Alwaght– Over the past month, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at least twice criticized the issue that some countries have nuclear weapons while others are banned from building their own nuclear weapons, hinting that Turkey needs to have nuclear bombs. In early September he complained that is there no developed country that does not have nuclear warheads. He also during his address to the United Nations General Assembly last week said that the access to the nuclear energy should be either available or banned for all.
The comments push the Turkish analysts to see if a national nuclear program to ultimately build nuclear arms is good for the country. But what is making such an approach to find its way in the mind of the Turkish political elites?
International powers’ interests and weak legal regimes for denuclearization
Turkey signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1980 to join the most important legal regime meant to prevent proliferation of nuclear arms across the world. Ankara also signed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty in 1996. The treaties are ostensibly aimed at preventing the proliferation of nuclear arms but they never designed a mechanism for the denuclearization of sides owning the mass destruction weapons. In addition to the five members of the United Nations Security Council— the US, China, Britain, Russia, and France— others like India, Pakistan, North Korea, and the Israeli regime have nuclear warheads. This motivated Erdogan to censure the NPT as “unacceptable” because some countries are not members of it.
The Israeli regime was the main target of the Turkish leader’s address. Protesting that Tel Aviv is threatening others with its nuclear weapons, Erdogan during his UNGA address said: “We are almost Israel’s neighbor. They with their nukes threaten the other nations while nobody can even touch them.”
Currently, only the Israeli regime in West Asia and North Africa regions has nuclear arsenal with hundreds of warheads. Its doctrine of “nuclear ambiguity” has never allowed any information about its nuclear program to surface. Tel Aviv, the most intimate ally of Washington, has never bowed to the inspection calls on the strength of the US, exposing the weakness of the international nuclear control regimes. Turkey also looks at its regional rivals like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and even Egypt, all US allies, pushing towards access to nuclear programs for military purposes. Ankara knows very well that such Arab ambitions are only likely with the American green light. This comes while Washington since last year has worked towards an Arab NATO, one of whose aims being a confrontation of Turkey.
INF scraping and security risks to Turkey
After a year of criticism and withdrawal threats, the US finally in early August officially pulled out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF), an agreement signed between the US and Soviet Union by President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev during the Cold War as a means to reduce the largely licentious American-Russian nuclear contest.
The treaty was, in theory, bilateral, but due to its scraping’s negative reflections on the security of the European allies in the NATO that host the American nukes has caused extreme worry.
Although Turkey is one of the five European countries hosting the American nuclear bombs, it lacks the qualification and permission to unilaterally use them. Now that Washington increases its nuclear missiles around the Russian borders and this can stir a fresh nuclear rivalry between the two world powers, Turkey seems to be interested in developing a home and independent deterrence mechanism, especially that its relations with the NATO are now frayed due to a set of issues.
Turkey steps towards participating in the new global order
To perceive the future of the foreign policy under Erdogan, understanding the change in the Turkish vision to the so-called current liberal global order and Turkey’s role in the trans-Atlantic institutions— we should know that Ankara finds many of the global order norms conflicting with its interests— is largely important. Such a shift is an outcome of the change in the Turkish elites’ worldview and Turkey’s role in the global equations and the question as to how the new world order should be defined. The West Asian developments and the Western opposition to Turkish plans in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Sudan considered, the ruling Justice and Development Party’s political elites have grown seriously skeptical and frustrated about an alliance with the West.
Ankara’s ongoing rift with Washington over the latter’s arming of the Syrian Kurds and also the American hampering of the Turkish-favored safe zone in northern Syria add to the complexity of the American-Turkish regional policy collision.
But beyond its region, Turkey seeks adjustment with the changing world order. While the American political elites still debate how they can deal with emerging powers challenging the American hegemony on the world stage, Ankara takes the emergence of China, and to a smaller degree the Russia revisionism, as signs of the US decline. In such a situation, Erdogan believes that Ankara should no longer set its eyes on the West because soon the rivals overtake Washington. In such conditions, the Turkish leader thinks, Turkey should embark on independent policy, even if this risks Ankara relations with its traditional allies.
Purchase of S-400 air defense systems despite the opposition by the US and NATO and ban on the delivery of Patriot air defenses and F-35 fighter jets are the initial results of such a Turkish leadership view. Turkey says it also started talks with Russia to seal a deal on SU-35 and SU-35 fighter aircraft, a step that further puts on shaky ground the alliance with NATO.
Concerning the relations to China, change is coming to the Turkish policy. Ankara in June received $1 billion in economic aids from Beijing. The money substantially helped Erdogan beat the economic recession before the municipal elections. Turkey then sent an observant delegation to China’s Xinjiang Muslim-majority region significantly helping Beijing weather the US human rights pressures for the existence of the Muslim labor camps there.
With these all considered, what remains to see is that if Ankara has the political will to accept the economic and diplomatic costs of moving towards building nuclear weapons.