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Overview Last updated: August, 2014

Turkey is not known to possess nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons or weapons programs, and is a member in good standing of all of the major treaties governing their acquisition and use. Turkey is also active in proliferation prevention efforts such as the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). [1]

While Turkey is situated in a notoriously "dangerous neighborhood" [2] and is often mentioned as a possible proliferation domino should Iran acquire nuclear weapons, it has relied on the nuclear and conventional deterrence provided by U.S./NATO security guarantees for more than half a century. [3] Turkey's dedication to the nonproliferation regime is further solidified by its commitment to the European Union accession process, as prospects for Turkish EU membership would be gravely diminished should Turkey choose to develop nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. [4] Thanks in part to decades of U.S. military aid and cooperation, Turkey has robust conventional defense capabilities, including short-range ballistic missiles. Ankara is also working to procure advanced ballistic missile defense capabilities.

Nuclear

As part of NATO's nuclear umbrella, Turkey continues to host approximately 60 to 70 U.S. tactical nuclear weapons on its territory at Incirlik Air Base. [5] While there was some speculation in the Turkish press regarding possible conflict between Turkey's leaders and the United States should President Obama's commitment to "seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons" lead to the near-term withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Turkey, both the 2010 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review and the 2010 NATO Strategic Concept postponed a decision concerning the future of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. [6] While the Cold War-era B61 bombs serve little military purpose, they provide tangible evidence of a continued American commitment to Turkish security.

The United States plans to upgrade the B61 bombs to the B61-12 and hopes to begin their integration on NATO dual-capable aircraft in 2015, completing the process by 2018. [7] Currently, both U.S. aircraft and some Turkish F16s can carry the B61, however, there is some speculation over whether Turkey still maintains an operational link with the B61s on its territory. According to a former commander of the Turkish Air Force, Turkey's nuclear role in NATO strike plans ended in 1995 when all B61s were removed from national bases and consolidated at the U.S.-operated base at Incirlik. [8] One expert asserts Turkey decertified its dual-capable F16s sometime thereafter for fiscal reasons. [9] Yet Turkey is at least retaining the option to re-establish an operational link in the future, as Ankara released plans in 2014 to procure 100 F35s, which are set to replace existing dual-capable aircraft across Europe. [10] The government purchased its first two F35s in May 2014. [11]

Although Turkey's interest in nuclear technology dates to at least 1956, when the government founded the Turkish Atomic Energy Authority (TAEK), Ankara's nuclear capabilities never moved beyond the research and development stages. Thus, while Turkey conducts sophisticated nuclear fuel cycle research—primarily at the Cekmece Nuclear Research and Training Centre (CNRTC) and the Istanbul Technical University—it does not have nuclear power reactors or industrial-scale enrichment or reprocessing capabilities. [12] Ankara possesses only two small research reactors, the TRIGA Mark II 250-KWt reactor and the TR-2 5MWt reactor. [13] While past decades have witnessed numerous attempts by the government to acquire power reactors, all failed for a variety of political, diplomatic, and economic reasons. [14]

However, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AKP-led government is aggressively pursuing nuclear energy. While the government's announcement in 2006 that it would install 5,000MW nuclear energy by 2015 (3 reactors) has not proven feasible, the AKP remains politically committed to the nuclear power program. [15] After a troubled tender process in 2008, the government began assessing the sole bid for construction of Turkey's first nuclear plant at Akkuyu from the Russian-led consortium Atomstroyexport-Inter Rao-Park Teknik. [16] While Turkey's highest administrative court ultimately disapproved the conditions of the tender, the AKP-led government brokered a replacement state-to-state deal with Russia in May 2010, under which a Russian firm will build the Akkuyu plant. [17] On 6 December 2012 ROSATOM delivered the first $700 million of the expected $25 billion project. [18] Limited construction was set to begin in 2013, however, the construction start date has been continuously pushed back. Most recently, it was halted by the publication of a 3,600-page report on environmental concerns. [19] The Russian company ROSATOM now plans to begin construction in 2015. The first reactor is expected to come online in 2020, and the final, fourth reactor by 2023. [20]

In May 2013, Ankara awarded exclusive negotiating rights for its second nuclear power plant, at Sinop, to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries-AREVA. GDF Suez would operate the plant, which the government hopes will come online in 2023. [21] Turkish media reports have identified Igneada on the Black Sea coast as the site for Turkey's third nuclear power plant. [22] However, Andry Kovatchev, a Bulgarian Member of the European Parliament, announced that the Turkish government has not made a decision on the site, but it would not be Igneada. Kovatchev cited EU Commission for Energy Guntehr Oettinger in his announcement. [23]

