The Idiocy of Our Nuclear Policy

An inert Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile is seen in a training launch tube at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., in 2014. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

Joseph Cirincione is a nuclear weapons policy expert and president of the Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation.

No president should have the absolute authority to launch nuclear weapons

Impeachment has a way of bringing out a president’s worst instincts — and the world could end up paying the price.

As impeachment hearings intensified, an increasingly erratic president appeared to finally snap. “I can go into my office and pick up the telephone,” he told visiting lawmakers, “and in 25 minutes, 70 million people will be dead.”

It was 1974, and the president was Richard Nixon. He was right. U.S. policy, then and now, gives the president absolute authority to launch nuclear weapons whenever they want, for whatever reason. No consensus is required. No one else need approve.

Indeed, no other official even need know. The president, on their own, can simply summon the “nuclear football,” open binders of attack options and relay orders to the National Military Command Center. The orders would be sent down to missile control officers — where intercontinental ballistic missiles are primed on “hair-trigger” alert — and 30 minutes later you’d have nuclear explosions over the targets, just as Nixon claimed.

Nixon had already shown the perils of this system. Late in 1973, he ordered U.S. nuclear forces worldwide to Defcon 3, the highest alert status since the Cuban Missile Crisis. He justified this move by claiming the Soviets were planning an intervention in the closing days of the Yom Kippur War between Israel and a coalition of Arab states.

There was no intervention. But the missiles might still have flown; it all depended on the whims of one increasingly unpredictable man with his finger hovering over the nuclear button.

Nixon alerted us to the danger: Our nuclear command and control system is insane. Now, the age of Trump — perhaps our most volatile president yet — reminds us that we have yet to address the problem.

Nixon’s erratic orders were part of a worrying pattern. As the Watergate investigation continued into 1974, the extent of Nixon’s drinking and paranoia become clear. Fearing the worst, Defense Secretary James Schlesinger told the White House military staff that if Nixon gave them any orders, they were to check first with him or Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

This was an unambiguously illegal circumvention of the president’s authority. But everyone should be grateful Schlesinger acted.

Who would be Schlesinger now? Who would stop the current president from, as Nixon threatened, picking up his phone and launching a nuclear holocaust? Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, who has been at his post for less than five months? National security adviser Robert O’Brien, appointed just two months ago? Acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire, who only assumed his position in mid-August?

Most likely, none of them. Trump has gutted the national security process and its leadership. Schlesinger and Kissinger — disagree as you might with their politics — were formidable professionals. There are no such guards left standing in this administration.

It is possible that someone in the chain of command might mutiny rather than carry out a launch order. If they did, Trump, like Nixon during his “Saturday Night Massacre,” could fire people until he found someone willing to carry out his order. If Trump’s command came in a time of crisis — perhaps when tensions with Iran or North Korea boiled over into military conflict — there would likely be no hesitation.

Procedures adopted in the fearful days of the Cold War — including the first use of nuclear weapons in a conventional conflict, the sole authority of the president to fire these weapons and keeping our missiles ready to launch in minutes — combine now to present an unacceptable risk of nuclear disaster.

Little can be done now to reduce these risks. If we do escape catastrophe, it should be the first order of business in a new administration to declare new nuclear guidance and adjust nuclear alert postures accordingly.

Legislators, including House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.), have already introduced bills to prevent presidents from acting solely on their own to launch nuclear weapons and to make it official policy that America will never initiate a nuclear war. These provide a sound basis for a new president to revamp nuclear doctrine and to prevent, as President John F. Kennedy said, that slender thread holding the nuclear sword of Damocles from being cut by “accident or miscalculation or madness.” We must prepare to do all we can to ensure that no one individual — sane or insane — can ever start a nuclear war on their own.

This column was produced in collaboration with The WorldPost, a publication of the Berggruen Institute.

The Sixth Seal Long Overdue (Revelation 6:12)


Published: March 25, 2001

Alexander Gates, a geology professor at Rutgers-Newark, is co-author of ”The Encyclopedia of Earthquakes and Volcanoes,” which will be published by Facts on File in July. He has been leading a four-year effort to remap an area known as the Sloatsburg Quadrangle, a 5-by-7-mile tract near Mahwah that crosses into New York State. The Ramapo Fault, which runs through it, was responsible for a big earthquake in 1884, and Dr. Gates warns that a recurrence is overdue. He recently talked about his findings.

Q. What have you found?

A. We’re basically looking at a lot more rock, and we’re looking at the fracturing and jointing in the bedrock and putting it on the maps. Any break in the rock is a fracture. If it has movement, then it’s a fault. There are a lot of faults that are offshoots of the Ramapo. Basically when there are faults, it means you had an earthquake that made it. So there was a lot of earthquake activity to produce these features. We are basically not in a period of earthquake activity along the Ramapo Fault now, but we can see that about six or seven times in history, about 250 million years ago, it had major earthquake activity. And because it’s such a fundamental zone of weakness, anytime anything happens, the Ramapo Fault goes.

Q. Where is the Ramapo Fault?

 A. The fault line is in western New Jersey and goes through a good chunk of the state, all the way down to Flemington. It goes right along where they put in the new 287. It continues northeast across the Hudson River right under the Indian Point power plant up into Westchester County. There are a lot of earthquakes rumbling around it every year, but not a big one for a while.

Q. Did you find anything that surprised you?

A. I found a lot of faults, splays that offshoot from the Ramapo that go 5 to 10 miles away from the fault. I have looked at the Ramapo Fault in other places too. I have seen splays 5 to 10 miles up into the Hudson Highlands. And you can see them right along the roadsides on 287. There’s been a lot of damage to those rocks, and obviously it was produced by fault activities. All of these faults have earthquake potential.

Q. Describe the 1884 earthquake.

A. It was in the northern part of the state near the Sloatsburg area. They didn’t have precise ways of describing the location then. There was lots of damage. Chimneys toppled over. But in 1884, it was a farming community, and there were not many people to be injured. Nobody appears to have written an account of the numbers who were injured.

