A slow-fuse Turkish bomb? (I)

A slow-fuse Turkish bomb? (I)

Perhaps there is a hidden message behind Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s boringly repetitive message that “Turkey will be among the world’s top 10 countries by 2023.” Presently, there are only nine countries in the world that possess nuclear weapons.

For years and years the “civilized parts of the world” unwillingly sent the wrong message to less civilized parts, which the first group tends to call “rogue states”: If you don’t want us to bomb you go get some nuclear weapons – and you better hurry.

NATO could be the most enduring security alliance in world history. It is – sort of — ready, robust and resilient. It boasts solid interoperability and, despite diminishing military spending, unmatched capabilities. But think, for a moment, could NATO have hit Milosevic’s Yugoslavia if it had suspected that Belgrade secretly possessed nuclear weapons?

Could it have bombed Gaddafi’s Libya if the mad man of the desert had already piled up a nuclear stock? Or, if the alliance really had suspected Saddam Hussein’s Iraq really possessed weapons of mass destruction, would its heavyweights have launched the military campaign that they launched? The naughty-nuke boy of the east, North Korea, falls into the same category.

And why did NATO leaders underestimate Putin’s Russia in Ukraine? Why did Crimea just slip away despite the Western military might? There is just one good reason why this Western military might may fail to prevent undesired events: Your rogue opponent might possess something that could make you regret trying to correct a relatively minor wrong. Rogue leaders know this.

Iran was probably the first country in this part of the world in more recent history that understood the trick: If you have regional ambitions and are viewed as a rogue state by the West, there is only one option you can opt for to best protect yourself against being bombed. Precisely the same thing, among other reasons, has for decades prevented a war between India and Pakistan; these neighbors prove that a fragile peace is always better than nuclear war. How many Israelis today, who live amid a sea of enemies, regret that their country has an arsenal of “neither denied/nor confirmed” nuclear weapons?
But Iran may not be the last country in the Middle East to aspire to this dangerous but not terribly expensive “full motor insurance” against a road accident like happened in Yugoslavia, Libya and Iraq.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia, President Obama’s “stable and self-reliant” Iraq and perhaps, from a longer perspective, why not Turkey? All the same, if, say in 20 years’ time, Turkey should seriously consider the “N-option,” it should think carefully – and, of course, after having decided whether it may one day clash with its Western allies and turn into a rogue state while trying to become a regional game-maker.

Sadly, security threat analysis is not what security threat analysts in Ankara are best at. They often try to prepare for the last war. For instance, Turkey’s program to build a ballistic missile with a range of 2,500 km (no typo here: two thousand and five hundred kilometers!), unveiled in 2011, is a good example.

Ankara thinks it may need the long-range missile deterrence vis-à-vis its “rogue” neighbors. But there is one point missing in this analysis. If Turkey ever came under missile threat from a rogue neighbor and responded with its own missiles, killing innocent people in the enemy rogue country, how sorry, really, would its rogue leaders be?

How much would they care if Turkish missiles killed hundreds – not thousands, as Turkey is not a rogue state and would avoid using non-conventional warheads while rogue states probably would not? A rogue leader would only care if he thinks the enemy can hit him in his HQ, which requires precision strikes and can be achieved without ballistic missiles (an efficient air force with high firepower can often defeat a rogue country’s air defenses).  

No doubt, power/prestige-hungry Turks would be proud if their seemingly eternal leader succeeded in earning their emerging empire nuclear warfare capabilities. It may, however, eventually prove to be an equally dangerous ambition as their imperial engagement in the former Ottoman lands, which tend to bring in one misfortune after another.