The Erdogan/Gul Prisoner Dilemma

During the Cold War, strategists often turned to game theory to explain deterrence and the concept of mutually assured destruction (MAD). The United States and the Soviet Union, for example, were cast as players in an open-ended PD game, whereby the two sides had an immediate incentive to defect, i.e. launch a first strike, but realized that defecting would invite a devastating second-strike. Thus, the consequences of a nuclear exchange outweighed the payoff associated with a first strike and the two sides opted to cooperate – i.e. not launch first.

In the context of the Erdogan – Gul relationship, I can’t help but think that the two men are locked into a long-term iterated PD game. To start, the AKP faces no political rival. And, in carving out such a large swathe of the electorate they currently face no real political opposition. Absent the threat of a military coup, the AKP now faces only one real challenger – itself. In other words, if Gul were to defect from the party, he would actually catalyze the downfall of the AKP. The same goes for Erdogan. MAD.

Both Erdogan and Gul have been playing an iterated PD game since the AKP’s election in 2002. After the election, Erdogan’s previous arrest prevented him from serving as Prime Minister. Yet, in what must have been a very interesting back-room deal, Gul agreed to serve as Prime Minister, up until Erdogan’s legal troubles were resolved. After Erdogan was allowed to run for Parliament, Gul stepped aside – or to use PD language, he did not defect – and agreed to serve as Foreign Minister.

In 2007, Erdogan appears to have held up his end of the bargain and supported Gul’s nomination for Presidency, even though it provoked a secular backlash that nearly resulted in the AKP’s closure. Nevertheless, the two men have remained loyal to one another, despite obvious differences about the way in which Erdogan has governed the country in recent years. Thus, as the two sides now discuss whether or not Erdogan will run for President, or simply stay on as Prime Minister for another term, the men are now in discussions about what their future political roles may be.

As of now, Erodgan has two options:

1) The simplest option is for him to change the AKP’s self-imposed three term limit. After the rule change, he would simply be reelected Prime Minister. Gul would then serve a second term as president.

2) Erdogan runs for President. And here is where it gets very interesting There are two sub-options: If Erdogan chooses to do this, he will have to reach an agreement with Gul about his future position. If Gul opts to become Prime Minister, then the AKP would have to call a special election – the district mentioned is Bayburt. The Bayburt MP would step aside. Gul would run in that election, be elected, and then the AKP would convene a special party congress, where Gul would be nominated to be Prime Minister. If this scenario were to take place, the AKP would have to appoint a figure head prime minister for the period after Erdogan’s presidential election and the special election for Gul. Erdogan has hinted that he will not call an early election. So, if he sticks to this promise, the earliest Gul could be elected is June 2015. If Gul does not agree to this scenario, then he could serve in a different position. In this case, I would presume that he would be the head of the party. And, if I had to guess, this is Erdogan’s preferred strategy. I would assume that if Gul did not opt to be Robin to Erdogan’s Batman, Numan Kurtulmus could be tapped to be the figure head Prime Minister.

Now, Erdogan can’t simply cast Gul aside. He has a minority of supporters in the party and his more subtle governing style does help to keep some people under the AKP’s very large political tent. While Erdogan is the more powerful player, he has certain vulnerabilities that Gul could exploit, should Erdogan defect and try cut Gul out out of the AKP’s future. And, as I mentioned earlier, if Erdogan does defect, he risks splitting the party. And, if he does this, then he will halve his political base, which means that his post-Presidential mandate to amend the constitution to empower the position will be threatened. That is obviously out of the question. So, the two men now find themselves in a very, very interesting situation. While they both could garner higher initial payoffs from defection, the better play is to continue to cooperate.

Thus, before Erdogan makes any decision about his future, he will have to take Gul’s demands very seriously. The focus, therefore, should not exclusively be on Erdogan’s Presidential ambitions. For me, I think the far more interesting question is: What exactly does Gul want?

Well, yesterday he told the media that a Putin-Medvedev style swap is “inconceivable.” He went on to say, “I don’t have any political plan for the future under today’s circumstances.” The statement would seem to imply that he is not willing to simply say olé as Erdogan seeks to increase the powers of the Presidency at the expense of the Prime Ministry. And, given the need for Erdogan to accommodate Gul, I believe he now has lot more power than he is given credit for.

Thus, moving forward, I would suspect that Gul and Erdogan will engage in numerous discussions intended to delineate the role/authority each will have in a future semi-presidential system. And here is where I think Turkey faces the biggest political risk. The current plans necessitate the rapid rewriting of laws to accommodate a new presidential system that has hitherto not been present in Turkish politics. Call me crazy, but I don’t think it is politically healthy for a country to rapidly rewrite laws to accommodate the political ambitions of two men shortly before and after an election. (However, if Erdogan does run and does win on the first ballot, then one can easily imagine the National Will talking point being used to justify his actions. And in this case, the BDP will be kingmakers, but that is the subject for another post.)