Q. What lessons we can learn from previous earthquakes?

A. In 1960, the city of Agadir in Morocco had a 6.2 earthquake that killed 12,000 people, a third of the population, and injured a third more. I think it was because the city was unprepared.There had been an earthquake in the area 200 years before. But people discounted the possibility of a recurrence. Here in New Jersey, we should not make the same mistake. We should not forget that we had a 5.4 earthquake 117 years ago. The recurrence interval for an earthquake of that magnitude is every 50 years, and we are overdue. The Agadir was a 6.2, and a 5.4 to a 6.2 isn’t that big a jump.

Q. What are the dangers of a quake that size?

A. When you’re in a flat area in a wooden house it’s obviously not as dangerous, although it could cut off a gas line that could explode. There’s a real problem with infrastructure that is crumbling, like the bridges with crumbling cement. There’s a real danger we could wind up with our water supplies and electricity cut off if a sizable earthquake goes off. The best thing is to have regular upkeep and keep up new building codes. The new buildings will be O.K. But there is a sense of complacency.


Photo: Alexander Gates, a Rutgers geologist, is mapping a part of the Ramapo Fault, site of previous earthquakes. (John W. Wheeler for The New York Times)

Babylon the Great’s Cost For War

A crew chief overlooks the vast mountain ranges of Southeastern Afghanistan while a CH-47 Chinook assigned to the 1st Armored Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade is in flight during an advise and assistance mission Oct. 9, 2019. (Army photo by Master Sgt. Alejandro Licea)

Post-9/11 Wars Have Cost American Taxpayers $6.4 trillion, Study Finds

14 Nov 2019

Stars and Stripes | By Corey Dickstein

WASHINGTON — American taxpayers have spent $6.4 trillion in nearly two decades of post-9/11 wars, which have killed some 800,000 people worldwide, the Cost of Wars Project announced Wednesday.

The numbers reflect the toll of American combat and other military operations across 80 nations since al-Qaida operatives attacked the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington in 2001, launching the United States into its longest-ever wars aimed at stamping out terrorism worldwide.

The annual spending estimates released Wednesday show a general decline in war costs in 2019 as U.S. troops face less combat in major war zones such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Still, the estimated price tag for those wars increased by $500 billion since November 2018, and it has doubled since the Cost of Wars Project — a product of Brown University’s Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs and Boston University’s Frederick S. Pardee Center — first looked at cumulative wartime costs in 2011.

Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, praised the workers involved in the project — 35 scholars, legal experts, human rights practitioners and physicians.

“The budget of the Pentagon is difficult to weed through is an understatement,” Reed said. “My hope is that this report will continue to inform, educate and serve as a resource as we consider these wars going forward … to give us a better sense of the costs of wars not in a snapshot, but the long-term costs. This should be for us [in Congress] a guide to our policies, our procedures and actions going forward.”

The actual monetary and human costs of these wars is difficult to discern, said Neta Crawford, the report’s author and a Boston University political science professor, who blasted the lack of budget transparency of federal institutions including the Pentagon and departments of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security.

In recent years, Crawford asserted those institutions have made accessing information on how they spend taxpayer dollars more difficult, including where money is being spent overseas because items that were once reported are now “disappearing from the budget.”

She argued Wednesday that without proper accounting, the American public cannot shape informed opinions on the courses of these wars, which are generally viewed as “winding down” but continue to cost thousands of lives in 2019.

The Pentagon’s share of the spending includes the nearly $2 trillion since 2001 in overseas contingency operations funds, the wartime spending coffers used to fund most operations in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The Defense Department has added more than $900 billion to its base budgets since those operations began, which it likely would not have needed in peacetime, Crawford said.

But the project’s cost estimates consider not only Pentagon wartime spending, but also about $1 trillion in spending on homeland anti-terrorism measures, $131 billion for State Department wartime spending, $437 billion for veterans care through fiscal 2020 and $925 billion of interest payments that the United States will pay on money borrowed to fund those operations. It also includes a projected price tag of more than $1 trillion in future spending on medical care through fiscal 2059 for the men and women who have fought these wars, which is anticipated to grow further, even if the wars were to end in the next year.

“That’s a very rough estimate,” Crawford said. “I think it’s low balling, honestly.”

The costs of America’s post-9/11 wars include not only money but the loss of lives, which the report estimated to have exceeded 800,000 people. That tally includes combatants and noncombatants in countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

The report outlines the toll on Americans. Since operations were launched in Afghanistan in the weeks after the 9/11 attacks, 7,014 U.S. service members have died in American wars, 22 Pentagon civilians have been killed, and 7,950 U.S. contractors have died.

Other deaths include more than 12,000 deaths among U.S. allied troops, 173,000 deaths in the ranks of national military and police forces, nearly 300,000 enemy fighters killed and more than 310,000 civilian deaths.

Those tallies remain largely incomplete, Crawford said, estimating civilian deaths in war zones where Americans have operated could be twice those reported, but were impossible to verify.

She urged better transparency from the Pentagon — and other federal institutions — on budget decisions and ongoing operations in the wars.

“There’s a lot of blood and treasure spent, but we’re not sure if [the wars] are successful,” Crawford said, highlighting recent Pentagon estimates of number of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan that show similar strength as it held in 2001 and estimates of Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria that show the group might still boast 35,000 to 100,000 fighters following its loss of territory earlier this year.

“So how successful is the strategy and how successful could it be?” she asked. “… We can’t assess in some instances what those answers are.”

Australia is about to join the nuclear weapons club (Daniel 7)

Should Australia join the nuclear weapons club?

Australia has long been an advocate of nuclear disarmament and has been an active party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. But, unlike New Zealand, it has not signed on to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. In fact, its attitude has been very negative so far. If we believe it is possible to restore the world to a nuclear-weapon-free state, and that we must work towards this for the sake of generations to come, we must encourage the Australian government to sign on to this treaty and encourage like-minded governments to do the same, and to work together to persuade states with nuclear weapons to join together in renouncing them.

Elizabeth A Evatt AC, Lawyer and jurist: First Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia

The Australian Government is currently being urged to become a member of the nuclear-armed nations. Professor Hugh White is promoting a debate on Australia acquiring its own nuclear arsenal, despite our 45-year commitment to nuclear disarmament under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone.

