. He added that “nuclear weapons will not calm the security situation; instead, they will strengthen Turkey’s “ego”. Atomic bombs guarantee a place at the forefront of geopolitics. An idea that Erdoğan likes very much. ”Israeli political scientist Yakov Kedmi was even more concerned when he made it clear that it is only a matter of time before Ankara acquires a nuclear arsenal and that it is impossible to prevent this. It is also worth remembering that on February 15, 2010, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou that Turkey already had the potential to become a nuclear-armed state.
These concerns heightened after aljazeera.com released information suggesting that Islamabad intends to clandestinely support Turkey’s nuclear weapons program.
Such alarm bells have been ringing since 2015 when the German intelligence services discovered that Turkey appeared to be following in Iran’s footsteps. It became known that as early as 2010 President Erdoğan demanded that the construction of uranium enrichment plants start clandestinely. There is also a suspicion that Turkey has already obtained enriched uranium from a former Soviet republic.
In particular, Turkey was also involved in the activities of Pakistani nuclear smuggler Abdul Qadeer Khan, who between 1987 and 2002 sold thousands of centrifuges (their electronic systems came from Turkey) in Iran, North Korea and Libya.
The goal of the ballistic missile and space program
A prerequisite for a nuclear weapons program is the ballistic missile program, which aims to develop missiles that carry nuclear warheads. The short-range ballistic missiles (range> 1000 km) made in Turkey are already in production, while there are reports of the manufacture of missiles with a range of over 1000 km. In addition, the announced Turkish space program should be highlighted.
-First, because it will support the data volume related to satellite navigation of the Turkish UAVs at the same time as the ballistic missiles.
Second, because it will facilitate the development of missiles with a range of 3500 km or more (medium ballistic missiles or larger).
The threat to states within this range is evident without considering the possibility of firing the ballistic missiles from surface ships or submarines. Therefore, the Turkish space program should be closely monitored to determine whether it is being used clandestinely in support of its nuclear weapons program.
Equal distances from Russia-USA, closer to Pakistan
The construction of the Akkuyu nuclear power plant (as well as the one planned in Sinope and Eastern Thrace) is certainly no coincidence. On the one hand, this is intended to reduce Turkey’s energy dependency (in 2020 approx. 72% of energy requirements were covered by imports) and, on the other hand, it serves to introduce nuclear competence. Dozens of Turks have been studying nuclear technology at Russian universities since 2015.
Russia has every reason to provide the know-how for the construction of the Turkish Akkuyu nuclear power plant in order to impede the unity of NATO. However, the Russian-Turkish opportunist cooperation will not fuel their ambitions to obtain nuclear weapons. Their competing interests collide in many cases. Russia does not want to see a nuclear arsenal so close to its borders. The leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Vladimir Zhirinovsky is convinced that if Iran, and Turkey in particular, have nuclear weapons, they will turn against Russia. This does not mean that Turkey will not achieve its goal. On the contrary, it means that Turkey must overcome many obstacles posed by important states with interests in the wider region such as Israel, France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Turkey in particular will have to face the growing conflict of interests with the USA. There are many reasons why Turkey is not tolerated as a nuclear weapon state. As mentioned above, this will boost its geostrategic autonomy and lead to the collapse of the existing Euro-Atlantic security architecture. In addition, it will spark a nuclear arms race in the wider region. All of these fears of destabilization have long been addressed by the United States.
Consequently, Turkey’s alleged decision to turn to its co-religionists (and less pro-Western under the leadership of Imran Khan) and willing Pakistanis to support its nuclear weapons program (1, 2, 3 and 4) does not come as a surprise. as there is little or no other option in this company. The two Sunni forces share the same strategic goals in the Mediterranean and India that stem from their close historical and economic ties. Their defense cooperation agreements (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7) are already being expanded due to the events in Afghanistan, which has helped to further strengthen their relations (1, 2 and 3). Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis Director Jonathan Speyer stressed that “Ankara’s strong and burgeoning strategic ties with Pakistan are sparking international concern about the possibility of nuclear knowledge transfers between the two countries. Turkey already has the will and the raw materials. This knowledge is the factor that he is currently lacking. “
Drifting away from the west
Nonetheless, Turkey’s eagerness to tackle a nuclear weapons program should be seen in the wider context. There are clear signs that the Eurasian ideology is creeping into Turkey’s high-level political decision-makers. Analysts identify this ideology as the Turkish version of Baathism in the Arab world. The Eurasians argue that Turkey’s interests lie outside the western world and should therefore join the “anti-imperialist” camp led by Russia and China.
Regarding Afghanistan, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said: “Imperial powers invaded Afghanistan; you have been with us for over 20 years. We also stood by our Afghan brothers against all imperial powers. ”A similar statement by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan revealed the commonalities of the two Sunni forces in their ideological (and religious) beliefs. He said the Taliban are “breaking the chains of slavery”. Some would argue that both statesmen are influenced by the jihad theorist Sayyid Qutb (author of the influential book “Milestones”) and his idea of victimization of Muslims by foreigners or “imperialists”. He believed that Western nations are trying to undermine Islamic empowerment, so jihad is the tool used to free the “oppressed” Muslims from “imperial powers” (see also 1, 2, 3).
It is evident that Turkey’s alleged new nuclear venture is in all cases of serious concern to its Western allies. Your decision (1 and 2) to drift away from the North Atlantic Alliance and become a strategically autonomous Eurasian power requires the acquisition of a nuclear arsenal. This will lead to a reflexive nuclear arms race among the key states in the wider sensitive region, which are hampering already fragile balances and undermining the existing Euro-Atlantic security architecture. This outlook cannot be reversed by false hopes for gentler policies following a change in leadership in the Turkish elections of 2023 or, at worst, by transactionalism that will boost Turkey’s confidence. It is questionable whether Turkey’s over-ambitious geopolitical balancing act is reaching the limits of its diplomatic, economic and military capabilities. Hence, the restriction of their activities in these areas (especially their military hardware / technology, as well as space, missile and nuclear programs) by the hardest hit states and the US is most likely to weaken their zeal and tame their revisionist goals.
– by Konstantinos Apostolou-Katsaros
Konstantinos Apostolou-Katsaros is a Special Analyst Advisor. His area of interest lies in the field of foreign policy and Greek-Turkish relations. He has a Ph.D. and M.Sc. from the School of Environment and Technology at Brighton University (UK), where he was a lecturer and research fellow.
Keywords: Abdul Qadeer Khan, Benjamin Netanyahu, George Papandreou, Greek Prime Minister, University of Hamburg, Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy, Iran, Libya, Middle East, North Korea, nuclear arsenal, nuclear weapons, Pakistani, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Sinope, Soviet, Turkey, Turkish UAVs , UN General Assembly, Yakov Kedmi