Wild Turkey With H-Bombs: Failed Coup Heightens Calls for Denuclearization

An explosive cocktail of political instability mixed with 90 U.S. H-bombs raises the specter of accidental or suicidal nuclear detonation in or near Turkey. This risk was brought into sharp relief by the attempted military coup there in mid-July.

In June, I warned that the Pentagon’s 180 thermonuclear B61 gravity bombs deployed across Europe – 50 to 90 are at Incirlik Air Force Base in Turkey – are too dangerous deploy in the age of terrorism. Turkey’s B61s are 100 miles from Islamic State territory, a war zone. Now the Los Angeles Times, the Japan Times, Foreign Policy, the San Antonio Express News and other major papers see the Pentagon’s outsourced B61s in Turkey as a hot topic.

As Tobin Harshaw reported July 25, “Until recently, the question of whether the United States should continue to station nuclear missiles [sic] in Turkey was of interest only to a passel of national-security geeks and nonproliferation advocates. One failed coup later, the discussion has spread to CNN, The New Yorker, the New York Times, the Washington Post and elsewhere.”

Jeffrey Lewis argued July 18, that in the wake of the botched coup, “Turkey is not a sensible base for nuclear deterrence.” But in the irrational realm of nuclear war planning, U.S. B61s are being stored at Incirlik, where the coup was planned, because US hawks insist, Harshaw wrote, on “maintaining the capability to attack Iran” with H-bombs. Never mind the ensuing cataclysm as Russia and Pakistan could retaliate with nuclear weapons if the US used its own against Iran.

The bloody, hapless coup inside Turkey amplifies the reasons why US proliferation of nuclear weapons to other countries amounts to nuclear madness. The B61s’ uselessness and vulnerability have been reported by major news outlets from New York to Tokyo. Antiwar protesters have often snuck past security into NATO bases where they are stored. After 20 terrorist attacks inside Turkey, reasons for its denuclearization have gone mainstream: 

1) The Los Angeles Times said July 23 that Incirlik AFB “was an operational center of the attempted coup,” which, US military experts said, demonstrated “a worrying level of instability in Turkey’s military command close to the B61s.” The base’s top commanders were all arrested.

2) US B61s stored at Incirlik are designed for the McDonnell Douglas Corp’s F-15E jet fighter and for Lockheed Martin’s F-16, according to the Washington Post. Yet, “The US does not have aircraft at Incirlik qualified to deliver the weapons,” the LA Times noted. “In order for the weapons to actually be used, the US would have to fly a squadron of aircraft into Incirlik to load the bombs, all of which would be observed by Russia and possibly make the base a target for a first strike.” These bombs only endanger their owners and everyone around them!

3) The B61 bombs are designed with safeguards to prevent unauthorized use known as “use controls” and “permissive action links.” But the LA Times reports that Robert Peurifoy, who “designed the first use controls on weapons based in Europe” while at Sandia National Laboratory warns that “use controls may only impede and delay a terrorist. … Either you keep custody or you should expect a mushroom cloud.”

4) General Eugene Habiger, USAF Ret., a former commander of all long-range nuclear weapons who led Strategic Command from 1996 to 1998, told the San Antonio Express News July 22 “the [B61] bombs no longer have any military usefulness.” And Habiger said, “It’s a very, very dangerous weapon in terms of military consequences, political consequences, and I think what happened in Turkey highlights the potential unintended consequences of having nuclear weapons forward deployed if there is no military requirement.”

Because conventional bombs are devastating enough, Gen. Habiger asks, “Why does NATO need nuclear weapons?” As Jeffrey Lewis noted: “After the events of the past weekend, leaving them in place seems positively terrifying.” Terrifying to us that is, since the B61s in Turkey have no delivery system. As such, wild Turkey becomes that latest and best reason ever to permanently remove US nuclear weapons from Europe.

John LaForge, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and is co-editor with Arianne Peterson of Nuclear Heartland, Revised: A Guide to the 450 Land-Based Missiles of the United States.

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Author: John LaForge

John LaForge works for Nukewatch and edits its quarterly newsletter.