In any case, Gul has just told us all what he does not want: A Medvedev style Prime Ministry. Moving forward, Turkey’s future hinges on Gul’s ambitions and the compromises reached behind closed doors with Erdogan. As of now, it is unclear how this will all play out. However, game theory tells us that the two sides will not defect and will continue to cooperate.


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The Akkuyu Nuclear Plant: What Exactly is Going On?


In early April, Rosatom allocated $1.39 billion for the construction of the Akkuyu nuclear power plant to the project company Akkuyu NPP JSC (AKKUYU NGS ELEKTRIK ÜRETIM ANONIM ŞIRKETI). The project company is a 100% Russian owned subsidiary that is tasked with overseeing the construction of the power plant. The latest infusion of cash is likely to be used to build cranes, power lines, roads, temporary housing and water pipelines (see the satellite picture above to see what the site looks like today). Contrary to the reports, the money was not given to Turkey, but to the project company, which is a 100% Russian owned entity. In tandem, Akkuyu JSC filed its third Environmental Impact Assessment for the site. The other two had been rejected by TAEK because they were “flawed.” In addition, TAEK, for the fourth time, opened a tender for a technical service organization (TSO) to assist it in evaluating the construction plans. This TSO is expected to begin work sometime in 2014 and will give the green-light for the issuance of a construction license. If that happens, then Rosatom will begin to pay Atomstroyexport to construct the plant. There is an inherent conflict of interest with this approach, but in order to fully explain it, I must first begin with an explanation of the way in which the Akkuyu NPP is financed. 

Akkuyu: The Financing History

The Akkuyu project is the world’s first nuclear power plant project to use the Build, Operate, Own financing model (BOO). The BOO model is, in fact, an evolutionary financing approach to the Build, Operate, Own (BOT) financing model, which Prime Minister Ozal first came up with in the early 1980s. The BO system has hindered Turkey’s development of nuclear power for close to four decades. (Turkey first proposed 100% vendor financing in 1977, but didn’t codify this approach into law until 1983.)

In 1982, General Evren enacted the first piece of legislation aimed at breaking the state’s monopoly over the construction of power plants. Law 2705 allowed for the participation of private firms in Turkey’s electricity market. Later that same year, TEK took over all of the municipal power stations and assumed the responsibility for the transmission of electricity in all of Turkey. Before the implementation of the law, the municipalities were tasked with distributing energy.

After Ozal’s election, the Turkish parliament passed Law no: 3096. The new law, according to Ali Ulusoya and Fuat Oguz, “allowed private enterprise to enter the industry by building new generation, transmission and distribution facilities under the build-operate-transfer (BOT) model.”[1] Ozal was the world’s first leader to consider the financing arrangement and it has since proliferated to many other developing countries. For Turkey, the financing scheme was a way for Ozal to secure much needed foreign direct investment without having to spend scarce capital. The models works as follows: The vendor assumes all of the financial risk and is responsible for raising the funds for the nuclear power plant, the project company then establishes a local subsidiary (Akkuyu JSC), which then is tasked with overseeing the project. The vendor is also expected to operate the reactor and then decommission it. Turkey then agrees to purchase a specific amount of electricity at a guaranteed price per-killowat hour for some 20 years. After the allotted time expires, the vendor will sell Turkey electricity at market prices, in return for a percentage of the cash collected by the utility tasked with delivering the electricity – complicated, no? (*Caveat – As far as I can tell, the guaranteed price per-kWh, 12.35 US cents, is in excess of Turkey’s wholesale price per-natural gas – some 9 US cents per-kWh. So, in fact, Turks will be paying more for nuclear energy then natural gas. I can’t find reliable figure, so I’m happy to be proven wrong on this point.)

The model works well for cheap coal fired power plants (they cost some $20 million), but is ill-suited for nuclear power because the upfront costs are so high. The vendor, therefore, must look to outside financiers to raise capital for the cost of construction. Thus, when raising financing from lenders, the project vendor usually needs the contracting government to provide a financial guarantee, so as to convince lenders of the credit worthiness of the project (The government is the only “credit-worthy” partner for a potential lender to sign off on a large loan that will not be paid back for close to 20 years.”

In developing countries, where private industry isn’t credit worthy, the guarantees need to come from the government. Turkey refused to provide such a guarantee, which made the raising of private financing all but impossible for the project. Ankara refused to provide such a guarantee over fears that the Treasury would be exposed to risk, should the project be delayed and the budget for the project be exceeded. Ozal’s team argued that the vendor should assume all of the risk and that Turkey should only pay if the reactor works. 

