STEVE SWEENEY examines the claims that Turkey’s dictator is intent on getting his hands on his own atomic weapons
IS TURKISH President Recep Tayyip Erdogan secretly plotting to get hold of an atom bomb and turn the country into a new nuclear power?
This is the question being asked after dramatic revelations claim that Turkey could expand its weapons capability to include a nuclear arsenal.
Ankara’s plans were revealed by Turkish journalist Abdullah Bozkurt who claimed that government officials have discussed a “secret plan to acquire weapons of mass destruction” (WMDs), including nuclear missiles.
Mr Bozkurt claims that the plans have been given the green light by Erdogan’s religious adviser Hayreddin Karaman, who he says “provided not only his blessing for the government to acquire WMDs but also encouraged Turkish leadership to do so.”
He cites an article written by Karaman in a pro-government newspaper in March 2017 in which he said: “We need to consider producing these weapons rather than purchasing them without losing any time and with no regard to words of hindrance from the West.”
Karaman wrote that military strength consists of effective weapons, nuclear being the most relevant, although advised against their use unless absolutely necessary.
There is already a nuclear presence in Turkey under the Nato weapons sharing agreement, which allows “non-nuclear” states to host the missiles under the guard of the nuclear power — in this case, the US.
Around 70 US-owned nuclear bombs are said to be based at Incirlik air base near the southern Turkish city of Adana.
However Republican People’s Party (CHP) MP and anti-nuclear campaigner Aytug Atici warned that the presence of the bombs in Turkey risk the country becoming a target.
“Turkey is under a nuclear threat,” he claimed in a December 2016 press conference when he said US plans to “modernise its nuclear bombs in Turkey” were a declaration of the existence of the missiles at the base.
And he accused the Turkish defence minister and prime minister of “concealing the existence of B61 tactical nuclear bombs at Incirlik from the public” and demanded an immediate explanation.
Ankara is speculated to control around 40 of the missiles and anti-nuclear campaigners say that the upgrade of the weapons could be in breach of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Atici has also posed numerous questions to Turkey’s energy minister on the deals to build nuclear power plants and believes that the real plans are for the government to obtain weapons grade technology.
Turkey has struck deals with Russia and Japan to build two of its planned nuclear power plants to produce electricity for the country.
Critics have complained that there is little transparency regarding the details and questions in Turkey’s Grand Assembly have either gone unanswered or have received inadequate responses.
Erdogan has assigned his son-in-law Berat Albayrak to oversee the deals, which opponents warn is an indication that the president wants to keep the details under close control.
The Turkish government claims that the country needs to become more energy self-sufficient — at present Turkey imports much of its energy, including 98 per cent of natural gas and 93 per cent of its oil.
Much of this comes from Russia and in February 2016 gas supplies to the country were cut when Turkish companies refused to pay a 10 per cent increase in prices by Gazprom. This made energy a high priority for Ankara.
Former head of planning staff in the German Ministry of Defence Hans Ruhle suggested that more detailed analysis of the contracts suggest that the door has been deliberately left open for the development of nuclear weapons.
According to Ruhle, in the deals with Russia and the Japan-France consortium Turkey rejected offers to include the provision of uranium and the return of the spent fuel rods used in the reactors.
He claims that this would give Ankara the option of running the reactors with its own low-enriched uranium and the ability to reprocess the spent fuel rods which could indicate that Turkey intends to enrich uranium.
These assertions have been criticised by Ankara, who accused Ruhle of slander, and some technical aspects of the claims have been challenged.
Fears over Turkey developing a nuclear capability have heightened since April’s constitutional referendum which is set to remove all remaining “checks and balances” concentrating ultimate power in the hands of one person.
However while Erdogan may wish for Turkey to become a nuclear power, it is not clear that it has the capacity to do so.
The country remains an important member of Nato, although relations with a number of states are becoming increasingly strained due to Erdogan’s erratic behaviour.
Tensions escalated with Germany over its refusal to allow pro-government rallies ahead of Turkey’s constitutional referendum and the granting of asylum to those fleeing the country’s purges of the military and other institutions.
Relations were already tense after a German parliament vote in 2016 recognised the Armenian genocide of 1916 — a term banned by the Turkish government, which denies the atrocities committed by the Ottoman Empire amount to genocide.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel withdrew troops from the Incirlik air base after Ankara refused to allow German MPs to visit during their recent trip to Turkey.
However, despite a row with the US over arms for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which it fears will strengthen the country’s Kurdish population, Turkey remains a key strategic ally for Nato, due to its global position bordering Syria and Iran along with its proximity to Ukraine.
And Britain seems content with selling weapons to Erdogan, which he will undoubtedly use in his war against Turkey’s Kurdish population. Turkey remains a “priority market” for arms sales.
At present the major threat of nuclear annihilation does not come from Turkey, Iran or even North Korea.
The main threat comes from US President Donald Trump.
The US remains the only country to have used nuclear weapons when it dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the second world war, causing unspeakable horror and devastation.
Trump maintains that despite being a signatory to the NPT, the US has never ceased to “renovate and modernise our nuclear arsenal.”
Incendiary comments and threats aimed at North Korea from the US president have raised global fears of the real prospect of nuclear war.
Whatever the speculation over Erdogan’s plans to develop Turkey’s own weapons of mass destruction, the US owns 6,800 of the global total according to the Nuclear Weapons Stockpile Report.
A nuclear free world is possible, but it must begin with those who hold the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons.