The attempted coup in Turkey on Friday and the subsequent closure of the Incirlik airbase in the south of the country have raised fresh questions about the wisdom of the US stationing the biggest stockpile of nuclear weapons in Europe at such a vulnerable site.
Even before the abortive putsch, the potential terrorist threat to the base, 68 miles from the Syrian border, led to a significant upgrade in the security perimeter around the designated Nato area, where an estimated 50 B61 nuclear bombs are stored in 21 vaults. Friday’s events have increased concerns over whether any such security enhancements can mitigate the risks of holding on to such a dangerous arsenal in such a volatile location.
The Turkish government claimed that some of the coup plotters were based at Incirlik and flew aircraft out of the shared base. It consequently closed air traffic out of the base and cut off its power supply, temporarily stopping US air operations against Islamic State extremists in Syria.
“I think the key lesson is that the benefits of storing nuclear weapons in Turkey are minimal but the risks have increased significantly over the past five years,” said Hans Kristensen, a nuclear weapons expert at the Federation of American Scientists. “I would say that the security situation in Turkey and in the base area no longer meet the safety requirements that the United States should have for storage of nuclear weapons. You only get so many warnings before something goes terribly wrong. It’s time to withdraw the weapons.”