The model allows for developing companies to defer financial risk, but does include one notable drawback: it elevates price/financing over performance. According to Robert L. K. Tiong, “it is the commercial and financial considerations, rather than the technical elements, that are likely to be determinants in a successful proposal for a BOT project.”[2] During Turkey’s first BOT tender (1983), for example , a representative from Britain’s National Nuclear Corp. noted,” any vendor who produces a credit package for the Turks will get the Turkish order.” This continues, despite Ankara’s improved financial status. 

Now, if one fast forwards to the future, one can see the same problems play out during the initial tender for the Akkuyu power plant. In 2008, Turkey passed a complicated nuclear law, designed to entice foreign vendors, without having to do away with the BOO format. Law No. 5710 empowered TETAS to oversee the bidding process and to select the most competitive offer. The vendor would then be required to negotiate a bilateral arrangement to sell a certain amount of energy produced at the site for up to fifteen years directly to TETAS, which would then distribute it to the country.[3] The law is a variation on the 1984, 1986, and 1999 BOT/BOO related legislation.

Yet, from the outset of Turkey’s renewed interest in nuclear energy, vendors remained wary of Ankara’s financing terms. Westinghouse expressed no interest in the bid, while AECL made clear that “This time around … Turkey is probably going to have to put money on the table.” AREVA remained very cautious about the Turkish tender, saying that it would be “very choosy” when deciding whether to bid or not.[4]

Why? Well, it costs money to put together a “serious” nuclear tender and the companies had been burned so many times in the past that they were rightfully wary of Turkey’s latest effort. Despite this lack of interest in its latest tender, Turkish officials remained confident, saying, in January 2008, that “the list of reactor vendor companies anticipated to file initial offerings includes Areva; Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., or AECL; Atomstroyexport; General Electric Co.; Westinghouse Electric Co.; and Korea Electric Power Corp., or Kepco.” Ankara believed that it would be able to select a vendor by the end of 2008.[5] Ankara also quietly let suppliers know that it wanted vendors to take back spent fuel, which further indicates that Turkey had no plans for reprocessing, or long term spent fuel storage. As of 10 April, only four companies, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., Itochu Corp., Vinci and Suez Tractebel, had decided to purchase tender documents.[6] Moreover, in a sign of the continued concerns about Turkey’s financing terms, only one firm, Russia’s Atomstroyexport (ASE) in partnership with Ciner Holding, opted to submit a bid for the tender. The other five envelopes were simple thank you letters. 

Why? Two reasons: 1) Financing, 2) the Take-Back provision. Most countries don’t want to store nuclear waste and instead want to leave it on site for the host country to deal with (This means that in the case of Sinop, Turkey will have to store spent fuel. The next question is who will pay for the geological repository?) And, more importantly, Turkey was still refusing to offer the necessary financing guarantees. Nevertheless, the Turkish government began exclusive negotiations with Atomstroyexport (ASE). The two sides, however, disagreed over the guaranteed cost of electricity. 

TAEK began to review the Russian proposal in October 2008 to ensure that the bid met the tender specifications.[7] TAEK approved the Russian bid in December, prompting TETAS to begin to review the financial and commercial bidding documents in January 2009.[8] The Russian bid, however, offered 21.16 U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour.[9] The price was nearly three times as high as Turkey’s average wholesale energy price in 2009. In February, Atomstroyeksport revised its bid, dropping its price to 15.35 cent per kilowatt-hour.[10] In August, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited Turkey to help finalize the deal. The deal remained contingent on Russia lowering its price per kilowatt-hour (kWh) and, according to Western diplomats, “the outcome of separate ongoing negotiations between the two countries over future natural gas pipeline projects.”[11] The statement by Western diplomats suggest some element of corruption in the final decision-making process. However, in late September 2009, Taner Yildiz, Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, indicated that the price per-kWh was still too high.[12]

On 12 November, the Turkish Council of State suspended three articles of the tender, after it accepted a lawsuit filed by the Union of Chamber of Turkish Engineers (TMMOB). The primary complaint was that MENR allowed Russia to revise its price per-kWh, which the TMMOB claimed would expose to lawsuits from the suppliers who opted not to submit a bid. In turn, the government was forced to either restart the tender process, or amend the regulations in question. The lawsuit prompted Turkey to cancel the tender on 20 November. Yildiz continued to support the development of nuclear power, but made clear that the “electricity unit price was one of the determining elements in nuclear power plant tender.” Yildiz added, “we have to make the price reasonable.”[13] (Financing over performance.)

