A Washington think tank raised alarms in a new report that 50 American nuclear weapons stored at a Turkish base are at risk of falling into the hands of "terrorists or other hostile forces".
The Stimson Center's report comes on the heels of a recent military coup in Turkey which almost saw its President Erdoğan ousted. The coup illustrated the volatile situation inside Turkey and the possibility that terrorists could use the instability to their advantage.
“Whether the U.S. could have maintained control of the weapons in the event of a protracted civil conflict in Turkey is an unanswerable question", warns the Stimson Center.
The base in question is the Incirlik base in southern Turkey, which is located 70 miles from the northern border of Syria, a country ravaged by 6 years of a civil war which has been causing major international repercussions. Washington uses the bases to conduct airstrikes against ISIS and to store 50 nuclear bombs, as a symbol of its commitment to its NATO alliance, which includes Turkey, and as a deterrent to Russia.
Notably, the base's Turkish commander was arrested for possible participation in the coup attempt.
Lacie Heeley from the Stimson Center elaborated to the AFP news agency that:
“From a security point of view, it's a roll of the dice to continue to have approximately 50 of America's nuclear weapons stationed at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. There are significant safeguards in place. But safeguards are just that, they don't eliminate risk. In the event of a coup, we can't say for certain that we would have been able to maintain control.”
The report also called for specifically removing the B61 gravity bomb from Europe, with Turkey being one of the locations where it's believed to be housed.
Last week, Steve Andreasen, former White House director for defense policy and arms control, also wrote a concerned opinion piece in Los Angeles Times, stating that:
"While we've avoided disaster so far, we have ample evidence that the security of US nuclear weapons stored in Turkey can change literally overnight."
The Department of Defense did say that they have taken appropriate security measures to prevent dangerous groups from taking control of the weapons, although they refused to confirm the location of the weapons. It's against their policy to "discuss the location of strategic assets."
In their support, Kori Schake, a fellow at the public policy think tank Hoover Institution, noted in the New York Times that:
"American nuclear forces cannot be used without codes, making the weapons impossible to set off without authorization. The fact that nuclear weapons are stationed in Turkey does not make them vulnerable to capture and use, even if the country were to turn hostile to the United States."