NATO’s nuke upgrade in Turkey may escalate tensions with Russia

May 11, 2012, Friday/ 17:49:00/ AYDIN ALBAYRAK

In a costly project expected to increase tension in the region, NATO is planning to upgrade tactical nuclear weapons in European countries, including Turkey.

In a recent report published by the European Leadership Network (ELN), it is noted that such a step, coming at a time when NATO and Russia already have serious disagreements over missile defense, would not only prove costly, but also serve to worsen relations with Russia. Such a step may put Turkey in a particularly tight corner given that it has already been exposed to harsh criticism by Russia on account of its early warning system and the two sides’ differing positions on the Syrian issue. The report, authored by Ted Seay, a senior associate fellow of the ELN, and until autumn 2011 the arms control advisor to the United States Mission to NATO, claims that modernization of nuclear weapons, while formidably increasing NATO’s nuclear capabilities in Europe, “will be a form of expensive nuclear escalation by default which can be expected to draw a hostile reaction from Moscow.”

With this project, the US government, despite thinking of cutting defense spending, is planning to replace older generation bombs, which have no guidance systems, with ones that have precision guidance systems, at a cost of $4 billion. However, it will not only be the bombs that need to be modernized should the project get the green light, but European countries will also need to replace their already aging aircraft with the US F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which reportedly costs between $90 and 110 million per aircraft.

The new aircraft with their advanced stealth technology will have the ability to reach targets without detection. After noting that the almost undetectable F-35 could possibly have the capacity to reach targets, for instance in Russia or Iran, Seay goes on to say that “this is not a scenario that Russia could view with equanimity.” “If allowed to come to fruition, in fact, such a nuclear force could eliminate any hope of further progress in reducing or eliminating non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe as a whole,” he writes.

Hasan Köni, professor of international law at İstanbul-based Kültür University, noting that the situation is already tense in the region after the break up of talks on the missile shield between Russia and the US, has told Today’s Zaman that the new bombs would just serve to worsen it. But Köni also believes this might be a step taken by Obama to appeal to right-wing voters, especially Jewish voters, before the presidential elections to be held in November. To avoid a disaster in the Middle East, Köni strongly advises Turks living in the US to vote for the democrat candidate, fearing, should Iran or Syria be attacked, a possible invasion of Azerbaijan by Russia; a scenario which he says he was told about by some Azerbaijani friends.

According to the report, NATO currently possesses approximately 180 B61 free-fall tactical nuclear bombs in five countries in Europe -- Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany and Turkey. Should NATO go ahead with its plan to modernize the bombs, such a step would not be of any help in convincing the Russians to remove their nuclear warheads in Europe, which the Eastern European countries wish were as far away from Europe as possible.

Public opinion in Europe is also against nuclear weapons. The report notes that, in recent years, polls have demonstrated that the majority of people -- in Belgium 64.6 %, in Germany 70.5 %, in Italy 71.5 %, in the Netherlands 63.3 % and in Turkey 88.1 % -- want a nuclear-free Europe

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