 In late January 2010, Yildiz chose to forego another tender process, in favor of direct bilateral negotiations with a Russian consortium led by Rosatom. At the time of the announcement, Yildiz made clear that the conclusion of the agreement was dependent on the price for the off-take agreement. Thus, like in the case of Turkey’s previous tenders, the conclusion of the agreement ultimately came down to “the commercial and financial considerations, rather than the technical elements…”[14]

 On 12 May, the two sides reached an agreement for Rosatom to build, operate, and own four VVER-1200 nuclear reactors at the Akkuyu site. Rosatom agreed to establish a local special purpose vehicle (SPV) to finance and manage the construction and operation, while TETAS agreed to purchase 70% of the electricity from the first two units for a guaranteed price of 12.35 U.S. cents per-kWh. TETAS also agreed to purchase 30% of the electricity from the third and fourth unit. Critically Rosatom retained the right to sell 49% of its 100% equity in the project. It has since sought to do so on multiple occasions, but has failed to find a partner willing to assume the considerable financial risk.

 However, as of October 2013, Rosatom and TETAS have yet to finalize the power-purchasing arrangement. The delay raises more questions about the viability of the BOO financing model. Nuclear Intelligence Weekly notes, “The lack of a PPA lead to speculation that the Russians are hesitant to agree to final terms before seeing the final structure of the deal, including the PPA, for the second project at Sinop, on the Black Sea …”[15] In a follow-up meeting, Putin told Erdogan that Russia expected Turkey to provide tax incentives and guarantees of a long-term price for power that were not specified in the 2010 agreement and the subsequent negotiations.[16] (Turkey gave the Russian/French consortium better financing terms. EAUS, for example, will take a stake in the project company.) 

The Conflict of Interest 

The project company has an incentive to finish the plant on-schedule (They won’t). If the construction drags on, then the project company will accrue more interest on the loans they took to finance construction. The interest, in turn, will eat into their potential profits – which are already deferred for at least 20 years. Rosatom therefore has an incentive to build the plant as fast as possible. Now this would not be a huge problem if the country’s regulatory regime was well established. It isn’t. Turkey is relying on Rosatom “to handle all aspects of the new program, from the construction to the day-to-day operation, and even the regulation,” according to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairman Allison Macfarlane. Moreover, after the IAEA visited Turkey in November, they “recommended on Feb. 20 that Turkey enact a law establishing an independent regulatory body to oversee its ambitious nuclear newbuild program, the Vienna-based agency said in a statement. The recommendation came in a report, not made public, on an IAEA Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review mission that visited Turkey in November.” 

Bottom Line

There is still a whole lot to do at Akkuyu. The two sides need to finalize the EIA, TAEK needs to select a TSO, the two sides need to agree to a final PPA (will the guaranteed cost of electricity be indexed to inflation, for example), and then Rosatom can begin to pay ASE to start building the site. To be sure, Russia’s ability to tap the sovereign wealth fund to finance the Akkuyu project gives it a “better than good chance” to actually begin construction at the site. However, in the case of Sinop, the combination of delays, a still incomplete PPA, and potential delays when trying to build the Atmea1, could scuttle the project. In both cases, there is still a lot to do before concrete is poured. And, more broadly, given the regulatory issues, one has to ask: Is the BOO model really a good idea?


[1] Ali Ulusoya and Fuat Oguz, “The privatization of electricity distribution in Turkey: A legal and economic analysis,” Energy Policy, vol. 35, no. 10 (October 2010), pg. 5025.

[2] Robert L. K. Tiong, “BOT projects: Risks and securities,” Construction Management and Economics, vol. 8, no. 3 (Summer, 1990), pg. 315.

[3] Unofficial Translation1 of the Turkish Law No. 57102 Concerning the Construction and Operation of Nuclear Power Plants, Republic of Turkey, 9 November 2007, available at:

[4] Mark Hibbs and Ann MacLachlan, “Areva, AECL react cautiously to Turkey’s bid for reactors,” Nucleonics Week, 8 February 2007.

[5] Mark Hibbs and David O’Byrne, “Turkey to pick reactor vendor by end of 2008,” Platts Nucleonics Week, 31 January 2008.

[6] David O’Byrne, “Four companies buy bid documents for Turkey’s first nuclear plant,” Platts Nucleonics Week, 10 April 2008.

[7] Mark Hibbs, “Council of Ministers to decide future of Turkey’s reactor bid,” Platts Nucleonics Week, 6 November 2008.

[8]Mark Hibbs, “Turkey to build VVERs at Akkuyu if Tetas, Cabinet approve ASE bid,” Platts Nucleonics Week, 15 January 2009.

[9]“Russian-Turkish consortium bids for Turkey’s first nuclear plant,” BBC Monitoring Europe – Political, 19 January 2009.

[10] “Russian-Turkish consortium revises bid for Turkish nuclear plant,” BBC Monitoring Europe – Political, 13 February 2009.

[11] Mark Hibbs, “Russia, Turkey still negotiating on terms of nuclear, gas accords,” Platts Nucleonics Week, 13 August 2009.

[12] “Turkey determined to build nuclear power plant – minister,” BBC Monitoring Europe – Political, 25 September 2009.

