Business Insider previously reported on power being cut to Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base during the failed July 15 coup and the situation of some 50 B61 nuclear bombs there, but a new report from the Congressional Research Service shows that Congress was also briefed on the matter.
The brief may be the most official confirmation of the location of the bombs on record, and it goes into detail on why and how the bombs are stored.
Essentially, the presence of nuclear weapons at Incirlik owes to Cold War tensions and postures between the US and the former Soviet Union. The report asserts that nuclear weapons were stored in Europe, Japan, South Korea, and elsewhere, with a total of about 200 nuclear bombs in Europe.
The weapons at Incirlik are the shorter-range variety, and they are mainly valuable to deter potential aggression and demonstrate the US’s commitment to NATO. However, Incirlik is unusual in that Turkey does not own or maintain nuclear-capable aircraft, and Ankara does not allow the US to fly nuclear-capable bombers to that airbase.
So the bombs that sit in Incirlik can’t actually be used, or they would have to be hauled to another base first.
Are the bombs secure?
The report finds the security situation of the bombs adequate, as they are stored in facilities last updated in 2015, are heavily guarded by US troops, and are stored securely underground. To steal or access these bombs, the report suggests, one would need to overwhelm US and NATO forces on one of their own bases, and then come up with some way to haul a 12 foot long, very heavy warhead.
So the report maintains that even with the failed coup, the following turmoil in Turkey’s governance, and the brief loss of commercial power to the base, the nuclear weapons at the base were never in harm’s way.
But is there still good reason to question their presence in Turkey?
Should the US move the nukes?
In its conclusion, the report weighs the alternatives to stationing nuclear weapons at Incirlik. Moving the warheads could possibly encourage Russia to cooperate more and possibly reduce their nuclear stockpile, though nothing guarantees that.
A move could be seen as prudent in light of the evolving and uncertain relationship of the US to Turkey, and the weapon’s current proximity to ISIS territory and the Syrian quagmire, but it would represent a loss of confidence in the Turkish system, and another host country would have to approve the presence of the nukes.
But moving the nukes could also strike the wrong note with NATO. In the Baltics, NATO’s newest and most exposed members count on the US and the broader alliance to provide credible and effective nuclear deterrence against potential Russian aggression.
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