A quiet but intense debate is ongoing within senior circles of the governing Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (Justice and Development Party: AKP) in Turkey over whether or not this is the time to proceed rapidly with the development and acquisition of nuclear weapons.
At stake is Turkey's strategic parity with other nuclear powers in the region: Russia, Israel, Pakistan, and Iran. Highly-placed sources indicate that Turkey has been deliberating the acquisition of military nuclear capability for some time, but has been constrained by its need to maintain good relations with the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty (NATO) partners generally, as well as the European Union (EU). The Turkish General Staff (Genelkurmay Baskanlari: GB) is also engaged in this debate, but, for the most part, this is a debate dominated by the civilian leadership.
Turkish acquisition of nuclear weapons would significantly transform the balance of power and the strategic dynamic of the Eastern Mediterranean, the Greater Black Sea Basin (GBSB), and the Caucasus, and would be the cornerstone of Turkey's ambitious program to restore what it sees as its historical pan-Turkist mission. Indeed, without nuclear weapons — at least as far as regional perception is concerned — Turkey could not compete against a nuclear Iran or be seen as an independent "great power" in the region.
Nuclear weapons research has long been underway, under conditions of extreme secrecy, in Turkey, and the AKP leadership is aware that it is probable that this will become public knowledge as the effort becomes more intense.
It is not totally dependent on, but benefits from, the acquisition by Turkey of uranium-based nuclear power reactors, which will ultimately provide a base of fissionable materials to sustain an indigenous nuclear weapons program. Meanwhile, however, nuclear weapons research — which requires only a minimal amount of fissionable material, obtainable on the world market — can continue separately. There is no doubt that Turkey's growing relationships with Iran, Brazil, and Pakistan have been — as far as the Turkish leadership is concerned — with the military nuclear program partially in mind.
As far back as 1998, Turkish media reports indicated that then-Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had offered Turkey cooperation in the development of nuclear weapons.1 [Significantly, Nawaz Sharif is poised to make a political comeback in Pakistan in the next general elections.] The dramatic lowering of leverage which the U.S. and EU have over Turkish strategic direction over the past 18 months, coupled with the growing separation with Israel at the behest of the AKP as a means of reducing the domestic Turkish political influence of the General Staff, along with the perceived need to firmly establish a stronger measure of Turkish independence from Russia, are all contributory factors in the Turkish Government's moves to press ahead as rapidly as possible with the nuclear weapons and nuclear power programs....