With the Turkish offensive against the Kurds in northern Syria changing the alliance contours, the US has a serious problem at hand - managing the future of the huge nuclear arms stockpile in Turkey. Even as the US-Turkey ties threaten to hit the nadir, the removal of as many as 50 nuclear weapons from Turkey will mark the de-facto end of the Turkish-American alliance.
The nuclear weapons stored in Turkey are B61 nuclear gravity bombs from the Cold War era. How did Turkey, which has not developed nuclear weapons, get these lethal bombs? The nukes came to Turkey, a NATO ally, through the 'Nuclear sharing' pact of the American-led military alliance. The NATO allies drafted this pact as part of the nuclear deterrence policy. Under this pact, a handful of NATO members without nuclear weapons, such as Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany also host nuclear weapons.
The NYT reported that US officials have been reviewing plans for evacuating roughly 50 tactical nuclear weapons hosted in Turkey. The weapons are believed to be kept at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, which is 160 km from the Syrian border. The weapons are kept under the American control.
The US does not officially confirm the existence of nuclear weapons stored in Turkey. Experts have said any attempt to move the nuclear arsenal out of Turkey, in the event of further deterioration in the ties between Ankara and Washington, will be riddled with huge logistical challenges. Issues such as finding a new host in the region to creating safe and secure transportation facilities will have to be dealt with.
The cold War-era bombs that are believed to be kept in Turkey will need planes to carry and deploy them but Turkey does not have any certified aircraft at the moment to carry these bombs, Asia Times reported. "Any time nuclear weapons are moved from point A to point B, it is a major logistical challenge ... The security is enormous that goes with this," a former senior US official said.
Obama considered removing nukes from Turkey
It is not the first time, though, that the issue of nukes kept in Turkey has cropped as a challenge to the US administration. Following the 2016 coup attempt against Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, the Barack Obama administration had considered the removal of the nuclear weapons from Incirlik, the Guardian had reported. The move was also part of Obama's disarmamanet drive.
With the question of taking the nukes out of Turkey resurfacing yet again, it has also reignited talks about Turkey launching its own nuclear weapons programme. President Erdogan said last month that Turkey ought to have nuclear weapons and that it was "unacceptable" for Turkey not to have nukes. "There is no developed nation in the world that doesn't have them," he said.
The current Kurdish crisis stems from Turkey's renewed push to throw Kurdish fighters along the Syrian-Turkish border and establish a "safe zone" in the region. The decision of US president Donald Trump to move US troops from the region aided the Turkish offensive, following which more than 150,000 Kurds have fled the region.
The future of Kurds
Turkey is opposed to the Kurdish consolidation in the north and east of Syria as it has its own sizeable Kurdish minority. Besides Turkey, countries like Syria, Iraq and Iran too have large Kurdish minorities. The problem is complex as the Kuridh minorities in all these countries are seeking varying degrees of autonomy. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan wants to crush the Kurdish Syria as he sees it as a branch of the The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which represents nearly 20 percent of Kurds inside Turkey. The PKK had taken up arms against Ankara in the 1980s, triggering a conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people so far.
Later, in the face of increasing international criticism and domestic condemnation, Trump slapped sanctions on Turkey, saying he was prepared to destroy Turkish economy. The US Treasury said action was taken against two Turkish ministries and three senior Turkish government officials in response to Turkey's military operations in Syria. Washington also accused Turkey of causing the release of dangerous Islamic State terrorists from the region.
In another damaging fallout of Trump's abrupt decision to pull troops out of the Kurdish areas in Syria, as many as 60 high value Isis terror operatives escaped from detention. The escape of the dangerous terrorists, who had been held in war time prisons in northern Syria, means that five years of hard work against the Islamic State jihadists is undone, a top US official said.