The Risk of NATO’s H-Bombs in Turkey

Exclusive: As the world nervously assesses North Korea’s claims about having a hydrogen bomb, another danger point is in Turkey where an erratic leader could seize NATO’s H-Bombs, warns Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

Even in this contentious era, one proposition still enjoys near-universal support: the United States should make it the highest priority to prevent nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of hostile states.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses citizens in front of his residence in Istanbul on July 19, 2016. (Photo from official website of the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey)

It’s far too late to stop North Korea from getting the Bomb, despite all the militant rhetoric coming out of Washington. But we still have a chance to prevent an erratic Middle East strongman from holding the United States hostage by threatening to seize dozens of deadly hydrogen bombs.

I’m referring, of course, to Turkish President Recep Erdogan.

As I warned more than a year ago, he controls overall access to NATO’s largest nuclear storage facility — a stockpile of some 50 B-61 hydrogen bombs at Incirlik air base in southeastern Turkey. Each weapon has a yield of up to 170 kilotons, nearly 12 times greater than the atomic bomb that wiped out Hiroshima in 1945.

The bombs are a holdover from the Cold War, with no current strategic rationale. They represent a growing risk to U.S. security, not a safe deterrent.

As Erdogan’s relations with the United States and Western Europe go from bad to worse, the case for withdrawing those weapons of mass destruction from his reach grows ever more urgent.

“It is the worst place possible to be keeping nuclear weapons,” said Joseph Cirincione, a nuclear arms control expert and president of the Ploughshares Fund. Citing the relocation of American families from the air base as U.S.-Turkish tensions have grown, he asked rhetorically, “it is not safe for our military spouses and children, but it is OK for 50 hydrogen bombs to be there?”

His concerns were recently echoed by a “former senior NATO official” who agreed the weapons “should be removed given the instability, both in the country…

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