White proposed that Australian nuclear weapons “would be aimed at cities, they would be aimed to impose massive damage on an adversary to deter them from using nuclear weapons against us.”  In response, human rights lawyer Diana Sayed drew attention to the devastating humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons, noting that such a course of action “would trigger a nuclear arms race in our region… The fact that Australia would be entertaining this thought is unfathomable and unconscionable to me and it goes against everything in international law”.

This debate is a dangerous distraction from the difficult yet crucial task of eliminating nuclear weapons. The next step Australia must take is to reject the flawed notion of nuclear deterrence and join the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Nuclear weapons are never a legitimate means of defence.

During August the new ICAN report, featuring contributions from international legal experts, faith groups, parliamentarians, unions, poets and lawyers has been launched around Australia,  In Newcastle the report was introduced on Sunday 4th August following the annual  Hiroshima Service of Commemoration, organised by Christians for Peace. Local churches are giving strong support to signing the Treaty.

In the Foreword to the ICAN Report, Gillian Triggs, the former President of the Australian Human Rights Commission writes:

The danger of nuclear war is growing. The more we learn about the catastrophic consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, the worse it looks. Nine nations possess some fourteen thousand nuclear weapons .1 Eighteen hundred of them stand poised and ready to launch within minutes. As long as they exist, nuclear weapons pose the most acute existential threat that human beings have created for ourselves and for all species with whom we share planet Earth.

Humanity has made substantial progress towards eliminating other indiscriminate and inhumane weapons – chemical and biological weapons, landmines and cluster munitions. Evidence of the indiscriminate and unacceptable consequences of these weapons provided the necessary motivation to outlaw them.

In a statement entitled, Seeking a Just and Peaceful World, which is contained in the Report, the Rev. Rob Floyd, Associate General Secretary of the Uniting Church in Australia, declares:

“The Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) has a long commitment to working for a world free from nuclear weapons.  As a proud member of ICAN, we have continued to call upon our political leaders to work towards a ban on nuclear weapons.

The UCA believes that God in Jesus came to make peace. As Christians, we are called by God to love our neighbours and to work for an end to violence and fear in our world.

The destructive power of nuclear weapons threatens all life on this planet. We believe that reliance upon nuclear weapons to attain peace and security is entirely contrary to God’s creative will for the world.

In our recent 2019 statement, Our Vision for a Just Australia,we called on the Australian Government to sign the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons Treaty as part of Australia’s contribution to a just and peaceful world.

It is the first Treaty to comprehensively outlaw nuclear weapons and sets out a pathway for their total elimination.  We maintain that reliance on weapons for peace and security can never achieve a just and lasting peace. Rather, we seek to build a world transformed by hope, peace and justice where the sacredness of all life is protected.

In a letter to then Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in 2015, the Uniting Church Assembly highlighted the urgency of a ban on nuclear weapons. ‘To ensure that nuclear weapons are never used again, they must be eliminated. To eliminate them, they must be banned.’

Rev. Floyd concludes, “We continue to pray that those who seek security in nuclear weapons may discover that genuine security can only be achieved through non-violent means.”

ICAN, founded in Melbourne in 2007. Now an international movement, it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 for its work in developing the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The Report urges the Australian Government to continue the established tradition of our country’s support for similar UN Treaties.  We have been leaders in the banning of biological weapons (1972), chemical weapons (1993), land mines (1997), and cluster munitions (2008). It is time to join over 130 nations which have already given their support to the prohibition of nuclear weapons.

Doug Hewitt is a member of Christians for Peace Newcastle

Australia Is The Next Nuclear Weapons State (Daniel 7)

The Next Nuclear Weapons State: Australia?

ASPI releases today the second issue of its Strategist Selections series, pulling together a collection of 36 of my Strategist posts on nuclear strategy. I’m honoured to follow in the footsteps of Kim Beazley, whose collected posts formed the first issue, and hope that readers find value in the latest publication. The Strategist, ASPI’s commentary and analysis site, is now over seven years old, and a vast archive of more than 6,000 articles is there for the mining. I do not think the latest volume in the series could be more timely.

In recent months the question of whether Australia should build its own nuclear arsenal has received considerable attention. It’s a question that demands careful handling, not least because it’s an invitation to the incautious respondent to take a length of rope and hang themselves in the corner. And all too often, respondents do exactly that, burdening the argument for a domestic nuclear arsenal with poor judgement, strategic paranoia and moral insensibilities.

For many years the simple, formal answer to the question has always been the same: Australia is a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and it is not a repentant state. (Repentant states are those that signed the treaty but later came to regret their own hastiness.) That’s because the NPT generally represents the last major occasion on which states were asked to choose their nuclear identity.

The strategic commentariat has, over the years, been reluctant to challenge the choice Canberra made then. For good reason: Australia hasn’t confronted a serious strategic challenge since Richard Nixon’s opening to China, an event almost contemporaneous with the NPT. That’s why Hugh White’s recent book is novel. It explores the option of an indigenous arsenal essentially in 21st-century strategic terms.

So, should Australia build its own nuclear arsenal? I think the answer is, ‘Yes, if it needs to.’ That’s a big ‘if’—indeed, a series of big ‘ifs’: if the regional strategic environment becomes appreciably darker; if US extended nuclear deterrence is no longer available, or patently incredible; and, perhaps just as importantly, if there’s bipartisan Australian acceptance of the need for an indigenous arsenal.

The first ‘if’ poses a major challenge of assessment: how dark does the regional strategic environment need to be? The fact that the Australian mainstream is already broken over the ‘China threat’, despite China’s recent blatantly coercive behaviour, doesn’t bode well for its ability to reach a consensus on what might constitute the grounds for initiating a nuclear-weapons program.

I’d venture one, imperfect, benchmark: the environment would need to be sufficiently dark that an Australian nuclear-weapons program would be seen (by some countries at least) as a positive contribution to regional stability. It certainly would have to be dark enough for us to satisfy the ‘supreme national interests’ test of Article X of the NPT—the article covering withdrawal from the treaty.