In January 2011, Energy Ministry Undersecretary Metin Kilci asserted, "We want a minimum 20 reactors in operation by 2030. This may not be our formalised plan, but it is our target." [24] While Prime Minister Erdogan has indicated that Turkey will move ahead as planned with nuclear power plant construction, the March 2011 crisis at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant worsened already fierce domestic debate over whether Turkey should abandon its nuclear power plans, particularly because the country is prone to frequent and severe earthquakes. [25] Nevertheless, Turkey is actively pursuing nuclear energy to address predicted energy shortfalls. Energy minister Taner Yildiz has stated that these new nuclear power plants are expected to generate about 30 percent of Turkey's energy needs. [26] Other officials have suggested that the plants will create upwards of 20,000 new jobs and save $7.2 billion yearly. [27]

Biological

Turkey does not possess biological weapons, nor is it known to have ever undertaken a biological weapons program. [28] Ankara is a party to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), having signed and ratified it in 1974, and is a member of the Australia Group to control trade in CBW relevant items.

Chemical

As a member in good standing of the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (CWC), Turkey does not currently possess chemical weapons, and is not known to have ever possessed a chemical weapons program. [29] Ankara signed the CWC in 1993, ratifying it in 1997, and is also a member of the Australia Group, an export control mechanism to control trade in CBW relevant items.

Missile

Turkey is a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and the Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC). Currently, Turkey has a limited ballistic missile arsenal.

Ankara's ballistic missile arsenal consists of U.S.-supplied MGM-140A Block I Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS), possessing a 165km range and a 450g payload capability. [30] The MGM-140A Block I warhead contains 950 M-74 anti-material anti-personnel (APAM) bomblets, and cannot be equipped with strategic warheads. [31] Additionally, Turkey possesses two ballistic missiles, the J-600T Yildirim I and the J-600T Yildirim II, based on the Chinese solid fueled B-611(NATO: CSS-X-11) short range ballistic missile (SRBM). [32] The Yildrum I and II have ranges of 150km and 300km respectively, and carry 480kg high explosive warheads. [33]

Given rising regional tensions, and the increasingly sophisticated ballistic missile and long range rocket artillery arsenals of some of its neighbors, Turkey is actively seeking missile defense capabilities. Ankara's efforts to acquire ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems have encountered financial, logistical, and diplomatic obstacles. Because of the nascent state of its domestic defense industry Turkey is largely dependent on external suppliers, and particularly the United States, for the procurement of sophisticated defense systems. [34]

In April 2009, Turkey's Defence Industries Undersecretariat (SSM) initiated a request for proposals (RfP) for the $4 billion project to deploy 12 BMD systems, and the government planned to select a winner by the end of 2009. [35] However, the tender was delayed. [36] BMD systems considered by the Turkish government have included the U.S. Patriot Advanced Capability 3 (PAC-3), Italy's Eurosam AMP/T Aster, Israel's Arrow-2 and Arrow-3, Russia's S-400 and SU-300PMU2, and China's HQ-9 system. [37]

Efforts by Turkey and Israel, beginning in 1997, to initiate a joint BMD project based on the Arrow system contended with U.S. opposition over MTCR rules, because the U.S. "faced the challenge of transferring capabilities without releasing the technologies for manufacturing them." [38] Despite a June 2001 trilateral cooperation agreement, U.S.-Israeli-Turkish cooperative efforts to deploy a jointly produced BMD system in Turkey never took off, in part because Turkey has not yet decisively settled on a U.S. system. [39] Turkish-Israeli relations soured further following an Israeli raid on a flotilla headed to Gaza in May 2010, which resulted in the death of nine Turkish activists. This event significantly decreased the prospects of military cooperation between the two countries. [40]

While the United States has pressured Turkey to refrain from purchasing any system that could harm NATO interoperability, Ankara continues to seek bids for missile defense-related capabilities from Russia and China. However, NATO has stated that neither the Russian nor the Chinese system could be integrated into its missile defense shield's radar and tracking systems. [41] In September 2013, Turkey reached an agreement with China for its HQ-9 missile. [42] However, in July 2014, the Turkish SSM decided to extend the deadline for the tender following discontent with the level of cooperation from the Chinese firm. Ankara has demanded greater technology transfer as part of the accord to enable production within Turkey. Turkey also reportedly plans to meet with executives from the U.S. firm Raytheon to discuss its bid. [43] Turkey currently fields a NATO X-Band AN/TPY-2 early warning radar. Designed for surveillance, tracking, discrimination and fire control support for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, the radar is capable of tracking all classes of ballistic missiles, and could support tracking for Raytheon’s PAC-3 system. [44]

In November 2012 Turkey requested that NATO supply PAC-3 batteries to defend against missiles and long-range artillery from Syria. The request was initiated over concerns that: 1) Syria's missiles and long range artillery are inaccurate and unreliable and one could potentially go off course and land in Turkey; 2) Syria could intentionally launch missiles and artillery at Turkey; and/or 3) Syrian fighter jets could threaten Turkish airspace.

