[Marxism] Erdogan says he wants nuclear weapons - New York Times

Ralph Johansen mdriscollrj at charter.net
Mon Oct 21 00:05:42 MDT 2019


Erdogan says he wants nuclear weapons
David E. Sanger and William J. Broad - The New York Times - Sunday, 
October 20, 2019

WASHINGTON — Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, wants more than 
control over a wide swath of Syria along his country’s border. He says 
he wants the Bomb.
In the weeks leading up to his order to launch the military across the 
border to clear Kurdish areas, Mr. Erdogan made no secret of his larger 
ambition. “Some countries have missiles with nuclear warheads,” he told 
a meeting of his governing party in September. But the West insists “we 
can’t have them,” he said. “This, I cannot accept.”
With Turkey now in open confrontation with its NATO allies, having 
gambled and won a bet that it could conduct a military incursion into 
Syria and get away with it, Mr. Erdogan’s threat takes on new meaning. 
If the United States could not prevent the Turkish leader from routing 
its Kurdish allies, how can it stop him from building a nuclear weapon 
or following Iran in gathering the technology to do so?
It was not the first time Mr. Erdogan has spoken about breaking free of 
the restrictions on countries that have signed the Nuclear 
Nonproliferation Treaty, and no one is quite sure of his true 
intentions. The Turkish autocrat is a master of keeping allies and 
adversaries off balance, as President Trump discovered in the past two 
weeks.
“The Turks have said for years that they will follow what Iran does,” 
said John J. Hamre, a former deputy secretary of defense who now runs 
the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “But 
this time is different. Erdogan has just facilitated America’s retreat 
from the region.”
“Maybe, like the Iranians, he needs to show that he is on the two-yard 
line, that he could get a weapon at any moment,” Mr. Hamre said.
If so, he is on his way — with a program more advanced than that of 
Saudi Arabia, but well short of what Iran has assembled. But experts say 
it is doubtful that Mr. Erdogan could put a weapon together in secret. 
And any public move to reach for one would provoke a new crisis: His 
country would become the first NATO member to break out of the treaty 
and independently arm itself with the ultimate weapon.
Already Turkey has the makings of a bomb program: uranium deposits and 
research reactors — and mysterious ties to the nuclear world’s most 
famous black marketeer, Abdul Qadeer Khan of Pakistan. It is also 
building its first big power reactor to generate electricity with 
Russia’s help. That could pose a concern because Mr. Erdogan has not 
said how he would handle its nuclear waste, which could provide the fuel 
for a weapon. Russia also built Iran’s Bushehr reactor.
Experts said it would take a number of years for Turkey to get to a 
weapon, unless Mr. Erdogan bought one. And the risk for Mr. Erdogan 
would be considerable.
“Erdogan is playing to an anti-American domestic audience with his 
nuclear rhetoric, but is highly unlikely to pursue nuclear weapons,” 
said Jessica C. Varnum, an expert on Turkey at Middlebury’s James Martin 
Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif. “There would be 
huge economic and reputational costs to Turkey, which would hurt the 
pocketbooks of Erdogan’s voters.”
“For Erdogan,” Ms. Varnum said, “that strikes me as a bridge too far.”
There is another element to this ambiguous atomic mix: The presence of 
roughly 50 American nuclear weapons, stored on Turkish soil. The United 
States had never openly acknowledged their existence, until Wednesday, 
when Mr. Trump did exactly that.
Asked about the safety of those weapons, kept in an American-controlled 
bunker at Incirlik Air Base, Mr. Trump said, “We’re confident, and we 
have a great air base there, a very powerful air base.”
But not everyone is so confident, because the air base belongs to the 
Turkish government. If relations with Turkey deteriorated, the American 
access to that base is not assured.
Turkey has been a base for American nuclear weapons for more than six 
decades. Initially, they were intended to deter the Soviet Union, and 
were famously a negotiating chip in defusing the 1962 Cuban Missile 
Crisis, when President John F. Kennedy secretly agreed to remove 
missiles from Turkey in return for Moscow doing the same in Cuba.
But tactical weapons have remained. Over the years, American officials 
have often expressed nervousness about the weapons, which have little to 
no strategic use versus Russia now, but have been part of a NATO 
strategy to keep regional players in check — and keep Turkey from 
feeling the need for a bomb of its own.
When Mr. Erdogan put down an attempted military coup in July 2016, the 
Obama administration quietly drew up an extensive contingency plan for 
removing the weapons from Incirlik, according to former government 
officials. But it was never put in action, in part because of fears that 
removing the American weapons would, at best, undercut the alliance, and 
