Cartoon by Rainer Hachfeld

Turkey’s Erdogan hints he wants nuclear weapons

The Independent: Turkey’s president has shown interest in obtaining nuclear weapons, adding to worries about the proliferation of atomic technology in the Middle East.

In a speech to business leaders late on Wednesday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan questioned global arms-control agreements, saying it was “unacceptable” that his nation was not allowed to have nuclear missiles.

“Some countries have missiles with nuclear warheads. Not just one or two. But I cannot have them. I don’t accept this,” Mr Erdogan said in a speech in central Turkey that was broadcast on national television. “There is almost no developed country in the world that does not have nuclear warheads.”

It remained unclear whether Mr Erdogan was engaging in rhetorical bluster to rally his increasingly nationalistic supporters or hinting at plans. Mr Erdogan’s comments were reported extensively by pro-government media outlets.

“We are carrying out work for nuclear missiles,” declared the pro-government Sabah newspaper.

Turkey was an early signatory to the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the international agreement through which countries forego nuclear weapons in exchange for access to peaceful civilian nuclear technology.

But Turkey finds itself in a region increasingly exploring nuclear technology.

Neighbouring Iran has been accused of pursuing a nuclear weapons programme and has established a nuclear power plant in the southern city of Bushehr.

Pakistan and India both have nuclear weapons.

The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan are also pursuing nuclear power.

In the Middle East, only Israel is believed to have an undeclared arsenal – of up to 200 nuclear missiles.  

“Don’t we have Israel close by?” said Mr Erdogan. “It uses [nuclear weapons] as a threat.”

Non-proliferation experts say it would be difficult and expensive for Turkey to pursue nuclear weapons, requiring it to breach its treaty commitments, potentially triggering sanctions from its crucial European trading partners at a time when the country is suffering through major economic troubles.

“I’m not sure how he could possibly believe this would improve Turkey’s economy,” said Chen Kane, director of the Middle East non-proliferation programme at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies.