Turkey’s Nuclear Missiles: An Important Player in the Cuban Missile Crisis

Ankara has been a quiet and enthusiastic supporter of the forward deployment of nuclear weapons for decades. During the Cold War, Turkey, like other countries in the NATO alliance, worried about the willingness of the United States to use nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union, should Moscow decide to invade Western Europe. American nuclear weapons, which were first deployed in Turkey in 1959, were considered to be a symbol of the American commitment to Turkish defense. More ominously, the forward deployment of the Jupiter missile was a symbol of the American willingness to use nuclear weapons against either a Russian conventional or unconventional invasion force. The 1 megaton warheads were always in American custody; however, the authority to launch the missile was reserved for both American and Turkish air crews.

The Jupiter, however, had quickly become obsolete. It’s mission had been replaced by the Polaris submarine launched ballistic missile. Moreover, the missile was considered to be an easy target for a Russian pre-emptive attack. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedy administration secretly agreed to remove the Jupiter missiles from Turkey in exchange for the withdrawal of all Russian nuclear weapons from Cuba.

Turkey, which had been told that the Jupiter was obsolete in 1961, had severe reservations about any potential swap, arguing that any capitulation would embolden Moscow. Moreover, Turkey did not want to be compared with Cuba – a non-Warsaw pact country and a small client state of the USSR. Ankara valued its NATO membership and considered itself an equal in the alliance. Ankara rejected the American offer to “give” 5 Polaris submarines to NATO, and the permanent stationing of at least one nuclear submarine at all times in the Eastern Mediterranean. The United States, therefore, opted to pursue a strategy of convincing the Turkish military that it was in their best interest to remove the missiles. American officials were eventually successful and were able to convince their Turkish counterparts that missile was obsolete and detracted from Turkish security. The last missile was removed in mid-April 1963.

The missile silos were a bit funny looking and were dubbed “flower petal shelters.” In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, I thought it would be nice to post a picture of one of the Jupiters in Turkey.  My favorite part is that the missile has a Turkish flag painted on the fuselage right above a mushroom cloud.


About aaronstein1

I am an Istanbul based PhD Candidate a King's College London.
This entry was posted in Foreign Policy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Turkey’s Nuclear Missiles: An Important Player in the Cuban Missile Crisis

  1. Marcelo Correa says:


  2. vin says:

    good post.

    what did turkey receive from US in return for surrendering jupiter missiles? even if jupiter’s actual capabilities were limited the authority to launch nuclear tipped mrbms carried real deterrent value. also, why werent italy’s jupiter missiles removed?

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