perhaps give Mr. Erdogan an excuse to build his own arsenal.
For decades, Turkey has been hedging its bets. Starting in 1979, it 
began operating a few  small research reactors, and since 1986, it has 
made reactor fuel at a pilot plant in Istanbul. The Istanbul complex 
also handles spent fuel and its highly radioactive waste.
“They’re building up their nuclear expertise,” Olli Heinonen, the former 
chief inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in an 
interview. “It’s high quality stuff.”
He added that Ankara might “come to the threshold” of the bomb option in 
four or five years, or sooner, with substantial foreign help. Mr. 
Heinonen noted that Moscow is now playing an increasingly prominent role 
in Turkish nuclear projects and long-range planning.
Turkey’s program, like Iran’s, has been characterized as an effort to 
develop civilian nuclear power.
Russia has agreed to build four nuclear reactors in Turkey, but the 
effort is seriously behind schedule. The first reactor, originally 
scheduled to go into operation this year, is now seen as starting up in 
late 2023.
The big question is what happens to its spent fuel. Nuclear experts 
agree that the hardest part of bomb acquisition is not coming up with 
designs or blueprints, but obtaining the fuel. A civilian nuclear power 
program is often a ruse for making that fuel, and building a clandestine 
nuclear arsenal.
Turkey has uranium deposits — the obligatory raw material — and over the 
decades has shown great interest in learning the formidable skills 
needed to purify uranium as well as to turn it into plutonium, the two 
main fuels of atom bombs. A 2012 report from the Carnegie Endowment for 
International Peace, “Turkey and the Bomb,” noted that Ankara “has left 
its nuclear options open.”
Hans Rühle, the head of planning in the German Ministry of Defense from 
1982 to 1988, went further. In a 2015 report, he said “the Western 
intelligence community now largely agrees that Turkey is working both on 
nuclear weapon systems and on their means of delivery.”
In a 2017 study, the Institute for Science and International Security, a 
private group in Washington that tracks the bomb’s spread, concluded 
that Mr. Erdogan’s efforts to consolidate power and raise Turkey’s 
regional status were increasing “the risk that Turkey will seek nuclear 
weapons capabilities.”
In response to the German assertion and other similar assessments, 
Turkey  has repeatedly denied a secret nuclear arms effort, with its 
foreign ministry noting that Turkey is “part of NATO’s collective 
defense system.”
But Mr. Erdogan’s recent statements were notable for failing to mention 
NATO, and for expressing his long-running grievance that the country has 
been prohibited from possessing an arsenal of its own. Turkey has 
staunchly defended what it calls its right under peaceful global accords 
to enrich uranium and reprocess spent fuel, the critical steps to a bomb 
the Trump administration is insisting Iran must surrender.
Turkey’s uranium skills were highlighted in the 2000s when international 
sleuths found it to be a covert industrial hub for the nuclear black 
market of Mr. Khan, a builder of Pakistan’s arsenal. The rogue scientist 
— who masterminded the largest illicit nuclear proliferation ring in 
history — sold key equipment and designs to Iran, Libya and North Korea.
The most important items were centrifuges. The tall machines spin at 
supersonic speeds to purify uranium, and governments typically classify 
their designs as top secret. Their output, depending on the level of 
enrichment, can fuel reactors or atom bombs.
According to “Nuclear Black Markets,” a report on the Khan network by 
the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London think tank, 
companies in Turkey aided the covert effort by importing materials from 
Europe, making centrifuge parts and shipping finished products to customers.
A riddle to this day is whether the Khan network had a fourth customer. 
Dr. Rühle, the former German defense official, said intelligence sources 
believe Turkey could possess “a considerable number of centrifuges of 
unknown origin.” The idea that Ankara could be the fourth customer, he 
added, “does not appear far-fetched.” But there is no public evidence of 
any such facilities.
What is clear is that in developing its nuclear program, Turkey has 
found a partner: President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. In April 2018, 
Mr. Putin traveled to Turkey to signal the official start of 
construction of a $20 billion nuclear plant on the country’s 
Mediterranean coast.
Part of Russia’s motivation is financial. Building nuclear plants is one 
of the country’s most profitable exports. But it also serves another 
purpose: Like Mr. Putin’s export of an S-400 air defense system to 
Ankara — again, over American objections — the construction of the plant 
puts a NATO member partly in Russia’s camp, dependent on it for technology.
David E. Sanger reported from Washington, and William J. Broad from New 
York.


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