[13] “Turkey: electricity price decisive factor for nuclear plant bid,” BBC Monitoring Europe – Political, 19 January 2009.

[14] Robert L. K. Tiong, “BOT projects: Risks and securities,” pg. 315.

[15] “Uncertainty over Turkey’s Projects,” Nuclear Intelligence Weekly, vol. 8, no. 43, 25 October 2013.

[16] Ibid


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Turkey’s Airplane-less Nuclear Weapons: A Classic Crisis Stability Problem? (Updated)

As Hans K. notes over at Strategic Security, the United States Air Force’s 2015 Budget shows “that integration of the B61-12 on NATO F-16 and Tornado aircraft will start in 2015 for completion in 2017 and 2018.” The upgrade includes:

software upgrades on the legacy aircraft, operational flight tests, and full weapon integration. Development of the guided tail kit is well underway in reparations for operational tests. Seven flight tests are planned for 2015. The nuclear warhead and some non-nuclear components won’t be ready until the end of the decade. The first complete B61-12 is scheduled for 2020.

Turkey has a very unique nuclear posture. Ankara has hosted American nuclear weapons, deployed under the aegis of the NATO alliance, for more than 5 decades. After the end of the Cold War, Turkey’s nuclear posture began to change. In 1995 the Base Realignments and Closures (BRAC) study recommended the consolidation of air force operations in Europe in four air bases in Europe: RAF Lakenheath in Britain, Ramstein airbase in Germany, Incirlik airbase in Turkey and Aviano airbase in Italy. In Turkey this resulted in the withdrawal of the 39th Munitions Support Squadron (MUNSS) from Balikesir airbase and the 739th MUNSS from Akinci airbase. The two teams completely withdrew from Turkey in April 1996 and the nuclear weapons stored at the base were transferred to Incirlik where they were still reserved for delivery by Turkish F-16s. The weapons were stored in the WS3 vaults that had been completed in 1990. The six vaults apiece at Balikesir and Akinci are empty, but they remain in caretaker status. In the event of a conflict, weapons from either the United States or Incirlik could, in theory, be reintroduced.

Update: My reading of the satellite imagery was off yesterday because the images I included showed the igloos in the ammunition storage sites, not the protective aircraft shelters. The shelters contain the underground vaults, the igloos do not. For clarity, I have inserted better pictures into the post. Thank you to Hans Kristensen for pointing out my error. After reviewing my work, I noticed that that weapons storage area at Incirlik is fenced, as is the weapons storage site at Balikesir. The fenced storage site at Incirlik is next to the double-fenced igloos.

Fencing surrounding the weapons storage area at Incirlik:


Incirlik aircraft shelters with the WS3 vaults:

Protective Air Craft Shelter


For clarity, I also added Hans Kristensen’s satellite photos of Incirlik. I took the following photos from Hans Kristensen’s “U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe,” report for the NRDC.



And Balikesir for comparison:


And Balikesir’s weapons storage area ringed with double fencing:


Up until the weapons’ removal from Akinci and Balikesir, Turkish dual-capable aircraft were responsible for delivering the weapons. After the consolidation of weapons in Incirlik, Ankara decreased the readiness level of its dual-capable F-16s. I have been told that Ankara decertified its nuclear fighter wings to save money. And, in return, Ankara received a very strong nuclear guarantee from the United States. The decision reflects the broader trend within NATO to increase the time needed to use forward deployed nuclear weapons, but also symbolizes Turkey’s very gradual devaluation of nuclear weapons for Turkish war planning.

As of 2001, Turkey hosted 90 B61 nuclear gravity bombs, fifty of which were for delivery by U.S. aircraft. The other forty were reserved for delivery by Turkish F-16s from either the 4th or the 9th air wings currently stationed at Akinci and Balikesir. In 2005, Turkish policymakers turned down an American offer to permanently station the 52nd fighter wing at Incirlik airbase. Instead, the fighter wing rotates in and out of Turkey, while the nuclear weapons are under the custody of the 39th air wing. By 2010 the number of B61 gravity bombs in Turkey had dropped to 60-70, fifty of which were slated for delivery via American aircraft and the rest by Turkish F-16s. Turkey, therefore, has dual-capable-aircraft, but does not have certified pilots to deliver nuclear weapons. (Update: They are, however, nuclear-capable. And they are receiving a “stop-gap” upgrade to carry the B61-12, should the delivery of the F-35 be delayed. Nevertheless, Turkish pilots aren’t certified for the mission anymore.)