On 5 December 2012 NATO approved Turkey's request after being assured that the Patriot batteries would only be used for defense, and not to establish or monitor a no-fly-zone. [45] Six PAC-3 batteries arrived in Turkey in January 2013, along with roughly 1,200 NATO troops and support personnel. [46] The systems are under the command of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). [47] While members of the Syrian opposition have requested use of the PAC-3 missiles to protect civilians in northern Syria from loyalist air raids, this is strictly disallowed by the current NATO mandate; as such, the deployed PAC-3 batteries have not been used to-date. [48]

A Patriot battery consists of phased array radar (RS), an engagement control station (ECS), communications facilities (AMG), electric power plants (EPPs), and a maintenance unit. [49] A battery can control up to sixteen launchers, which are equipped with 16 missiles each. [50] The PAC-3, or MIM-104F is the most advanced Patriot missile. It is a solid fueled, ground to air missile with a range of 20km and a maximum altitude of 15km. [51] PAC-3 guidance includes track-via-missile, midcourse correction, and terminal homing, making it a highly accurate missile. [52] The warhead is hit-to-kill with burst fragmentation enhancement. [53]

Sources:
[1] "Turkey Hosts Proliferation Security Initiative Exercise," U.S. State Department, Bureau of International Information Programs, 24 May 2006, www.america.gov.
[2] For example, see: Dangerous Neighborhood: Contemporary Issues in Turkey's Foreign Relations, ed. Michael S. Radu (London: Transaction Publishers, 2002).
[3] For an analysis of why Turkey is unlikely to pursue nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future, heavily emphasizing domestic politics factors, see: Jessica C. Varnum, "Turkey in Transition: Toward or Away from Nuclear Weapons?" in Forecasting Nuclear Proliferation in the 21st Century: Volume 2, A Comparative Perspective, eds. William C. Potter and Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010), pp. 229-254.
[4] Sebnem Udum argues that "a nuclear Turkey would be suicidal to Turkey's EU membership bid." Sebnem Udum, "Turkey's Non-Nuclear Weapon Status-a Theoretical Assessment," in The 56th Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs: A Region in Transition: Peace and Reform in the Middle East (Cairo, Egypt, 2006), p. 5.
[5] Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen, "U.S. Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Europe, 2011," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January/February 2011, vol. 67, no. 1, p. 69.
[6] Lale Sariibrahimoglu, "Turkey to face pressure over US nukes on its soil," Today's Zaman, 4 May 2009, www.todayszaman.com; "Active Engagement, Modern Defense," NATO Strategic Concept, Lisbon, 19 November 2010, www.nato.int; and U.S. Department of Defense, "Nuclear Posture Review Report," April 2010, www.defense.gov.
[7] Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI Yearbook 2013:  Armaments, Disarmament and International Security, 44th ed, Oxford University Press, 2013.
[8] Mustafa Kibaroglu, 'Turkey and Shared Responsibilities," in Shared Responsibilities for Nuclear Disarmament, ed. Scott D. Sagan (Cambridge: American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 2010), p. 27.
[9] Stein, Aaron, "Turkey's Airplane-less Nuclear Weapons," Turkey Wonk, April 15, 2014, http://turkeywonk.wordpress.com.
[10] "JSF Press Release," Undersecretariat for Defence Industries, May 20th, 2014, www.ssm.gov.tr.
[11] "Turkey to Order First Two F35 Fighter Jets," Hurriyet Daily News, May 7th, 2014, www.hurriyetdailynews.com.
[12] Turkish researchers are familiar with the PUREX process for separating plutonium from spent fuel, however, as CNRTC possesses a small nuclear fuel fabrication pilot plant.
[13] Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East: In the Shadow of Iran, ed. Mark Fitzpatrick, (London, UK: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2008), p. 64.
