Developing a nuclear bomb has become a difficult task, thanks to the robust non-proliferation norms and international control measures. A case in point is Iran’s nuclear program. Despite this, news and commentaries on Turkey getting nuclear technology and bomb have increased in recent years.
The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comments on nuclear weapons during his meeting with his party members in September 2019 have fuelled the discussion. “Several countries have missiles with nuclear warheads, not one or two. But [they tell us that] we can’t have them. This I cannot accept,” the President remarked. But several other factors have attracted a renewed scrutiny of Turkey’s nuclear ambitions in the press. These include a fallout of Turkey’s relations with the United States (US) and NATO, developing relations with China and Pakistan, and defence deals with Russia.
The comments of the Turkish President on the possession of nuclear weapons by the Western countries and restrictions on others to develop them may only indicate his anger and discomfort on the ineffectiveness of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The nuclear-weapon states promised under the treaty to disarm themselves against the pledge by non-weapons states to not develop them. Turkey signed the NPT in 1980. It also signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996, which bans nuclear testing in all forms. Developing a bomb in secrecy is not easy, and any public move in this regard will get Turkey involved in a crisis with the world community, especially the US and Israel. Of course, Turkey does host 50 nuclear weapons under the US-NATO nuclear umbrella.
Several other factors have attracted a renewed scrutiny of Turkey’s nuclear ambitions in the press. These include a fallout of Turkey’s relations with the United States (US) and NATO, developing relations with China and Pakistan, and defence deals with Russia.
A recent opinion article in The Times of India by SD Pradhan goes to even greater lengths to propagate a “Sino-Pak-North Korea-Turkey nexus for nuclear proliferation”. The author claims that China, Pakistan, and North Korea are helping Turkey build nuclear bombs and missiles by providing them with material and technology. Referring to the Pakistan-Turkey High-Level Military Dialogue Group (HLMDG) meeting on 22-23 December 2020, the op-ed author claims that nuclear delivery technology was one of the main agenda items. The fact of the matter is that the military dialogue group has been held regularly for the past several years and the latest was its 15th meeting. Issues relating to mutual defence cooperation, military training and education, and counterterrorism are discussed in these group meetings. Ascribing nuclear matters to the meeting without any fact is a self-made assumption by the Indian author.
The author also claims about the Pakistan-bound Chinese ship being detained at the Deendayal Port in February 2020, carrying an industrial dryer. India had alleged that the vessel was carrying an autoclave to be used in ballistic missile manufacturing and was wrongly declared as an industrial dryer. Both Pakistan and China had rejected the Indian claim and termed it as an Indian move to assert itself in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). After almost a year of detention of the ship, the author of the said article has linked Turkey with it without any proof or sources. The author holds that the alleged autoclave was meant for Turkey from Pakistan’s Port Qasim in Karachi.
The commentary is coming mainly from countries with strained relationships with Turkey like the US, India, and other like-minded states. Such views and opinions are mostly baseless and misleading, consisting of mere accusations and producing no fact and proof. The hurling of these accusations by India can also be attributed to Turkey’s open criticism of India’s illegal action and policies in the Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K). Turkish President Erdogan has openly criticised the unilateral ending of the special status of IOJ&K by India by scrapping Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution.
Turkey has also strengthened its ties with Pakistan over the years, and the partnership is developing in the defence sector along with other areas such as economy, tourism, and culture. The decline of Turkey’s relations with NATO and the enhancement of Ankara’s ties with Islamabad does not sit well with many countries. Commentators have also expressed their suspicion of nuclear cooperation between Pakistan and Turkey without any basis and merely due to their growing bilateral partnership.
Turkish President’s remarks may only show his discomfort over nuclear weapons politics rather than any serious approach to acquire such weapons. But his comments have given an excuse to alarmists for making false assumptions about Turkey getting a nuclear bomb.
Besides, India is at loggerheads with China over the 2017 standoff in Doklam and the crisis in the Ladakh region of IOJ&K during 2020. India is also a part of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or “Quad,” comprised of Australia, India, Japan, and the US to counter Chinese presence in the region. Therefore, the reporting and commentary on China in the Indian media is mostly negative.
In addition to China and Pakistan, the op-ed author makes a North Korean connection to Turkey’s nuclear program to add to the sensationalism. He, however, simply ignores the reports of India having close ties with North Korea. According to a report, India has provided training to several North Korean scientists in its research centres even after the United Nations (UN) sanctions against North Korea. According to another account, India has violated UN resolutions several times by conducting trade with North Korea. Junior Foreign Minister of India, Vijay Kumar Singh, who has also served as the Indian Chief of Army Staff from 2010-2012, had visited North Korea in May 2018. Based on these reports, it can also be argued that India is supporting the North Korean nuclear ambitions.
To sum it all up, the Turkish President’s remarks may only show his discomfort over nuclear weapons politics rather than any serious approach to acquire such weapons. But his comments have given an excuse to alarmists for making false assumptions about Turkey getting a nuclear bomb. India and several other countries are not comfortable with the growing partnership between Pakistan and Turkey. They are, therefore, going to any extent to undermine this relationship, and using the non-proliferation card is a mala fide attempt in this regard. Pakistan and Turkey can limit these malign efforts by exposing and countering them with the truth.