The second ‘if’—extended deterrence—is already encountering some choppy waters, waters which Donald Trump’s presidency has roiled rather than calmed. True, the administration’s 2018 nuclear posture review comes closer to underlining the specific provision of a US nuclear umbrella to Australia than any of its predecessors. On page 22 of the main text, there’s a sentence that reads: ‘The United States has extended nuclear deterrence commitments that assure European, Asian, and Pacific allies.’ That’s an interesting separation of America’s usually hyphenated Asian and Pacific allies, and may reflect a deliberate attempt by Washington to reinforce its assurance to Australia.

Still, US extended nuclear deterrence was a doctrine invented for a different era; it faces genuine credibility issues in a more risk-tolerant world, especially if themes of nationalism and buck-passing continue to resonate in US strategic policy.

The third ‘if’ is just as awkward, and often overlooked. Australia, to use a rowing metaphor, hasn’t got its head in the boat in relation to an indigenous nuclear-weapons program. For Australian thinking about nuclear weapons to change, we’d probably have to be facing an existential threat. Only such a condition could generate the level of bipartisan agreement necessary to develop, build and deploy a serious nuclear force.

But, of course, if we were staring down the barrel of an existential threat, we’d probably want to have a nuclear arsenal to hand relatively quickly. And there’s the problem. Nuclear-weapons programs take time. In wintertime, many Canberrans are acutely conscious of how far their most remote hot-water tap is from their hot-water system, and the amount of time it takes for hot water to move through the house. But pursuing an indigenous nuclear-weapons program in Australia’s current circumstances would be worse: it would be the equivalent of turning on a tap in a house to which no hot-water system had ever been fitted.

It would be easier to build nuclear weapons if we had in place a stronger core of nuclear skills in our workforce, some capacity to produce fissionable materials, and a suitable delivery vehicle. (More ‘ifs’.) Australia has few of those assets. We have one research reactor at Lucas Heights. We have neither an enrichment capability for uranium nor a reprocessing facility for plutonium. And our best delivery vehicle, the F-111, has long since faded into history. If Australia was to attempt to proliferate, using only national resources, we’d likely face a 15-year-plus haul.

Working in partnership with others would allow us to shorten that timeframe. Indeed, in a post-NPT world we might even be able to buy an arsenal, or critical parts thereof, off the shelf—our usual path to acquiring high-technology military weaponry. But that seems an unlikely scenario.

Nuclear weapons cast long political shadows—which, indeed, is their primary purpose. But they’re also weapons of mass destruction, meaning a decision to proliferate should never be taken lightly.

Personally, I think there are enough large strategic variables already at play that we should be thinking now about an indigenous nuclear-weapons program in much the same way that we did between the 1950s and 1970s.

That is, we should be acting to minimise the lead time required for us to have such a capability, just in case we decide we do need it.

This article first appeared at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in 2019.

Image: Reuters.

America is Such a Turkey

Incirlik Air Base, in the outskirts of the city of Adana, Turkey, is home to 50 B61 nuclear bombs.

STR/AFP/Getty Images

Why Does the U.S. Have Nukes in Turkey, Anyway?

The tangled Cold War history has made the crisis in Turkey much more dangerous.

Fred KaplanOct 22, 20195:21 PM

Senior officials are reportedly discussing whether and how to remove U.S. nuclear weapons from the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, which raises two questions: Why did we put nukes in Turkey in the first place, and why—almost 30 years after the end of the Cold War—are they still there?

The weapons—50 of them, all B61 nuclear bombs, which can be dropped from F-16 and Tornado jet fighters—are among the Cold War’s hoariest relics. (Another 130 of these bombs are stored at NATO bases in Belgium, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands.)

At the start of the Cold War, the United States and its NATO allies lacked sufficient troops and armor to stave off a Soviet invasion of Western Europe—a prospect that many generals and intelligence analysts at the time considered possible, if not imminent. So they relied instead on the threat of nuclear weapons, both to deter the Soviets from invading and to defeat them on the battlefield if necessary.

This trend began before the Soviet Union had any of its own nuclear bombers or missiles to speak of. Official U.S. war plans, approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and President Dwight Eisenhower, stated that, if so much as a single Soviet tank division crossed into allied territory, the United States would respond with nukes.

At first, very few airplanes or missiles had the range to hit Soviet targets from the United States, so the generals saturated Western Europe with “tactical nuclear weapons”—short-range atomic bombs, missiles, artillery shells, even land mines.

By 1960, the Air Force and Navy had built enough long-range bombers and missiles to launch a devastating nuclear blow from U.S. air bases and missile sites. The first multiservice nuclear war plan, developed by the Strategic Air Command, called for dropping or launching 3,423 bombs and warheads—which would explode with the force of 7,847 megatons—at 1,043 targets in the Soviet Union, its allies in Eastern Europe, and China, killing at least 275 million people who happened to live under communism (not to mention the millions more, in the free world, killed by radioactive fallout).

Again, this would be in response to a Soviet or Chinese conventional invasion of allied territory. The U.S. nuclear war plan was—and would remain, for decades to come—a first-strike­ plan.

Then the Soviets started building their own long-range nuclear arsenal. In response, some U.S. officials and strategic thinkers recommended getting rid of the nuclear weapons scattered across Western Europe: First, they were no longer necessary (we could deter a Soviet invasion with weapons based in the U.S.); second, they were vulnerable to Soviet short-range missiles—their very presence could provoke a Soviet preemptive strike.

However, a counterargument arose. Some European military officers and politicians began to wonder whether the United States really would nuke Russia in response to a conventional Soviet invasion of Western Europe, knowing that Russia could retaliate by nuking the United States. French President Charles de Gaulle posed the question this way: Would an American president risk New York to defend Paris?

And so, in the 1960s, Presidents John F. Kennedy and especially Lyndon B. Johnson were persuaded to keep tactical nukes in Western Europe, as a way of assuring the NATO allies that we would use nukes if the Soviets invaded. Meanwhile, they might also keep the allies from building their own nuclear weapons. (The ever-doubtful French built a small nuclear arsenal of their own anyway.)

Robert McNamara, the secretary of defense for Kennedy and Johnson, tried to counter Soviet troops and tanks head on, by building up NATO’s conventional defenses, but the Vietnam War diverted manpower and munitions from Western Europe. So, as the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies built up their conventional forces in Eastern Europe, NATO pressured Washington for more nukes.