Thus, if NATO were to want to use the weapons stored in Turkey, the United States would first have to fly in the 52nd fighter wing, pick up the bombs, and then deliver them to their targets. The Turkish DCAs would acts as fighter escorts. While the posture does reflect NATO’s approach to nuclear deterrence in the post-Cold War world, it does raise a number of questions. For example: How would Moscow interpret the basing of American DCAs at Incirlik during times of a crisis? Second: Under what conditions would Turkey move to re-certify their pilots for the nuclear mission? Third: Will Turkey’s nuclear weapons status change after the deployment of B61-12 in ~2020 and Ankara’s receipt of the F-35?

The questions are difficult to answer, given Ankara’s nuclear opacity. However, the “signaling” issue is, I believe, a serious issue for Turkish/NATO policymakers. For example, in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the United States and NATO have opted to move fighters to Baltic air bases to demonstrate Alliance solidarity.

Now, if Russia were to actually threaten a NATO member, how would the Alliance react? It is no secret that the Baltic states favor the maintenance of forward deployed nuclear weapons in Europe, and argue that they are a necessary tool to deter the nuclear armed Russian military. Thus, if one were to game out a scenario of a slow-moving crisis – perhaps similar to Russia’s maintenance of 40,000 troops on the Ukrainian border and its provocative acts in eastern Ukrainian cities – in a Baltic NATO state, I could envision a discussion about “signaling” the Alliance’s intent to escalate the conflict to protect its far-eastern flank. And, if the Alliance did opt to increase the readiness of its DCA fleet, then I would presume that would include the “temporary” basing of US DCAs at Incirlik. How would Moscow interpret such an act? While other Alliance members also have a very relaxed nuclear posture, Turkey is unique because of its decision not to permanently station DCAs with the bombs at Incirlik.

The question is difficult to answer, but it appears to be a classic crisis stability problem. Moving forward, Turkey has shown no indication that intends to alter its nuclear weapons posture. Nevertheless, Ankara – by all accounts – will purchase some dual-capable F-35s. Turkey, therefore, appears to be content with the current nuclear status quo. Thus, if tensions with Moscow continue, the “tactical nuclear signaling issue” could pose a unique set of challenges for Turkey/NATO/US defense officials.

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Crowdsourcing Turkey’s Satellite Launch Vehicle



In July 2013, SSM concluded a contract with Roketsan to begin pre-conceptual work on a satellite launch vehicle (SLV). SSM has asked that the proposed SLV be capable of launching satellites into low-earth-orbit. Roketsan has also been asked to begin design work on the satellite launch center, which will be operated by the Turkish Air Force. These plans include work on a satellite launch center, which will purportedly be used to launch Turkish satellites in the future. In tandem, officials from TUBITAK have also hinted at plans to develop a 2,500 km range missile. There is, however, conflicting information about whether or not the missile will be ballistic or cruise.

ROKETSAN and TUBITAK have released no information about the project. However, both TUBITAK and ROKETSAN have posted youtube videos online that could help provide some clues about Turkey’s pre-conceptual SLV (and perhaps its ballistic missile ambitions). TUBITAK’s youtube video shows a silo-based system, purportedly intended to launch the RASAT. The RASAT is a small Turkish satellite that is based heavily on the BILSAT reconnaissance satellite. The BILSAT uses the Surrey UK Ltd.’s SSTL-100 platform and weighs ~130kg. The RASAT weighed ~95 kg. The silo based system is interesting, given that it was Professor Yucel Altinbasak, the head of TUBITAK, who first floated the idea of  developing a 2,500 km range missile.

The video shows a purported SLV with four clustered engines, which I find interesting, considering that the Iranian Simorgh/Unha SLVs have four clustered engines. And, in the case of Iran, their satellite work is based on systems that have a similar weight to the RASAT. Although the silo basing raises questions, the most likely answer is that the 3-D video modeling team had no idea what they were doing. Yet, I can’t help but ask whether the animation was not a mistake, but rather an indicator that Altinbasak’s comment about a 2,500 km  missile may have been based on some conceptual design work that has not been announced to the public.

ROKETSAN’s promotional youtube video shows a more traditional SLV launching pad, with a rocket similar in design to other SLVs. I find this video to be much more credible and a better indicator of Turkey’s SLV vision.

The most interesting part of the video is that the payload chamber has Gokturk written on it. The Gokturk project began in 2007 and includes both a locally produced satellite and a second satellite currently being built by a foreign vendor. On the local side, The Gokturk-2 was designed and developed by a consortium of Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) and TÜBITAK UZAY. The much larger Gokturk-1, which is being built by Telespazio/Thales, has a similar optical system to that of the one used on France’s two Pleiades imaging satellites. Moreover, the Gokturk-1 weighs 1,000 kg vs. the 400 kg Gokturk-2. The Gotkurk-2 is based on the know-how gained from the technology transfer from the BILSAT project, combined with the infrastructure built to support the RASAT program.