[14] Jessica C. Varnum, "Closing the Nuclear Trapdoor in the U.S.-Turkey ‘Model' Partnership," Turkey Project Policy Paper, The Brookings Institution, June 2013.
[15] Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East: In the Shadow of Iran, ed. Mark Fitzpatrick, (London, UK: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2008), p. 65; "New energy minister: No changes to nuclear policy," Today's Zaman, 7 May 2009; Jessica C. Varnum, "Closing the Nuclear Trapdoor in the U.S.-Turkey ‘Model' Partnership," Turkey Project Policy Paper, The Brookings Institute, June 2013.
[16] Emrullah Uslu, "Turkish Government May Approve Construction of a Nuclear Power Plant in April," Eurasia Daily Monitor, 6, no. 53, The Jamestown Foundation, 19 March 2009, www.jamestown.org.
[17] "UPDATE 1-Turkey wants nuclear project firms set up this month," Reuters Africa, 21 September 2010, af.reuters.com.
[18] "Russia Delivers Funding for New Nuclear Plant in Turkey," Nuclear Street, 6 December 2012, www.nuclearstreet.com; Jessica C. Varnum, "Closing the Nuclear Trapdoor in the U.S.-Turkey ‘Model' Partnership," Turkey Project Policy Paper, The Brookings Institute, June 2013.
[19] "Environmental Report for first nuclear power plant in Akkuyu yells out 'don't build it,'" Hurriyet News, July 18, 2014.
[20] "Akkuyu NPP JSC," Akkuyu NGS AS, www.akkunpp.com; Jessica C. Varnum, "Closing the Nuclear Trapdoor in the U.S.-Turkey ‘Model' Partnership," Turkey Project Policy Paper, The Brookings Institute, June 2013.
[21] Jessica C. Varnum, "Closing the Nuclear Trapdoor in the U.S.-Turkey ‘Model' Partnership," Turkey Project Policy Paper, The Brookings Institute, June 2013; "Turkey to Analyze Japan, S. Korea, and Canada for Construction of Nuclear Power Plant in Sinop," The Journal of Turkish Weekly, April 2012, www.turkishweekly.net; "China has advantage in bid for 2nd nuclear power plant," Hurriyet Daily News, 7 December 2012, www.hurriyetdailynews.com; "Turkey to Decide Which Country Builds Second Nuclear Power Plant," The Journal of Turkish Weekly, December 2012, www.turkishweekly.net.
[22] "Town near Bulgaria may host Turkey's third nuclear plant," Hurriyet Daily News, 6 April 2011, www.hurriyetdailynews.com.
[23] "Turkey Disproves Reports of Plans to Build Nuclear Plant on Bulgarian Border," 3 June, 2011, www.andrey-kovatchev.eu.
[24] "Turkey Targets 20 Nuclear Reactors by 2030-official," Reuters, 31 January 2011.
[25] Erisa Dautaj ┼×enerdem, "Turkish Experts Split in Atomic Debate," Hurriyet Daily News and Economic Review, 19 March 2011, www.hurriyetdailynews.com.
[26] "Turkey to Heavily Invest in its Energy Sector," Andalou Agency, May 2, 2014, www.aa.com.tr; Demirtas Serkan, "Turkey Plans to Operate 3rd Nuclear Power Plant," Hurriyet Daily News, May 28th, 2013, www.hurriyetdailynews.com.
[27] "Akkuyu Nuclear Plant Will Create 20,000 Jobs," Daily Sabah, April 27, 2014, www.dailysabah.com.
[28] Mustafa Kibaroglu, "Turkey's Sweet and Sour Policy Against NBC Weapons," Turkish Policy Quarterly, Summer 2004, www.turkishpolicy.com.
[29] Mustafa Kibaroglu, "Turkey's Sweet and Sour Policy Against NBC Weapons," Turkish Policy Quarterly, Summer 2004, www.turkishpolicy.com.
[30] Jason Henson, "MGM-140/MGM-168 ATACMS and MGM-164 ATACMS II," Harpoon and Quarters, www.harpoondatabases.com; Andreas Parsch, "Lockheed Martin (LTV) MGM-140 ATACMS," Designation Systems, www.designation-systems.net.
[31] Jason Henson, "MGM-140/MGM-168 ATACMS and MGM-164 ATACMS II," Harpoon and Quarters, www.harpoondatabases.com; Andreas Parsch, "Lockheed Martin (LTV) MGM-140 ATACMS," Designation Systems, www.designation-systems.net.
[32] Duncan Lennox, "B-611 (CSS-11) (China), Offensive Weapons," Jane's Intelligence, 3 August 2012, www.janes.com.
[33] Duncan Lennox, "B-611 (CSS-11) (China), Offensive Weapons," Jane's Intelligence, 3 August 2012, www.janes.com.
[34] Stein, Aaron, "Turkey's Missile Defense Decision. Ankara will miss NATO Cueing Capabilities," Turkey Wonk Blog, Oct 13, 2013, http://turkeywonk.wordpress.com.
