Erdogan hints at nuclear ambitions

Speaking on the 100th anniversary of the Sivas Congress, which laid the groundwork for Turkey’s independence, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said it was unacceptable for nuclear-armed countries to prevent Ankara from developing nuclear weapons.

“Several countries have missiles with nuclear warheads, not one or two. But we can’t have them. This I cannot accept,” Erdogan told an audience of his supporters including Justice and Development Party members late Wednesday evening.

“There is no developed nation in the world that doesn’t have them,” he added, though just nine countries currently posses nuclear arms capabilities: the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan and, though technically unconfirmed, Israel and North Korea.

The speech caused wide-ranging speculation over Erdogan’s intentions, but analysts expressed doubts the rhetoric would lead to a Turkish nuclear weapons program. Turkey was an early signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which forbids the development of nuclear weapons, and also benefits from protections against nuclear attacks as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Instead, Erdogan was believed to be highlighting unfairness in the global security regime, in which he has long stated Turkey should play a more prominent role as the nation develops stronger defense relations with non-NATO countries such as Russia and China. Last night, Erdogan noted that Israel’s nuclear program poses a threat to the region, implying Turkey should be afforded similar capabilities.

While such rhetoric signals shifting global ambitions, little change is expected in Turkish policy as the nation remains a member of the NATO alliance, according to Sinan Ulgen, the chairman of the Istanbul-based Centre for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies and co-editor of the 2015 book, “Turkey’s Nuclear Future.”

“It’s a message that is heavily loaded with populism,” Ulgen told Al-Monitor. “This time around he went a step further, insinuating that Turkey was making preparations, yet in the overall security context it is difficult to imagine Turkey going down this path and acquiring its own nuclear deterrent.”

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