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Why does Erdogan want nuclear weapons?

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has for the first time made his nuclear ambitions public, arguing that it is unacceptable for Turkey to not have nuclear weapons while other countries do.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan greets his supporters during a ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey, June 19, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer - RC1905AECB00

In an unprecedented move, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared his desire to obtain nuclear weapons, flouting Turkey’s obligations as a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Speaking at an economic forum in the central Anatolian city of Sivas Sept. 4, Erdogan praised the advancement of Turkey’s defense industry and then said, “It’s all fine and well, yet some countries have missiles with nuclear warheads, not one or two. But I don’t have missiles with nuclear heads. This I cannot accept.”

Erdogan’s use of the singular first-person pronoun was, of course, meant to denote Turkey and not himself. His statement reflects his mistrust in the nuclear umbrella of NATO, to which his country belongs. Indirectly, it also indicates that he attributes no deterrent significance to the American B61 tactical nuclear weapons deployed at the Incirlik Air Base, in southern Turkey, as part of NATO’s nuclear program.

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