Turkey is taking a segmented approach to its satellite efforts. The SSM is ok with outsourcing the construction of larger satellites to foreign vendors, but is taking concerted – and very practical – steps to build-up its mini satellite capabilities. Mini satellites refer to satellites that weigh some 400kg. Thus, if one were to make an assumption about the first generation SLV, I would presume that the intended purpose of the system will be to launch 500 kg payloads into low-earth orbit.

As of now, Turkey’s longest range missile is the J-600 Yildirim. The J-600 is based on China’s B-611 battle ballistic missile. The J-600 is assumed to have a range of 150 km when carrying a 480 kg warhead. What I’d like to know is how a country like Turkey could hope to move beyond its current experience with ballistic missiles and design an SLV capable of launching <500 kg satellites into LEO, and what such system could mean for a potential ballistic missile. I think the immediate take-away is that Turkey will not be able to develop such a system in the near future. However, if they were to continue with pre-conceptual design work, where could they then look for assistance?* And, given the current MTCR restrictions, is a coproduction/technology transfer arrangement even possible?

To be honest, I don’t have the answers to these questions. Thus, I am looking for some crowdsource help. Feel free to comment.

* There are numerous reports about a link to Ukraine and the SS-18, though I hardly take them seriously.

** Industry folks have hinted to me in private that Ankara hopes to use the design of the interceptor missile’s engine for the TLORAMIDs tender to help kickstart its SLV/Ballistic missile plans. The know-how, according to these conversations, is intended to be used to support a missile industry beyond the products ROKETSAN currently produces.





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Podcast: Turkey’s Perception in Washington

Journalist Yigal Schleifer and I discuss Turkey’s perception in Washington, the future of the Gulen movement, the prospects for a Turkish-Israeli rapprochement, and Erdogan’s presidential prospects.

Follow @YigalSchleifer for excellent Turkey analysis on twitter. 

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Podcast: Turkey’s Contested Election and Prime Minister Erdogan’s Uncertain Future

Journalist Noah Blaser and I discuss post-election Turkey, the prospects for the Kurdish peace process, and the country’s very uncertain political future. 

Follow @nblaser18 on twitter for excellent Turkey analysis.

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A Cyber Crackdown on Gulen Media?

On 28 March 2014, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu made a rather sweeping policy statement regarding cyber warfare. In response to a leaked audio recording that allegedly captured Turkish policymakers debating whether or not to use a “false flag” attack to create casus belli for a Turkish assault on the Sulyeman Shah tomb – a small swath of Turkish territory on the right bank of the euphrates river some 20 miles from the Turkish border town of Kargamis – Anadolu News Agency reported:

everybody and everything will be investigated to find the “pawns and the mastermind” responsible for the eavesdropping of a high-level security meeting. “This is not an attack on the AK Party. This is an attack on the Turkish Republic,” said Davutoğlu. “Because we were talking about the security of the Turkish army and land in the meeting.” Speaking to reporters, Davutoğlu said the “cyber-attack” was no different from a military attack, and the meeting room had already been jammed for security. The foreign minister said Turkey is a state of laws and there will be a response made accordingly.

The statement certainly gave me whiplash. Davutoglu’s rather blunt statement would appear to indicate that Ankara is prepared to use military force to respond to any further cyber attacks on Turkish territory. The Foreign Minister’s sweeping statement is sure to get Turkey in trouble and reflects a troubling trend in Turkish declaratory policy in recent years. In response to the Syrian crisis, for example, the Foreign Ministry:

intentionally and misleadingly leaked the news that the Patriot interceptors deployed under the aegis of NATO were part of a broader plan to enforce a no-fly zone, partly to deter Syrian military action near the border by generating further ambiguity over the status of Turkish airspace and the risk of escalation, but also to force NATO’s hand by creating a diplomatic fait accompli. Turkey’s efforts to portray a no-fly zone as inevitable and forthcoming were therefore part of its diplomatic strategy to bind its allies closer, an effort that has been only partially successful.

In making such definitive cyber policy statement – with, what I suspect is no real intention to follow through on the threat  - Ankara is setting itself up for political failure. Yet, I suspect that Turkey’s rather broad declaratory policy on cyber warfare may be part of what Hakan Fidan describes as information warfare. Fidan describes this concept in his PhD thesis:

Defensive information warfare seeks to keep the value of the information resources in tact or recover lost value when experiencing a successful attack. Defenses fall in six general areas: prevention, deterrence, indications and warnings, detection, emergency preparedness and response, although, specific operations and technologies may fall in more than one area. Defensive information warfare is closely associated with information security. While defensive information warfare address non-owned resources, including broadcast and print media in the public domains however, it is not concerned with unintentional acts.

Thus, if one were to analyze Davutoglu’s statement more closely, he may in fact be trying to “deter” future aggressors from using similar tactics in the future. But who is he deterring?

