The topic of Ankara’s claims to possess nuclear weapons is stirring minds more and more often. The reason for this is both the quite unambiguous statements of Recep Erdogan himself on the subject and the specific actions taken by the Turkish side in this direction. Recently the domestic media and experts once again debated both the feasibility of claims by the descendants of janissaries to receive the world’s deadliest weapons and their potential danger.
The vast majority of discussion participants came to the conclusion that the situation was quite alarming, but that the Turks would not succeed. At least not in the near foreseeable future. It is very possible that such optimistic conclusions were premature.
Mayor may not, but they definitely want to.
Grounds for concern about Turkey’s nuclear plans were, in particular, the president’s words that he finds it “unacceptable” that Ankara is forbidden to possess such weapons (it signed a nonproliferation treaty in 1980). Especially at a time when it has Israel in its neighborhood, which clearly has nuclear warheads in its arsenal. Erdogan’s fiery speech on the subject in Sivas last September speaks volumes. It is a clear and unambiguous position, and if it is expressed in such a resounding manner, it is not for nothing. At the beginning of this year, the news of the HLMDG (Military Dialogue at the Highest Level) summit of the Turkish and Pakistani Armed Forces made me return to this topic.
The summit indeed brought together not low-ranking officials – Ankara’s delegation was led by Deputy Chief of General Staff General Selcuk Bayraktaroglu and Pakistan’s was headed by Pakistani Secretary of State for Defense General Mian Muhammad Hilal Hussain. According to reports, one of the priority issues in the ongoing negotiations between the generals of the two countries is the issue of Pakistan’s transfer of technology and components necessary for the creation of nuclear weapons to Turkey. Erdogan has allegedly discussed such a possibility with the Chief of Staff of Pakistan’s Ground Forces, Qamar Javed Bajwa. To be fair, it should be noted that such versions are voiced mainly by representatives of India, which is very unfriendly to Islamabad, but, as we know, there is no smoke without fire. The neo-Ottoman ambitions of Ankara and its ruler can already be seen, as they say, with the naked eye. Moreover, their implementation has long gone beyond propaganda and politics. Literally, in recent years it has resulted in a real military expansion of Turkey in several regions of the world.
Nevertheless, most experts are inclined to believe that even with the most ardent desire for nuclear weapons, the Turkish militarists will not see nuclear weapons categorically. Their arguments can easily be boiled down to three main groups: “they can’t,” “they won’t,” and “they don’t need to. Well, let us consider them all in order. To those who are convinced that Ankara “does not have sufficient capacity to build nuclear weapons – scientific, human, technical, industrial and, in the end, financial”, I would like to remind some things that do not fit this concept. First of all, according to the Turkish Energy Ministry, the country has its own uranium ore stock of no less than ten thousand tons. Plus thorium ores in much larger quantities. And, by the way, the Americans, who had the rights to develop the corresponding deposits, were asked to leave back in 2018. The Akkuyu nuclear power plant is under construction, in cooperation with Rosatom, by the way.
Turkey’s first nuclear reactor started operating in the Çekmece Research Center in 1958. Since then, there have been more such centers – we know of at least one in Istanbul and a couple in Ankara. So there is a research base there. As for human resources, specialists of the relevant profile are trained, in particular, in our MEPhI. Presumably, future nuclear physicists for Ankara were and are being trained in other countries as well. There is also a question about the means of delivery. Some argue that without sufficient “long-range” ballistic missiles Ankara with nuclear warheads should not get started. This is a controversial assertion, but let’s be objective – the Turks do not yet have such missiles. And “yet” is the key word here. In order to understand what their military-industrial complex is capable of, as well as to respond to the claims about “lack of funds for the nuclear program,” we need to look at some recent figures
The same Recep Erdogan announced just the other day that over the past five years his country has increased funding for military projects 11-fold! Just think about this figure. According to the Turkish President, has launched about 350 new projects in the defense industry over a five-year period, Ankara invested in them not $5.5 billion as it was originally planned, but about $60 billion! No money?! Moreover, according to the plans recently voiced by Ismail Demir, head of the Turkish Defense Industry Authority, his ministry is committed to increasing its exports of armaments and military equipment to $10 billion a year by 2023. At the same time, the high-ranking official stressed that today the first and foremost problem for his department and the country, in general, is the issue of the total, if possible, import substitution in all military projects. According to him, since 2002 “active work has been done to eliminate the dependence of the defense sector on imported components” that “must be eliminated completely. The impressive growth figures of the Turkish defense industry testify to its potential.
