In the wake of Turkey’s shelling of U.S. troops, American officials reportedly are trying to find a way to evacuate U.S. nuclear weapons from an airbase near the Syrian border.
Although Turkey maintains that the artillery strike — coming in the wake of President Donald Trump’s decision this month to remove American troops from northeast Syria — was targeting nearby Kurds, the Department of Defense insists that the country knew U.S. forces were nearby and chose to make the uncomfortably close strike anyway.
This strain on Turkey’s relations with the United States also poses a major problem when it comes to American weapons stationed in the country.
There are around 50 tactical nuclear weapons at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, according to The New York Times. The base is jointly controlled by U.S. and Turkish forces.
Two anonymous officials cited by The Times said some State and Energy department workers are figuring out a way to possibly move these weapons of mass destruction out of a country that just fired on American positions.
The removal of the nukes isn’t as easy as simply flying them out of the country, either.
Depriving Turkey of a locally available nuclear response would likely anger the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He has made it clear that he wants Turkey to have nukes of its own instead of relying on American-controlled weapons based in the country.
Erdogan has said that he “cannot accept” Turkey’s status as a non-nuclear nation.
Although it’s unlikely Turkey will take American weapons by force, the country’s reckless shelling of a U.S. position and Erdogan’s nuclear ambitions don’t exactly inspire confidence.
One official cited by The Times said the weapons are little more than hostages now.
When looking at the options the United States has now, it definitely looks that way.
Evacuating the weapons would be a slap in the face to Turkey and would be a huge setback to Erdogan’s ambitions of a nuclear state. It would likely be a major source of embarrassment on the world stage for the leader.
Keeping the nukes in Turkey might prove to be an even more foolish move.
Erdogan is clearly willing to do whatever it takes to stay in power. After a failed coup in 2016, mass purges of government officials, soldiers and even the media quickly followed. Making the seemingly short leap to seize nuclear weapons might not be too extreme for this authoritarian.
This illustrates the complications of geopolitics, where one decision can lead to a domino effect that might still be seen decades later.
Despite the flak he’s received from the media, Trump’s decision to remove American troops from another unwinnable Middle Eastern war is the right one.
The administration’s decision over American nukes in Turkey will likely have far-reaching implications that will last long after Trump’s presidency is over, regardless of what the government chooses to do.