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  • Affiliation : Dean, MEF University; Chairman, BiLGESAM
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The resolve of Ankara should not be underestimated, nor should it be discounted

Mustafa Kibaroglu

PIR Center conducted an interview with Professor Mustafa Kibaroglu, Ph.D in International Relations, Dean of the Faculty of Economics, Administrative and Social Sciences at the MEF University in Istanbul, a PIR Center Advisory Board member. We discussed the possibility of exporting U.S. nuclear technology to Europe, the prospects for the upcoming NPT Review Conference, the current crisis in Turkey-NATO relations, and US nuclear weapons at Turkey's Incirlik Air Base.


On April 13 two U.S. Senators introduced bipartisan International Nuclear Energy Act, which urges the American government to export its nuclear technology to its European allies. What do you think about the prospects of this very act and more broadly of U.S. export of its nuclear technology to Central and Eastern Europe?

The International Nuclear Energy Act, which was introduced to the U.S. Congress in April 2022, by Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Jim Risch (R-ID), reportedly aims to restore the United States as a nuclear energy leader and partner, combat the growing Russian and Chinese influence over civil nuclear energy programs across the globe, and to eventually eliminate reliance on Chinese and Russian nuclear fuels.

In the aftermath of the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the European Union (EU), spearheaded by the then reunified Germany, had assigned the utmost priority to admit the Central and Eastern European countries to NATO and then to the EU. Because, the United States, and thus NATO was the only able power that would provide positive security assurances to the new members of the EU, which was, and indeed still is, devoid of a credible deterrent against the potential rival, namely Russia.

Central and Eastern European countries have always been wary of a Russian comeback and, therefore, they have always sought U.S. protection and assistance on a number of issues, both military and economic. The ongoing fighting in Ukraine has nonetheless heightened their concerns. Hence, in addition to the assurances provided by the U.S. in the military-security domain, energy security is no less a strategic issue for them, given their heavy dependence on natural gas supplies from Russia and the aging nuclear technology designed and provided by the Soviet Union decades ago.

Against this background, it would be safe to argue that the Nuclear Energy Act will prepare the ground for striking a win-win deal between the U. S. and the Central and Eastern European countries by enhancing and deepening their ties and expanding the scope of their alliance relationship beyond the NATO framework along with providing a long-term solution to the energy security of the vulnerable European allies of the United States.

How much would this direction of the U.S. energy policy threaten the nuclear non-proliferation?

It would be far-fetched to assert that this direction of the U.S. energy policy would threaten the nuclear nonproliferation regime directly, bearing in mind that the Nuclear Energy Act of 2022 envisages exporting civilian technology. It must also be noted that those at the recipient end are the Non-Nuclear Weapons States parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) of 1968, thereby foregoing the option of developing nuclear weapons in return for entertaining the peaceful applications of nuclear energy.

Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that the future and the success of the NPT rests on close cooperation and active collaboration among the member states, where the contributions of the U.S and Russia, in particular, are indispensable. Under the current circumstances, however, due to the exacerbating tension between Russia and the United States recently, it would be difficult to expect a successful NPT Review Conference later this year.

Should the upcoming Review Conference also fail to produce a Final Document, as has been the case in 2015, universal trust in the effectiveness of the nuclear non-proliferation may be challenged seriously that may eventually pave the way toward the collapse of the regime that has managed to keep the number of proliferators at relatively low levels. Such an unwanted development would certainly be a serious blow to international peace, security, and stability.

These days another split is growing in Turkey-NATO relations on the issue of accepting Sweden and Finland into the Alliance. In short, what is your prognosis about the resolution of this conflict? What fate can befall the American nuclear weapons at the Incirlik Air Base as a result of this crisis?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made unequivocally clear his opposition to the admittance of Finland and Sweden to NATO as new members, on the grounds of the longstanding support that they used to provide to the PKK, the Kurdish separatist group, which is responsible for the killing of tens of thousands of civilians as well as security forces as a result of their attacks over the last four decades.