[35] Lale Sariibrahimoglu, "Turkey issues RfP for long-range missiles," Jane's Defence Weekly, 15 May 2009, www.janes.com.
[36] Ercan Yavuz, "Defense Giants Compete in Turkish Tender for Long-Range Missiles," Today's Zaman, 2 January 2011, www.todayszaman.com.
[37] Giray Sadik, "Turkey Considers Several Missile Defense Systems," Eurasia Daily Monitor 5, no. 87, 7 May 2008, www.jamestown.org.
[38] Sebnem Udum, "Missile Proliferation in the Middle East: Turkey and Missile Defense," Turkish Studies 4, no. 3 (Autumn 2003), p.86.
[39] Sebnem Udum, "Missile Proliferation in the Middle East: Turkey and Missile Defense," Turkish Studies 4, no. 3 (Autumn 2003), pp. 87-89.
[40] Ercan Yavuz, "Defense Giants Compete in Turkish Tender for Long-Range Missiles," Today's Zaman, 2 January 2011, www.todayszaman.com. In March 2013, Israel apologized for the incident; however, relations between Israel and Turkey remain tense and there has been no news on whether the two states will resume joint military exercises: Sara Sidner, Ivan Watson and Joe Sterling, "Israel to Turkey: We apologize for deadly raid on Gaza-bound flotilla," CNN, 24 March 2013.
[41] Aaron Stein, "Turkey Wants Missiles Defenses and the Accompanying Design Info," Nukes of Hazard: A Project of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, 16 November 2012, www.nukesofhazardblog.com.
[42] "US Congress Aims at Turkish Missile Deal, but project already imperiled," Today’s Zaman, December 15, 2013, www.todayszaman.com.
[43] "Missile Tender to Conclude by August," Daily Sabah, July 27th, 2014, www.dailysabah.com.
[44] "Fact Sheet: Patriot Advanced Capability-3," Missile Defense Agency, U.S. Department of Defense, January 2009, www.mda.mil.
[45] North Atlantic Treaty Organization, "NATO Foreign Ministers' statement on Patriot deployment to Turkey," 4 December 2012, www.nato.int. For additional background on the politics of the NATO decision, see: Jessica C. Varnum, "Musings on Turkey," Arms Control Wonk, 17 November 2010, http://lewis.armscontrolwonk.com.
[46] Piotr Zalewski, "Patriot Missiles Arrive in Turkey: How They Affect the Syria Equation," TIME Magazine, 1 February 2013.
[47] North Atlantic Treaty Organization, "NATO Foreign Ministers' statement on Patriot deployment to Turkey," 4 December 2012, www.nato.int.
[48] Damien MacElroy, "Syria opposition demands protection from US missile shield; America must use Patriot missile systems in southern Turkey to prevent government attacks on civilians, the head of the Syrian opposition has said as he took over the country's Arab League seat," The Telegraph, 26 March 2013.
[49] "Fact Sheet: Patriot Advanced Capability-3," Missile Defense Agency, U.S. Department of Defense, January 2009, www.mda.mil; "Patriot MIM-104 surface to air defense missile system," Army Recognition, www.armyrecognition.com.
[50] "Fact Sheet: Patriot Advanced Capability-3," Missile Defense Agency, U.S. Department of Defense, January 2009, www.mda.mil; "Patriot MIM-104 surface to air defense missile system," Army Recognition, www.armyrecognition.com.
[51] "Fact Sheet: Patriot Advanced Capability-3," Missile Defense Agency, U.S. Department of Defense, January 2009, www.mda.mil; "Patriot MIM-104 surface to air defense missile system," Army Recognition, www.armyrecognition.com.
[52] "Fact Sheet: Patriot Advanced Capability-3," Missile Defense Agency, U.S. Department of Defense, January 2009, www.mda.mil; "Patriot MIM-104 surface to air defense missile system," Army Recognition, www.armyrecognition.com.
[53] "Fact Sheet: Patriot Advanced Capability-3," Missile Defense Agency, U.S. Department of Defense, January 2009, www.mda.mil; "Patriot MIM-104 surface to air defense missile system," Army Recognition, www.armyrecognition.com.

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This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents.

Get the Facts on Turkey

  • Hosts approximately 60 to 70 U.S. tactical nuclear weapons on its territory
  • State party to the NPT, BTWC and CWC
  • Pursuing ballistic missile defense systems