By the mid-1970s, at their peak, the United States had 7,000 tactical nuclear weapons in Europe—including almost 500 in Turkey.

Turkey was a special case even then. In 1962, Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev settled the Cuban missile crisis through a secret trade (which remained secret for the next quarter-century): Khrushchev would pull the Soviet missiles out of Cuba, 90 miles off the coast of Florida—and six months later, Kennedy would pull the U.S. missiles out of Turkey, near the southern border of the USSR. The U.S. missiles—15 of them, known as Jupiters—had just been deployed earlier that year. (Eisenhower had agreed to put them there in 1959.) By the time they were dismantled, one of the first Polaris submarines—carrying 16 nuclear missiles—was stationed in the Mediterranean; Kennedy convinced the Turks that the Polaris subs, which could roam beneath the ocean’s surface, undetected, were a far more secure deterrent than the land-based Jupiters.

However, over the next decade, as tactical nukes dotted the European landscape, the Turks eventually got their share of them. And as NATO air bases hosted planes capable of carrying nuclear bombs, the Incirlik base in Southern Turkey got some of those, too.

Concerns were raised about that base in 1974, after Turkey invaded Cyprus, flaring tensions with Greece. In response, the United States removed its nuclear weapons from Greece and put tighter locks on those in Turkey. No alarms were stirred about the security of the other nuclear bases in Europe.

In 1987, Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which banned all U.S. and Soviet missiles with a range of 500 to 5,000 kilometers—resulting in the dismantlement of about 2,000 Soviet missiles facing Europe and 572 American missiles with the ability to strike the USSR from bases in Western Europe.

In 1991, with the implosion of the Soviet Union and the formal end of the Cold War, President George H.W. Bush unilaterally dismantled nearly all tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and South Korea—inviting Boris Yeltsin, the president of the new Russian Federation, to respond in kind (which he did, for a while). By this time, U.S. conventional defenses had greatly improved, and many military commanders viewed the tactical nukes as more of a hindrance to security than a help.

However, Bush retained the small arsenal of U.S. nuclear bombs—numbering about 180—at the handful of NATO air bases, including Incirlik. In fact, the bombs were “modernized.” The old B61 bombs had the explosive power of 1 megaton; the new ones have “dial-a-yield” options, ranging from 340 kilotons down to a fraction of a kiloton. (A kiloton has the blast power of 1,000 tons of TNT; a megaton has the blast power of 1 million tons.)

In 2010, President Barack Obama entered the Oval Office, intent on “reducing the role of nuclear weapons in national security policy,” as he put it in a high-profile speech. His NATO ambassador, Ivo Daalder, proposed cutting the number of B61s by half. No one any longer believed that these bombs had any military purpose, so the move would serve as a token of Obama’s sincerity—and perhaps inspire other nuclear powers to follow suit. However, Obama’s top security advisers quashed the idea. U.S. and Russian diplomats were negotiating an update to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which was about to expire, and Hillary Clinton—Obama’s former political opponent who was now his secretary of state—argued that unilateral cuts would diminish her bargaining leverage. She and others also feared that the move would upset NATO allies, who were still reeling from George W. Bush’s eight-year reign. The fact that the bombs had little, if any, military utility bolstered the case that they were needed to cement trans-Atlantic political ties. Daalder’s proposal was rejected at an interagency meeting of the National Security Council, with little discussion.

Now, almost 10 years later, some regret the casual dismissal, as tensions with Turkey are cresting, to the point where some are talking about expelling it from NATO.

A few years ago, a U.S. security team tested the locks on the bombs at Incirlik and deemed them satisfactory. But the Turks own the base, and if they kicked the Americans out, it’s not impossible that they could break the locks and declare the bombs to be theirs.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared this week that he wants to build his own nuclear arsenal. He is not the first Turkish leader to mull such ambitions, but as his sense of power and independence has grown—fueled by a blossoming alliance with Russia and a new bout of muscle-flexing in northern Syria, stemming from Trump’s abandonment of the area—the prospect of a Turkish bomb looms as a real possibility. At this point, if the U.S. took away the 50 B61s at Incirlik, one could imagine Erdogan rushing to build or buy his own bomb, almost out of spite. John Pike, director of the research firm, also notes that if Saudi Arabia or Iran were to go nuclear in the coming years, Turkey would certainly follow suit in short order.

For a while, nuclear weapons really did seem to be losing their potency as totems of strength. Now they’re coming back, and the big powers—which once kept a lid on smaller countries’ nuclear dreams, through the Non-Proliferation Treaty and other diplomatic stratagems—have lost the leverage and the inclination to do much about it. Trump is the prime culprit here, with his scuttling of the Iran nuclear deal, his inattention to the approaching expiration of the U.S.-Russian New START treaty, and his blundering back-and-forth with Erdogan, kowtowing to the Turkish leader’s expansionism in one breath, then threatening him with sanctions and war in the next.

The nuclear weapons should have been removed from Turkey long ago. Now, whether they’re taken out or kept in, they are going to play some kind of role in the escalating tensions.

The Oxymoron of the Australian Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

Nuclear Peace: Australia’s Oxymoron

9 Oct, 2019  in Australia / Current Events by Abbey Dorian

The first legally binding international agreement of its kind, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was passed by the UN General Assembly on 7 July, 2017. The Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty comprehensively prohibits the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons alongside the development, testing, production, stockpiling, and transfer of such weapons. Nuclear armed states party to the treaty will receive time-bound commitments to irreversibly eliminate their nuclear weapons programmes. The Treaty intends to completely eliminate nuclear weapons in the future.

Building upon the commitments of the Non-Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the TPNW intends to reaffirm commitments to a nuclear weapons free world and accelerate efforts to deconstruct nuclear weapons as a legitimate contingency plan for State security. Despite being a signatory to the NPT and a non-nuclear nation ourselves, Australia is an adversary to the TPNW and remains steadfastly committed to the U.S.’ nuclear prominence. Defence analyst Hugh White reignited the nuclear debate with claims that Australia’s reliance on the United States was dubious and that with concerns for China’s increasing power, Australia should reimagine its defence strategy and seriously consider obtaining nuclear weapons.

