Turkey has a history of supporting very hawkish nuclear weapons policies. For example, in December 1979, Turkey supported the deployment of “advanced nuclear missiles in Europe.” NATO members had grown increasingly concerned with the deployment of the SS-20 missile, which, according to a December 1979 NATO document, “offers significant improvements over previous systems in providing greater accuracy, more mobility, and greater range, as well as having multiple warheads, and the Backfire bomber, which has a much better performance than other Soviet aircraft deployed hitherto in a theatre role. During this period, while the Soviet Union has been reinforcing its superiority in Long Range Theatre Nuclear Forces (LRTNF) both quantitatively and qualitatively, Western LRTNF capabilities have remained static. Indeed these forces are increasing in age and vulnerability and do not include land-based, long-range theatre nuclear missile systems.”
The deployment of US medium-range missiles in Europe was a source of concern for the Western European members of the Alliance and eventually resulted in the conclusion of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. According to Dr. Nikolai Sokov, “the Ronald Reagan administration assumed the Soviets would reallocate some of their ICBMs to targets in Europe, but that did not prevent the United States from signing the treaty.” Turkey never hosted American intermediate range missiles. Turkish military officials made clear that they did not need the missiles because they did not need them to reach Soviet targets.
In Russia, there are now calls to withdraw from the INF Treaty. According to Dr. Sokov, the two main arguments are: 1) “many states, including in the vicinity of Russia, have developed or are working on intermediate-range missiles, which was not the case when the INF Treaty was negotiated. Although Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Iranian, and Israeli programs might be of limited concern to the United States (except when affecting its allies) they are an immediate and serious security concern for Moscow;” 2) “The second argument is the 2002 US withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. According to Russian logic, if the George W. Bush administration could abrogate a Cold War treaty, based on the perception that it constrained US ability to respond to new, post-Cold War challenges, Moscow was entitled to take similar steps.”
Turkey watchers tend to focus on the ways in which Ankara’s military programs affect Turkey’s military position in the Middle East. Yet, as Dr. Sokov notes, Turkey’s recent interest in developing a 2,500 km ballistic missiles, long range land attack cruise missiles, and missile defenses may impact ties with Russia. Turkey should be mindful of the implications of its actions and seek to clarify many of the outstanding ambiguities about its missile programs. Otherwise, it may risk drawing the suspicion and ire of neighbors Ankara is eager to engage.