Removing U.S. Nuclear Weapons from Turkey Is An Easy Step Toward Nuclear Stability

This week, the world learned what nuclear policy experts have long known to be true: roughly 50 U.S. B-61 gravity bombs are stored at Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base.

A B61 bomb casing on display at the MAPS Air Museum in Canton, Ohio.

Three decades after the Cold War, most Americans are aware that the U.S. still has nuclear weapons. But the surprise and alarm that greeted President Trump’s unexpected confirmation of the weapons’ presence in Turkey showed that arguments about their role in guaranteeing the security of the U.S. and its allies don’t inspire the kind of public confidence they may once have. In the face of political instability exacerbated by the U.S.’ own actions, a growing chorus of voices is questioning the wisdom of keeping these weapons where they are.

The presence of U.S. nuclear weapons in Turkey is itself a persistent remnant of Cold War nuclear politics. Numerous explainers responding to growing public interest in the issue have noted that U.S. has stationed nuclear weapons in Turkey since 1961 and their key role in the Cuban Missile Crisis — itself driven by the profound panic caused by the Soviet Union’s own overseas nuclear deployments.

A PGM-19 Jupiter missile site. Jupiter missiles were deployed to Turkey from 1961-1963 following a 1959 agreement.

But experts have long recommended reconsidering keeping these weapons in Turkey, and a growing consensus says that, given the instability of U.S.-Turkey relations, the weapons may not be secure where they are. Even those who see a role for nuclear weapons deployed overseas seem unwilling to argue against announced plans to consider withdrawing them.

In an unstable political environment when U.S. behavior on the international stage seems determined to make arms control a thing of the past, taking these weapons out of Turkey is a rare opportunity to take an easy step toward security and restraint. Global Zero’s Alternative Nuclear Posture Review is one of several detailed visions for nuclear disarmament that recommend recalling U.S. nuclear weapons deployed outside the country’s borders as part of a larger program of disarmament. Any realistic approach to a future free from the threat of nuclear use must include bringing these weapons home.

A B61 training model.

The road to eliminating nuclear weapons will demand commitment and creativity to make tough calls and tackle complex challenges. But this is an early, easy call in service of that crucial goal let’s get U.S. nuclear weapons out of Turkey before one false move sets off a far bigger crisis.