U.S.-Turkish relations have plunged to a new nadir. In the past month, a senior Republican senator has suggested suspending Turkey’s membership in the NATO alliance, while the secretary of state implied a readiness to use military force against America’s wayward ally.
In these circumstances, U.S. nuclear weapons have no business in Turkey. It is time to bring them home.
The signs of a strained and deteriorating relationship are hard to miss. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s increasingly autocratic leader, has turned away from both Europe and the United States. He instead is actively cultivating a close relationship with fellow authoritarian Vladimir Putin, as evidenced by their eight meetings just this year.
Erdogan rejected buying U.S. Patriot air defense missiles in favor of Russian S-400s—missiles that are incompatible with NATO’s integrated air defense system. As a result, the United States excluded Turkey from taking part in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, leaving the question of Turkey’s next-generation fighter literally up in the air.
Following President Donald Trump’s rash decision to withdraw the small U.S. military contingent from eastern Syria, Erdogan launched the Turkish army on a major offensive. In doing so, he showed no regard for the Kurdish forces that did so much in collaboration with the U.S. military to destroy ISIS at great cost—some ten thousand Kurdish fighters killed. At one point, Turkish artillery bracketed a position still occupied by U.S. troops. Trump has threatened various sanctions and repeatedly expressed his readiness to “devastate” the Turkish economy.
One other worrying matter. Erdogan says he wants nuclear weapons. In September, he told his political party: “Some countries have missiles with nuclear warheads. But the West insists ‘we can’t have them.’ This, I cannot accept.”
Turkey is not the place to host U.S. nuclear arms.
According to the Federation of American Scientists, the U.S. military maintains 150 B61 nuclear gravity bombs in Europe for use in conflict by the U.S. and certain allied air forces. Reportedly, fifty of those are located at an American facility at the Turkish airbase at Incirlik (bases in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy host the other one hundred). The 39th Weapons Systems Security Group, numbering about five hundred U.S. Air Force personnel, secures and maintains the bombs at Incirlik.