Although the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has not fully committed to White’s vision of a nuclearized Australia, the Department’s position towards the TPNW and nuclear weapons in general is notably ambivalent. While firmly stating “Australia does not support the “ban treaty” which we believe would not eliminate a single nuclear weapon” on the grounds it creates parallel obligations to the NPT, fails to engage nuclear states and ignores the reality of the global security environment, Australia still identifies itself as committed to a ‘progressive denuclearization strategy.’  In its paradoxical stance, Australia sides itself with many of the non-nuclear-armed members belonging to NATO under the belief that U.S.’ nuclear weapons enhance their own security.

This level of resistance cripples the Treaty, which in order to come into effect requires the signatures and ratification of 50 countries. It is currently ratified by 32 states. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. and Russia are staunchly opposed to the agreement. Rather ironically, North Korea is the only nuclear state to vote to initiate ban negotiations.  This pacifist move by an infamously deviant state is reflective of a bigger issue with nuclear deterrence.

Australia’s sitting on the fence on the issue of Nuclear Prohibition rests largely on confidence that the U.S. nuclear umbrella is our best trump card in the case of state conflict and by signing the TPNW we would be breaking down this relationship. In fact, the TPNW would not directly contravene the legal obligation of our ANZUS Treaty with the U.S. ANZUS does not refer or require parties to prescribe to any particular defence strategy, including an umbrella arrangement, to maintain defence guarantees.

A key security reason for Australia to change its position towards the TPNW is that nuclear weapons may become the greatest source of destruction, human fatality and environmental degradation for the countries that produce and hold them. Cases such as the 1966 Palmores Crash demonstrate the reality of the greater risk Australia could be exposing itself to with its hesitation to prohibit nuclear weapons and potential intent to produce them. Not only do nuclear weapons come bound up with a series of accidental and unauthorized safeguard problems but are firmly at odds with our democratic decision-making procedures. As a highly monarchic weapon, the use of nuclear weapons is isolated from public decision-making processes and may be used by irrational decision makers. Australia’s stance towards nuclear production and use is highly negative, with over 75% of Australians supportive of the TPNW.

The most crucial argument to contest advocates of nuclear weaponry is the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction, or MAD. Deterrence theory under the potentially lethal MAD ideology has become grounds for governments to possess and produce nuclear weapons, claiming that their severity deters initiative attack. Based on the premise that to arm to the threshold of apocalypse is to assure safety is not only counterintuitive but purely theoretical. MAD has no historical precedent and its closest example during the Cold War failed in the Petrov Incident of 1983.

If Australia were to subscribe to the theory of MAD and produce nuclear weapons, we would risk the outbreak of large-scale nuclear war resulting from a global Prisoner’s Dilemma. In a situation where the greatest incentive is to act first, Australia is contributing to a more hostile global environment, not a more secure one. In this situation, as we have seen in the early Cold War Years, a nuclear arms race would likely transpire, and the world would find itself on the uneasy see-saw between peace and nuclear war.

Australia should seriously consider following the actions of its regional partners such as New Zealand as they work to de-nuclearize the Asia-Pacific Region. As seen in the case of South Africa’s denuclearization, prohibiting nuclear weapons can in many ways build trust and encourage great cooperation rather than maintaining weapons of mass destruction to force the point.

A key oversight for policy strategists, analysts and advocates for nuclear weapons is the irreversible and irrecoverable human impact of nuclear attack. Not only is the use of nuclear weapons unimaginably destructive for human life but has atrocious inter-generational impacts, as seen for decades after Chernobyl. While the suffering of victims after the bomb drops in Nagasaki and Hiroshima were and continue to be overwhelming, the impact of a nuclear attack today would be even more deleterious. The B-83, one of the nuclear warheads in the U.S.’ arsenal, is 80 times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. Since 1983, the U.S. has built 650 B-83 bombs.

Australia communicates itself as committed to an advanced disarmament architecture. However, despite being signatory to the Conference on Disarmament (CD) and the UN Disarmament Commission (UNDC) we hesitate to fully commit to a global order not guaranteed by weapons of mass destruction. Australia must re-asses its commitment to the U.S. and the ideology of deterrence. To put simply, it does not deter, and it is not as remotely compelling of a security principle as it initially appears. The only way to ensure nuclear weapons are not used, is to ensure there are no nuclear weapons at all.

US troops preparing to cross the Redline in Iraq

Pentagon chief says US troops leaving Syria for western Iraq

By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press

Posted 7 hours, 8 minutes ago

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper says that under current plans all U.S. troops leaving Syria will go to western Iraq and the American military will continue to conduct operations against the Islamic State group to prevent its resurgence.

Esper, who arrived in the Afghan capital on Sunday, did not rule out the idea that U.S. forces would conduct counterterrorism missions from Iraq into Syria. But he told reporters traveling with him that those details will be worked out over time.

His comments were the first to specifically lay out where American troops will go as they leave Syria and what the counter-IS fight could look like. Esper, who flew overnight to Afghanistan, said he has spoken to his Iraqi counterpart about the plan to shift the more than 700 troops leaving Syria into western Iraq.

The developments made clear that one of President Donald Trump’s rationales for withdrawing troops from Syria was not going to come to pass any time soon. “It’s time to bring our soldiers back home,” Trump said Wednesday. But they are not coming home.

As Esper left Washington on Saturday, U.S. troops were continuing to pull out of northern Syria after Turkey’s invasion into the border region. Reports of sporadic clashes continued between Turkish-backed fighters and the U.S.-allied Syria Kurdish forces despite a five-day cease-fire agreement hammered out Thursday between U.S. and Turkish leaders.

Turkey’s defense ministry says one soldier has been killed amid sporadic clashes with Kurdish fighters.

Trump ordered the bulk of the approximately 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria to withdraw after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made it clear in a phone call that his forces were about to invade Syria to push back Kurdish forces that Turkey considers terrorists.

The pullout largely abandons America’s Kurdish allies who have fought IS alongside U.S. troops for several years. Between 200 and 300 U.S. troops will remain at the southern Syrian outpost of Al-Tanf.