In the same vein, President Erdogan expressed his misgivings about the sanctions that these two countries have imposed on Turkey because of the Turkish military presence across its borders in northern Syria fighting the PKK and PYD/YPG.

Hence, considering that admittance of new members to NATO requires unanimity of affirmative vote of every single existing allied country, Turkey’s opposition may become a serious roadblock on the way to fulfilling the aspirations of the Finnish and Swedish governments.

Notwithstanding Turkeys opposition, leading members of the Alliance, such as the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany, with which Turkey has deeply-rooted and diverse political, economic, and military relations, have reiterated their powerful support for the membership of the two Nordic countries in NATO.

Difficult as it may seem at present, finding a middle ground, however, may not be totally out of sight, provided that parties approach the issue as the meaning of the term “ally” requires them to do.

Because, Turkey has been subject to the arms embargo imposed by the U.S. Senate between 1975 and 1978 as a result of the Turkish Peace Operation on Cyprus in July 1974, as a guarantor power, in order to protect the Turkish Cypriots from the atrocities of Greek Cypriot coup plotters who wanted to annex the island to Greece.

Turkey has also been subject to overt as well as covert embargos and sanctions by its fellow allies in NATO since the 1990s with the intensification of its fight against the PKK, which has used northern Iraqi territory as a sanctuary as a result of the no-fly zone application of the U.S. in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War that aimed the protect the Iraqi Kurds from the scourge of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Adding salt to injury, the CAATSA sanctions imposed by the U.S. Senate as a result of Turkey’s S-400 deal with Russia that have the potential to cause significant harm to Turkey’s fledgling defense industries as well as the military capabilities of the Turkish Armed Forces, has put another negative spin on the already strenuous relations between Turkey and the United States.

Against this background, Turkish authorities may be considering the application of Finland and Sweden as an opportunity to bring the awkward nature of the relations between Turkey and a good deal of the NATO members to the public attention and thus to show to the world how Turkey has long been ill-treated by its allies.

No doubt, over the coming months, Ankara will have to put up with the pressure coming from the capitals like Washington, London, and Berlin where plans have been drawn up for a speedy membership process for bringing in Helsinki and Stockholm under the roof of the Alliance. But the resolve of Ankara, clearly pronounced by the top politician, should not be underestimated, nor should it be discounted in view of the economic and financial difficulties that the country may be undergoing.

In 1999, at a time when the Greek economy and its financial resources were drained and thus became heavily dependent on the funds coming from the EU members, Germany being at the forefront, Athens played its veto card highly effectively, threatening to block the EU’s eastward enlargement by admitting Central and Eastern European countries, such as Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary, in order to pave the way for the eventual full membership of the divided island Cyprus in the EU.

Similarly, Greece has blocked for almost a decade the membership of Macedonia in NATO until the latter changed its constitution with a referendum to change its name to “Northern” Macedonia.

Turkey’s geopolitical and geostrategic value for the Western Alliance, as well as its economic potential, not to mention its military capabilities, when compared to Greece, is huge. Hence, Turkish decision-makers feel no less confident that they, too, may play the veto card equally effectively, if not more.

In this process, a number of issues will come to the negotiation table, for sure, but not necessarily the U.S. tactical nuclear weapons deployed at the Incirlik Base in southern Turkey, near the city of Adana. Military authorities and strategic thinkers agree almost unanimously that these weapons have more political value than any military significance, and the parties seem to be like-minded in keeping them in Turkey in the foreseeable future as well, together with other four European allies, namely Belgium, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, as a tangible indication of transatlantic solidarity. Hence, it would be an unwise decision for the United States to withdraw these weapons from Turkey and deploy them elsewhere at a time when no other ally seems to be willing to host them.


The interview was conducted by Alexey Yurk, a PIR Center intern, May 24, 2022