Donald Trump confirmed yesterday that some of America’s nuclear weapons from the Cold War era are currently being stored at Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base. The US President is the first to acknowledge publicly what many have regarded as an open secret for decades.
It is believed widely that the US has 50 of its B-61 “gravity” bombs in Turkey which were deployed during the Cold War between NATO and its allies against the Soviet Union and its Eastern bloc of client states. The weapons were a significant part of America’s deterrence strategy due to Turkey’s relatively close proximity to the Soviet Union. Any decision relating to the weapons must be made by a unanimous vote of all 28 NATO member states.
Trump’s confirmation came as he held a meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella in the White House Oval Office. The question arose about whether or not Trump is concerned about “as many as 50 nuclear weapons at Incirlik Air Base” following Turkey’s launch of its ongoing military operation in Syria last week.
“We’re confident,” replied Trump, “and we have… a great air base there, a very powerful air base. That air base alone can take any place. It’s a large, powerful air base.” The comment was perceived by many that the President himself most likely acknowledged that US nuclear weapons are being stored in Turkey.
“And, you know, Turkey – just so people remember – Turkey is a NATO member,” added the US President. “We’re supposed to get along with our NATO members, and Turkey is a NATO member. Do people want us to start shooting at a NATO member? That would be a first. And that’s all involved having to do with NATO.”
It remains unclear whether the nuclear weapons will be relocated elsewhere and no details have been revealed, but a source has reportedly told the US-based CNN that the possibility of such a move is being considered by lawmakers and Congress. Turkey’s controversial Operation Peace Spring in northern Syria undoubtedly features in the deliberations.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, Turkey’s willingness to cooperate against the Soviet Union’s regional influence resulted in the country joining NATO in 1952. Since then it has built itself up to have the alliance’s second largest standing army after the US.
Turkey’s role and membership of NATO has been questioned in recent years, however, particularly over its decision to purchase Russia’s S-400 missile defence system. That led to widespread condemnation from fellow members due to the system reportedly compromising the alliance’s security.