Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
Why the US has nukes in Turkey — and why it's so hard to remove them
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on The Conversation.
As the Syrian crisis pits Turkish troops against former U.S.-allied Kurdish forces, Pentagon officials have been reviewing plans to remove 50 nuclear bombs stored at a U.S air base in Turkey.
A congressional directive to the Pentagon to quickly assess alternative homes for U.S. “ personnel and assets" currently stationed at Incirlik Air Base is part of a broader bipartisan bill, still being debated, that proposes sanctions against Turkey. President Donald Trump has been forced to issue public reassurances that the weapons are secure.
During the Cold War, the U.S. stationed B61 nuclear bombs in Turkey, among other NATO countries. Formally, the U.S. controlled the weapons during peacetime, but the host countries' forces trained and equipped planes so they could drop the bombs with U.S. support in the case of war. The idea was to deter Soviet ground forces and reassure U.S. allies by making clear that the U.S. would be willing to risk nuclear war to block a Soviet invasion of a country hosting the bombs.
In addition, in the years before the U.S. developed intercontinental ballistic missiles, they presented a way for NATO to demonstrate it could act quickly to respond to a Soviet attack.
A B-61 nuclear bomb at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona(Flickr/Kelly Michals)
The 50 bombs still at Incirlik Air Base, in southern Turkey – and others in
Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands – are the last nuclear remnants of that Cold War strategy. The U.S. began pulling nuclear bombs out of NATO countries after the Cold War ended, and since 2000 has removed 40 bombs from Turkey.
Two decades ago, the Turkish Air Force stopped equipping its planes to drop B-61s. Now the bombs at Incirlik could only be used if U.S. pilots first flew nuclear-weapon-capable planes there to load them up. The bombs were left in Turkey even after a 2016 coup attempt raised serious concerns about their safety. After that event, the U.S. Defense and Energy departments began planning how to remove them – but didn't actually bring them back to the U.S.
How secure are they?
The bombs themselves also require 12-digit codes to activate them, However, those protections are only strong enough to delay unauthorized use, rather than actually prevent it. If those barriers were overcome, U.S forces could disable the weapons by destroying electrical components or detonating their chemical high explosive without causing a nuclear release. In the worst case, they could blow up the weapons or the facilities at Incirlik.
Still the U.S. procedures are not designed to prevent skilled attacks or sabotage, especially from an ally. With enough time, Turkey could make use of the nuclear material – if not to detonate in an actual nuclear explosion, then to “ release disastrous and deadly radiation."
What's wrong with removing them?
Taking the weapons out of Turkey carries some physical risks. The bombs aren't terribly heavy – roughly 700 pounds each – but moving nuclear material requires significant security. In addition, the Turkish government would have to help – or at least not stand in the way – of landing transport planes or sending cargo convoys by land or sea.
The greater risks are likely to be political. Those concerns have discouraged previous U.S. administrations from removing the bombs, even though Turkey's defense community isn't particularly interested in using them.
One U.S. concern is that Turkey could perceive the move as a push away from NATO. That could lead to Turkey seeking closer ties with Russia.
In addition, pulling the nuclear weapons out of Turkey could prompt requests to remove other bombs from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, where they are publicly unpopular.
A new worry just arose, when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently mused whether perhaps Turkey should leave the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and develop its own nuclear arsenal. U.S. officials have long feared that pulling the American nuclear bombs out could encourage Ergodan to try to turn that bluster into reality.
Unintentionally, Trump's efforts to provide reassurance may have made this challenge more difficult. The presence of B-61s in the five countries is an open secret, confirmed by independent observers. But it has nonetheless been NATO policy not to acknowledge the deployments, giving local politicians and the U.S. a shield from parliamentary and public oversight.
By publicly confirming that the weapons were in Turkey, Trump has raised the political stakes should he try to remove them, and made it more difficult for the United States and Turkey to strike a quiet deal to that effect.
Miles A. Pomper is a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury College. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
‘Take what’s inside and get it outside’ — Air Force psychologist reminds airmen of mental health resources
Kirtland Air Force Base isn't much different from the world beyond its gates when it comes to dealing with mental illnesses, a base clinical psychologist says.
Maj. Benjamin Carter told the Journal the most frequent diagnosis on the base is an anxiety disorder.
"It's not a surprise, but I anticipate about anytime in the population in America, about 20% of the population has some form of diagnosable anxiety disorder, and it's no different in the military," he said.
Leading the way among the anxiety disorders, he said, were post-traumatic stress disorder "or something like panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder."
The DNA of a niece and nephew, who never met their uncle, has helped identify the remains of the Kansas Marine who died in WWII.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced that 21-year-old U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Pfc. Raymond Warren was identified using DNA and circumstantial evidence. Warren had been buried in a cemetery in the Gilbert Islands, where he was killed when U.S. forces tried to take secure one of the islands from the Japanese.
The Battle of Tarawa lasted from Nov. 20 to Nov. 23, 1943, and claimed the lives of 1,021 U.S. marines and sailors, more than 3,000 Japanese soldiers and an estimated 1,000 Korean laborers before the U.S. troops seized control, the agency said.
Arizona lawmakers are vowing to fight a plan by the Air Force to start retiring some of the nation's fleet of A-10 Thunderbolt II ground-attack jets — a major operation at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base — as part of a plan to drop some older, legacy weapon systems to help pay for new programs.
U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., a former A-10 pilot, and U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., both vowed to fight the move to retire 44 of the oldest A-10s starting this year.
During a press briefing last week, Air Force officials unveiled plans to start mothballing several older platforms, including retiring some A-10s even as it refits others with new wings.
MOSCOW/SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong Un was filmed riding through the snow on a white stallion last year, has spent tens of thousands of dollars on 12 purebred horses from Russia, according to Russian customs data.
Accompanied by senior North Korean figures, Kim took two well-publicized rides on the snowy slopes of the sacred Paektu Mountain in October and December.
State media heralded the jaunts as important displays of strength in the face of international pressure and the photos of Kim astride a galloping white steed were seen around the world.
North Korea has a long history of buying pricey horses from Russia and customs data first reported by Seoul-based NK News suggests that North Korea may have bolstered its herd in October.
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A high-profile local Taliban figure who announced and justified the 2012 attack on teenage Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai has escaped detention, Pakistan's interior minister confirmed a few days after the militant announced his breakout on social media.
Former Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, who claimed responsibility on behalf of his group for scores of Taliban attacks, proclaimed his escape on Twitter and then in an audio message sent to Pakistani media earlier this month.
The Pakistani military, which had kept Ehsan in detention for three years, has declined to comment but, asked by reporters about the report, Interior Minister Ijaz Shah, said: "That is correct, that is correct."
Shah, a retired brigadier general, added that "you will hear good news" in response to questions about whether there had been progress in hunting down Ehsan.