Esper said the troops going into Iraq will have two missions.

“One is to help defend Iraq and two is to perform a counter-ISIS mission as we sort through the next steps,” he said. “Things could change between now and whenever we complete the withdrawal, but that’s the game plan right now.”

The U.S. currently has more than 5,000 American forces in Iraq, under an agreement between the two countries. The U.S. pulled its troops out of Iraq in 2011 when combat operations there ended, but they went back in after IS began to take over large swaths of the country in 2014. The number of American forces in Iraq has remained small due to political sensitivities in the country, after years of what some Iraqis consider U.S. occupation during the war that began in 2003.

Esper said he will talk with other allies at a NATO meeting in the coming week to discuss the way ahead for the counter-IS mission.

Asked if U.S. special operations forces will conduct unilateral military operations into Syria to go after IS, Esper said that is an option that will be discussed with allies over time.

He said one of his top concerns is what the next phase of the counter-IS missions looks like, “but we have to work through those details. He said that if U.S. forces do go in, they would be protected by American aircraft.

While he acknowledged reports of intermittent fighting despite the cease-fire agreement, he said that overall it “generally seems to be holding. We see a stability of the lines, if you will, on the ground.”

He also said that, so far, the Syrian Democratic Forces that partnered with the U.S. to fight IS have maintained control of the prisons in Syria where they are still present. The Turks, he said, have indicated they have control of the IS prisons in their areas.

“I can’t assess whether that’s true or not without having people on the ground,” said Esper.

He added that the U.S. withdrawal will be deliberate and safe, and it will take “weeks not days.”

According to a U.S. official, about a couple hundred troops have left Syria so far. The U.S. forces have been largely consolidated in one location in the west and a few locations in the east.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing operations, said the U.S. military is not closely monitoring the effectiveness of the cease-fire, but is aware of sporadic fighting and violations of the agreement. The official said it will still take a couple of weeks to get forces out of Syria.

The Foolishness of Babylon the Great

FILE- In this Dec. 15, 2015, file photo, A U. S. Air Force F-15 fighter jet takes off from Incirlik Air Base near Adana, Turkey. Frayed U.S. relations with Turkey are raising a sensitive question rarely discussed in public: Should the United States remove the nuclear bombs it keeps at a Turkish air base? There is no known evidence that the weapons are at direct risk, but President Donald Trump has threatened to “obliterate” Turkey’s economy if it does not halt its invasion of Syria, and some American arms control experts say the bombs would be safer elsewhere. (Associated Press/AP)

Some worries about nuclear weapons at Turkey base

WASHINGTON — Frayed U.S. relations with Turkey over its incursion in Syria raise a sensitive question rarely discussed in public: Should the United States remove the nuclear bombs it has long stored at a Turkish air base?

It’s a tricky matter for several reasons, including the fact that by longstanding policy, the U.S. government does not publicly acknowledge locations of nuclear weapons overseas. Still, it is almost an open secret that the U.S. has as many as 50 B-61 bombs stored under heavy guard at Incirlik air base in southern Turkey.

President Donald Trump implicitly acknowledged the stockpile this week when asked by a reporter how confident he was of the bombs’ security.

“We’re confident,” he said.

Turkey, a NATO ally, has reportedly hosted American nuclear weapons for 60 years. The bombs could be dropped by U.S. planes in a nuclear war. The arrangement at Incirlik air base is part of NATO’s policy of linking Turkey and other member countries to the alliance’s aim of deterring war by having a relatively small number of nuclear weapons based in Europe. Removing them, therefore, would be a diplomatic complication.

There is no known evidence that the nuclear weapons at Incirlik are at direct risk, but relations between Washington and Ankara are at perhaps a historic low and the war in Syria has grown more complex and unpredictable. Incirlik is about 150 miles from Syria by road.

Thursday’s announced U.S. deal with Turkey to pause its offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria may have slowed the deterioration of relations. But the overall direction has been decidedly and increasingly negative.

“The arc of their behavior over the past several years has been terrible,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said last Sunday, noting that Ankara defied repeated U.S. warnings not to purchase a Russian air defense system that the White House has likened to a portal for Russian spying. He added: “I mean, they are spinning out of the Western orbit, if you will.”

In July, the Pentagon kicked Turkey out of its F-35 fighter jet program because Turkey refused to halt its purchase of the Russian-made air defense system. This was a major blow to U.S.-Turkey relations and raised questions in Washington about whether Turkey was a reliable ally.

Eric Edelman, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and senior Pentagon official, said Friday he believes the nuclear weapons are safe and secure. He sees risk in removing them.

“I’m not in favor of taking any actions that would potentially accelerate Turkey’s thinking about pursuing its own independent nuclear deterrent,” he said, noting that Erdogan as recently as September mentioned this possibility.

Some American arms control experts say the U.S. bombs at Incirlik would be safer in another NATO member country.

Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, who has followed the issue for many years, said in an interview that a review of options for the U.S. bombs at Incirlik, near the city of Adana, is long overdue. He believes the Air Force, which is responsible for the bombs, has grown concerned about their security in recent years.

“The Air Force is concerned about not only the standard physical perimeters — whether they are good enough — but also about the manpower on the base, whether they have enough to hold back an attack from someone,” Kristensen said.

The conflict in northern Syria, which has only grown more complex and unpredictable with a U.S. troop withdrawal, has added a new layer of worry for American officials, he said.

“They’re afraid of the spillover” inside Turkey, he said.

The Pentagon has declined to comment on the matter.

“It is U.S. policy to neither confirm nor deny the presence or absence of nuclear weapons at any general or specific location,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Uriah Orland, a Pentagon spokesman. “The U.S. does not discuss the movement of nuclear weapons, the capability to store weapons at U.S. or foreign locations or planning for any of these activities.”

Even private experts who study the matter are not sure how many weapons are stored there, but Kristensen believes there are up to 50 B-61 bombs designed to be dropped by U.S. fighter aircraft. He says the U.S. has had nuclear weapons in Turkey continuously since 1959.