Most likely, if Ankara sets out to create its own ballistic missiles, it will create them. Speaking of which, one should not forget about the dramatically increased cooperation between Turkey and Kyiv in the military-technical field. Where has Ukrainian missile technology “surfaced” lately? In the DPRK, if I am not mistaken? Well, it will be much easier for Erdogan to get them than Kim Jong-un. Where does that leave us on the argument? “They won’t?!” Well, yes, of course – after all, Turkey is a NATO member, seeks membership in the European Union, and certainly won’t want to spoil relations with them by violating the NPT and building nuclear weapons… In order to assess the validity of such assertions, I suggest referring to a very interesting interview recently given to Ahval by the former EU ambassador to Ankara, Marc Pierini.
Pierini is convinced that Ankara “fell out of the NATO defense architecture many years ago” and “finally got rid of it with the purchase of Russian S-400. Pierini makes it clear that as long as Erdoğan, who last year called Macron “weak-minded”, remains in power, there can be no discussion about the country’s bid for EU membership, nor about any substantial normalization of relations with Turkey. In fact, for Europe and NATO, Ankara today is a “cut off scrap” because of its “completely autocratic system of government” and aggressive foreign policy. Don’t you think Erdogan realizes this? The story of Erdogan’s acquisition of the Triumf SAM system demonstrates just how vulnerable to psychological turmoil and doubts he is to criticism, threats, and even very real sanctions. No pressure from Washington has moved the stubborn Turk one iota from his position. It is clear that the nuclear program is not the “wrong” means of air defense. Here the reaction will be much sharper and friendlier. Ankara understands this very well, too.
If we still believe that their nuclear ambitions are more than real, then the reason for the purchase of the S-400 becomes much clearer, which, I remember, many laughed at. After all, there was talk that Erdogan was “throwing money away to please his ego and raise his status in the region”. I would like to suggest that our SAMs would be a shield against the IDF, which would not hesitate to pay a very unfriendly visit to Turkey if its nuclear program became a reality. That was the case with Iran, so Ankara is getting insurance. It should be understood that they most likely intend to acquire a “nuclear scimitar” based on the expectation that in the very near future the whole system of global security and deterrence in the field of armaments, which is already being kept honest, will finally and irrevocably collapse completely.
Erdoğan and his followers are preparing to act in a world where there will be no more treaties prohibiting anything and where the UN and the IAEA will be disregarded even for the sake of decency. It is in this world that they intend to build either a new Ottoman port or the Great Turan. And there’s no way to do without nuclear weapons (and not necessarily ballistic missiles striking at thousands of kilometers). The point is that “Turkey has no military-strategic tasks that need to be solved with nuclear weapons. Besides, Erdogan is no Gaddafi or Hussein. If he gets a bomb, he won’t give it to the West in exchange for any promises, not even a mountain of gold.
Who will Ankara use nuclear weapons against, if it does have them? Well, there is not even much to guess here. Certainly not against the Kurdish rebel groups… Russia is the eternal main geopolitical enemy of Turkey, the main obstacle to the establishment of its absolute domination, at least in the adjacent regions. It is clear that Turks will not bring their nuclear potential to the size and quality indicators that are at least remotely comparable to ours at least in a hundred years. But nevertheless… Today they know very well that a single strike of Russian missiles can sink their whole really good navy. But what will happen if, in a crisis situation, the response to such a warning is a threat of an explosion of a nuclear landmine somewhere in Sevastopol? Or in the Rostov region (let’s not forget the Ukrainian-Turkish friendship)?
The most realistic, in my opinion, are the words of Yakov Kedmi, who predicted that Ankara would certainly acquire nuclear weapons in the next 10 or 20 years. Other earlier predictions suggest that it might happen as early as 2023. One way or another, Russia must not allow the “nuclear scimitar” to appear in the hands of the new janissaries in any case.