France's nuclear, biological, chemical, and missile overviews.
Turkey is not known to possess nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons programs, and is a member in good standing of all of the major treaties governing their acquisition and use. 1
While Turkey is situated in a notoriously “dangerous neighborhood” 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. 2 However, as negotiations regarding Turkey’s accession to the EU have stalled since a failed coup attempt in 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made several public mentions of Turkey’s right to develop and acquire nuclear weapons. 3 Thanks in part to decades of U.S. military aid and cooperation, Turkey has robust conventional defense capabilities, including short-range ballistic missiles. In 2017, Ankara purchased a Russian S-400 missile defense system and was subsequently banned from participating in the U.S. F-35 pilot training program. 4
As part of NATO’s nuclear umbrella, Turkey continues to host approximately 50 U.S. tactical nuclear weapons on its territory at Incirlik Air Base. 5 While the Cold War-era B61 bombs serve little military purpose, they provide tangible evidence of a continued American commitment to Turkish security. There is ongoing debate in the policy community about whether the United States should continue to station tactical nuclear weapons in Turkey, given political instability in Turkey and the wider Middle East. 6 However, advocates for the continued presence of the weapons argue that, although they 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 complete the process by 2024. 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. 8 Additionally, the United States halted a shipment of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey in 2019 over Turkey’s purchase of a Russian missile defense system. Some of these jets were slated to be used with U.S. nuclear weapons. 9
Additionally, in September 2019, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that it was unacceptable for nuclear-armed states to prohibit Turkey from attaining nuclear weapons. Though he did not say if Turkey would begin to pursue a nuclear weapons program, Erdogan’s statement fueled calls for the U.S. to remove its nuclear weapons from Turkey and increased anxieties regarding the development of nuclear power plants in Turkey. 10
Turkey’s interest in civilian nuclear technology dates to at least 1956, when the government founded the Turkish Atomic Energy Authority (TAEK), Ankara conducts sophisticated nuclear fuel cycle research and possesses two small research reactors. The TR-2 5MWt reactor is located at the Cekmece Nuclear Research Training Center, and the ITU TRIGA MARK II is located at Istanbul Technical University. 11
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. 12 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. 13 In May 2010, Russia and Turkey signed a Cooperation Agreement, under which Rosatom State Cooperation will construct Akkuyu nuclear power plant. The plant will eventually contain four reactors with a combined capacity of 4800 MW. 14 Construction is underway on the first unit. 15 Other nuclear power projects in Sinop and the Thrace region remain in the planning stages.
Turkey meets approximately 72% of its energy demand through imports, and thus is actively pursuing nuclear energy to address this dependency. 16
Turkey does not possess biological weapons, nor is it known to have ever undertaken a biological weapons program. 17 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.
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. 18 The MGM-140A Block I warhead contains 950 M-74 anti-material anti-personnel (APAM) bomblets, and cannot be equipped with strategic warheads. 19 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). The Yildrum I and II have ranges of 150km and 300km respectively, and carry 480kg high explosive warheads. 20
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.
While the United States had pressured Turkey to refrain from purchasing any system that could harm NATO interoperability, Ankara continued to seek bids for missile defense-related capabilities from Russia and China.
In 2017, Turkey signed a deal to purchase S-400 surface-to-air missile defense batteries from Russia. This contract has raised concern in other NATO member states, who claim that the system cannot be integrated into NATO’s existing missile defense radar and tracking systems. 21 In March 2020, the U.S. offered to sell Turkey a Patriot missile defense system if it promises not to operate the S-400 system. Turkey refused the offer. 22 As a consequence, in December 2020, the United States imposed sanctions against Turkey’s military acquisition agency, removed Turkey from its F-35 pilot training program, and canceled a shipment of F-35 fighter jets. 23
Currently, there are also six NATO-funded PAC-3 missile defense batteries located in Turkey under the command of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). 24
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. 25 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.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest on nuclear and biological threats.
France's nuclear, biological, chemical, and missile overviews.
Educational tutorials to build understanding among a new generation of experts and leaders on these often complex issues.
How misinformation and fake news affect WMD issues. (CNS)