Hey, NATO, Let’s Move Those 50 US Thermonuclear Weapons Out of Turkey

Defense One | 5/23/2017 | Joe Cirincione
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When President Donald Trump and other heads of state meet at this week’s NATO Summit it might be a good time to discuss the wisdom of keeping 50 U.S. thermonuclear weapons in Turkey, just 70 miles from Syria, the most intense combat zone on the planet.

Each of the B61 gravity bombs stored at Incirlik Air Base, 68 miles from the Syrian border have a maximum yield of 170 kilotons, or 10 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. But these bombs also have a “dial-a-yield” capability that allows them to be set to explode at various levels, down to less than one kiloton of force. They are the vestige of the thousands of battlefield weapons once deployed by the United States and the Soviet Union to wage nuclear war in Europe. Almost all have been withdrawn from deployment except these at Incirlik and approximately 100 other B-61’s stored at NATO bases in Belgium, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Airfields - Aircraft - Turkey - Weapons - Crisis

However, unlike those airfields, there are no aircraft based in Turkey capable of carrying the American nuclear weapons stored there. In a crisis, planes would have to fly from other U.S. bases, assuming they could be freed from their other assigned conventional missions. The actual strategy for their use is hazy at best.

“Today, the symbolism of these bombs is far more important than their military utility,” says nuclear historian Eric Schlosser. “Missiles carrying nuclear warheads reach targets much faster, more reliably, and with much greater accuracy.” Rather, the case for keeping the weapons is the nuclear equivalent of the old phrase about the purpose of NATO, “to keep America in, Russia out and Germany down.” In this case, the bombs are there to demonstrate that America’s nukes are in, Russian nukes will be kept out, and German nukes are unnecessary.


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