To date, no one knows who leaked the “false flag” tape, and who exactly Davutoglu was talking about when he said, “everything will be investigated to find the ‘pawns and the mastermind’.” According to Reuters, Prime Minister Erdogan responded to the tape at a pre-election rally, saying, “They even leaked a national security meeting … This is villainous, this is dishonesty … Who are you serving by doing audio surveillance of such an important meeting?”

Again, who is Erdogan talking about?

The assumption is that Davutoglu and Erdogan were speaking about the Gulen movement, which has, since 17 December, been leaking audio recordings that purport to show the Prime Minister, his family, and his closest allies in government to be involved in graft. After the 30 March election, Erdogan abandoned all pretense and identified the Gulenists as the source of the leak (This may or may not be true, by the way.) According to his post-election speech, Erdogan said:

I have filed criminal complaints about some of them; I said they can also flee. As I have said, from now on, we’ll walk into their dens. They will pay for this. How can you threaten our national security? Syria is in a state of war with us. They are harassing our planes. They have martyred our 74 brothers and the Süleyman Şah Tomb is our lands. An attack against there is an attack against 780,000 square kilometers. Can we remain silent about such a thing? But these traitors wiretapped this meeting and leaked it to the world. They are worse than Assassins [of the Middle Ages]. They are beyond them. My brothers; there is a very important message conveyed by our people through the polls. Our people have made their objection and their stance against attempts to change the direction of Turkey through non-political ways.

The “they” is the Cemaat and the Prime Minsiter’s words suggest that a much larger crack down on the Hizmet is coming. But has it already started?

During the election, Zaman, Today’s Zaman, Cihan News Agency, and Taraf all came under cyber attack. While Taraf is not a Gulen owned paper, its reporters have been used by the Hizmet as an outlet to leak documents for the Ergenekon, Balyoz, and recent graft allegation investigations. The others are all Gulenist owned, or Gulenist allied. During the election, Today’s Zaman reporter Abdullah Ayasun tweeted:

Our websites under intense cyber-attack. The website and system for uploding news stories do not function properly. Hell. At this day.

To date (I wrote this post on 1 April), I still can’t access any of the sites. What should one make of this? And, what are the implications of a cyber campaign against opposition media in Turkey?

While nothing is definitive, the the timing, scope, and intensity of the current cyber campaign against the Cemaat raises a number of uncomfortable questions. Fidan notes, “the spread of internet across the world provides governments, businesses, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as terrorists and criminals with capabilities that used to be the privileges of the most powerful governments.” As I noted in this piece before the election, the main thrust of the the AKP’s pre-election moves to block twitter and youtube were to, in the words of Fidan, strengthen “the government’s role as a disseminator of information.”

Yet, in doing so, the AKP actually implemented policies that Fidan warns about in his dissertation. According to Fidan:

Information warfare being an important outcome of information revolution, is defined as ‘information operations conducted during time of crisis or conflict to achieve or promote specific objectives over a specific adversary or adversaries.’Some argue that offensive information warfare which is likely to be a new mode of terrorist activities aimed at damaging user’s perceptions regarding the  trustworthiness of the Internet. By doing so they may accomplish two objectives. First they hamper the effectiveness of governments’ policies for electronic commerce. Users will feel uneasy in engaging e-commerce transactions because of the perceived threat to their financial assets and privacy. The second consequence is that provoking governments for counter-Internet measures. In order to counter disruptive activities over the internet commercial institutions, governments and military organizations may have stringent precautions which can have direct effect on open democratic societies. (Author added emphasis)

Thus, in closing down youtube and twitter, the AKP did, in fact, succumb to the potential political pitfall that Fidan outlined vis-a-vis a heavy-handed response to a rogue use of the internet to attack a state. The government has, however, shrugged of the international condemnations of its actions and, in an even more draconian attempt to track who does what online in Turkey, appears to have directed Turkish telecom companies to intercept traffic sent to public Internet address. The preponderance of social media restrictions raises very serious questions about the extent to which the government remains committed to ensuring individual rights.

And, more broadly, the Prime Minister’s recent tone suggests that more assertive measures to control who does what online may be in the works. Given this worrying trend of populist politics trumping all else, one has to seriously question what type of tactics the AKP will take to crack down on the Gulen movement. And, if the AK does so, what will the repercussions be for other news outlets who may differ with the Prime Minister’s politics.

More broadly, the tactics suggest that the AKP now regards the Cemaat as a terror group, and is using an “all of the above” approach to hit back at what may now be perceived as the media mouthpiece of an illegal coup plotting entity. And, if this includes the use of cyber shenanigans, does that mean that Turkey is at war with itself? And, when viewed in tandem with way in which the government has effectively sought to neutralize any criticism by saying, “the ballot box” has spoken, one has to ask the much larger question: Where is all of this going?

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