The bombs in Turkey are part of a network of roughly 150 U.S. air-delivered nuclear weapons based in Europe. Kristensen says the host countries, in addition to Turkey, are Belgium, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday he and Trump share “love and respect,” but he also let little doubt that he was offended by an Oct. 9 letter from Trump telling Erdogan, “Don’t be a fool!”

Erdogan told reporters Trump’s words were not compatible with “political and diplomatic courtesy” and would not be forgotten. He said he would “do what’s necessary” about the letter “when the time comes.” He did not elaborate.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Can the U.S. protect its nuclear weapons in Turkey?

Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrive for a news conference after meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in Ankara, Turkey, on Thursday. (Str/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrive for a news conference after meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in Ankara, Turkey, on Thursday. (Str/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

U.S. forces reportedly came under artillery fire from Turkish troops heading into northern Syria last week — another sign of the sudden plunge in U.S. relations with Turkey.

On Monday, President Trump imposed economic sanctions against Turkey and threatened to “swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy.” Vice President Pence announced a cease-fire agreement with Turkey on Thursday, but this does not appear to fully address the underlying problems in the bilateral relationship. Over the summer, the Pentagon kicked Turkey out of the F-35 joint strike fighter program, marking U.S. displeasure that Turkey was buying advanced Russian military technology.

Here’s the backstory — and the downside of removing this nuclear cache.

This deteriorating relationship is troubling because Turkey is a long-standing NATO ally. But even more worrisome are the nuclear weapons — about 50 B61 gravity bombs — that the United States stores at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, less than 100 miles from the Syrian border. On Wednesday, Trump appeared to confirm the existence of these weapons in a startling break with past practice, but over the weekend, U.S. officials reportedly were considering plans to withdraw them.

Why does the U.S. have nuclear weapons in Turkey, and what would be the risks of withdrawing them? Here’s what you need to know:

1. These weapons are relics of the Cold War.

The United States first deployed nuclear weapons on Turkish soil in 1959. President John F. Kennedy used them as bargaining chips to end the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, agreeing to withdraw nuclear-armed Jupiter missiles from Turkey in exchange for the removal of Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba. But Washington has continued to deploy shorter-range tactical nuclear forces since then.

Why does the United States keep nuclear weapons on foreign soil, and how does this strategy advance American interests? Our research reveals that three main strategic drivers behind these deployments.

First, these deployments were once a way of coping with technological limitations. In the early days of the Cold War, before intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and nuclear-armed submarines became the backbone of the U.S. arsenal, putting nuclear weapons in Europe expanded the U.S. ability to respond quickly to an enemy attack. Today, of course, most of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is carried by ballistic missiles — rather than long-range bombers — so most of the world is within range.

Second, nuclear deployments serve as a warning to potential attackers. U.S. leaders during the Cold War believed that putting nuclear weapons in Europe would discourage a Soviet invasion, because Soviet leaders would be worried that a limited conflict would quickly turn nuclear. Even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Turkish military commanders argued that U.S. nuclear deployments served as a deterrent to aggression by regional rivals such as Iran.

Third, nuclear deployments are also intended to reassure allies — including Turkey. Reassurance is not only about managing intra-alliance relations, however — it can also be an important nonproliferation tool. By mitigating the security concerns of allies, U.S. nuclear deployments could prevent them from launching their own nuclear programs.

2. Nuclear deployments in Turkey bring the United States few benefits.

U.S. nuclear forces in Europe may have served a function during the Cold War, but they are increasingly obsolete.

A recent study we conducted shows that the critical factor for preventing aggression against U.S. allies is a formal alliance relationship with the United States — not the presence of U.S. nuclear weapons. Indeed, our research found that global deployments of nuclear weapons made very little difference for deterrence even during the Cold War.

This makes sense, because the United States doesn’t need to forward-deploy its forces to place allies under its nuclear umbrella. American missiles and submarines give it the capability to hit any target in the world. What matters is the United States’ commitment to defend its partners with nuclear weapons if necessary — not where these nuclear forces are physically located.

U.S. nuclear forces in Turkey might, however, contribute to reassurance and nonproliferation. Political scientist Dan Reiter, for instance, has shown how countries with foreign nuclear weapons on their soil are less likely to explore their own nuclear options. Still, most U.S. allies — including Japan and South Korea after the early 1990s — have remained nonnuclear even without U.S. nuclear forces in place.

3. There are potential dangers to keeping nuclear weapons in Turkey. 

While the benefits of these deployments are modest, the risks are significant. Nuclear weapons on foreign soil could be vulnerable to theft or sabotage. When Greece and Turkey, two NATO allies, were on the brink of war in 1974 the United States had nuclear forces stationed in both countries. Worried about the safety and security of these weapons, Washington secretly removed its nuclear forces from Greece and disabled all of the weapons in Turkey.

The 2016 coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reignited concerns about U.S. nuclear weapons at Incirlik. As tensions escalate today, some analysts and U.S. officials continue to worryabout the safety and security of the B61s in Turkey.

4. Is there a downside to withdrawing the weapons?

Would pulling out the nuclear weapons now mean the end of the U.S.-Turkish alliance? This concern is legitimate, but recent research suggests that it is overstated. The United States has withdrawn nuclear forces from many allied countries: Britain, South Korea and others. In none of these cases did the withdrawals damage the overall alliance relationship, nor embolden adversaries.

There is also a security challenge with withdrawing the weapons in the short term. Removing them from their storage vaults during a period of intense hostility could invite an act of sabotage.

In the long term, the larger risk is that removing the weapons will prompt Turkey to try to acquire its own nuclear weapons. After all, Erdogan reportedly is exploring this option. But as relations with Turkey deteriorate, it is by no means certain that the presence of a few U.S. weapons will prevent this outcome. And there are other political and diplomatic tools for dissuading Turkey from venturing down the nuclear path if the United States pulls out its nuclear forces.

Matthew Fuhrmann (@mcfuhrmann) is professor of political science at Texas A&M University. 

Todd S. Sechser is the Pamela Feinour Edmonds and Franklin S. Edmonds Jr. Discovery Professor of Politics and Public Policy at the University of Virginia and Senior Fellow at the Miller Center of Public Affairs. 

Sechser and Fuhrmann are co-authors of Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy(Cambridge University Press, 2017).