Will Erdogan resort to regional nuclear blackmail?
The failed “military coup” in Turkey last month is still replete with discrepancies, insinuations and outright lies. Disinformation and recriminations continue to swirl like an impenetrable black hole, blotting out cogent questions over the innumerable bloopers in this poorly-scripted geopolitical drama.
To begin with, an astonishing 99 generals were allegedly involved in the July 15 coup. Most armies in the world cannot claim to have 99 generals, let alone boast of 99 coup-plotters. Just how many generals does Turkey have at any one time? To get a grip on the unlikelihood of this number, the perennially-at-war United States had 886 generals and admirals as of Feb 29 this year, according to a US Senate Armed Services Committee report which tallied “411 one stars, 299 two stars, 139 three stars, and 37 four-star active generals and admirals” in the Department of Defence. The US committee even concluded that its general staff was bloated!
Therefore Ankara’s explanation that Turkey, with its long history of successful military coups, had swiftly neutered a coup involving 99 generals is simply absurd. So far, more than 60,000 people in the military, judiciary, civil service, universities, schools and the media have been arrested, removed or suspended over their purported links to US-based Islamist and alleged coup mastermind, Fethullah Gulen.
Yet, the West’s response has been bizarrely tepid, considering their standard deafening protests whenever a single “human rights activist” is remanded or detained in a nation not allied to the United States.
The possibility of a coup plot escaping the notice of myriad Western and non-Western intelligence assets in Turkey and beyond defies logic, especially in the wake of Ankara’s reported links to terrorist groups like the Islamic State.
To add incredulity into this Grade B drama, rumours of an imminent coup in Turkey had been swirling for months on Facebook, among other social media platforms. How this had escaped the notice of Turkey’s vaunted national intelligence service, the MIT, is equally baffling. Logically, when coup plotters read about their own plans on Facebook, they will assuredly shrink away from a foreknown, foolhardy adventure. But no so, it seems, in Turkey.
While inconsistencies regarding the “Gulenist coup plot” continue to pile up, and while the number of Turkish officials arrested or purged entails a whopping 30,000 per week, the West is looking to normalize relations with fellow NATO member Turkey at the earliest opportune moment. This will assuredly happen after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan determines the extent of Russian geopolitical concession, if any, during an Aug 9 meeting with President Vladimir Putin. Everyone is playing a game of waiting, or more specifically, a “game of chicken” which incidentally was a Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) scenario developed during the Cold War.
Hardly any mainstream Western writer or geopolitical expert is gaming out a worst-case scenario that eerily parallels Erdogan’s Pan-Turkic/Neo-Ottoman fantasies which stretch from the Balkans to Xinjiang – right through the heart of Greater Eurasia. This is redolent of a nuclear game theory denouement worthy of the legendary Herman Kahn himself!
The Nuclear Blackmail
Right after the “coup”, Ankara terminated power supply to the US/NATO Incirlik airbase and quarantined thousands of NATO personnel within, forcing the latter to rely on backup generators since then. How did the base sustain itself with backup generators and an underreported siege for over two weeks and counting?
NATO and the usually trigger-happy US government were suspicious silent, leaving the pro- and anti-Erdogan camps to slug out a proxy war in wild speculations. Erdogan may appreciate the benefit of doubt tilted his way. The current confusion may tempt him to seize the moment by replicating the NATO-engineered chaos in Libya which, resulted in massive arms transfers to jihadi militants in Syria from 2011 onwards.
Even as hardcore Islamists from Erdogan’s AKP party are encamped outside Incirlik, and while thousands of Turkish troops are subjecting the base to an “inspection”, the US sees no urgency in removing its 50-odd nuclear weapons to relative safety. No request has been filed before the UN Security Council or NATO for its safe evacuation. Instead, the fate of Incirlik’s nuclear weapons may be deliberately sealed by further chaos in Turkey.
If Incirlik is overrun by Islamists, leading to a “broken arrow” (e.g. missing nukes) incident, Ankara may conveniently blame it on Gulenists or the bogeyman du jour. Unwitting players in this game of musical chairs may include Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Moscow or Jerusalem – with the hot seat exchanged in sync with Erdogan’s neo-Caliphate goals and hysteria levels in the Islamic world. Factitious flexibility will be the order of the day.
Therefore, it was not incongruous for Ankara to seek normalization of ties with Syria on July 13, only to declare that “Assad must go” during the hours leading up to the July 15 coup. There are additional reasons for this volte-face: Incirlik is only 90-odd kilometres from a Syrian border infested with terrorists who routinely transit via Turkey.
Except for Gulen, Erdogan has yet to specifically blame any party for the coup, leaving the copious accusations, innuendos and conspiracy theories to Western anarchist writers, the Fars News agency and commentaries from a naïve Russian media dreaming of a Russo-Turkish alliance against NATO. Erdogan’s ire is predictably shifting from Gulen the Mastermind to a “superior intelligence behind” the Gulen the Pawn. The gullible, less concerned by Erdogan’s brutal crackdowns and his regime’s casual U-turns on recent geopolitically-charged events, are convinced that Ankara is referring to the United States. The story might morph yet again to include Israel, much to the delight of the Greater Eurabian collective.
Who trusts a regime that wildly changes its terror-laden narrative by the week? The West, of course! A nuke snuck into Syria would rouse Washington into an outright military intervention. The quartet of the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey – the primary creators of ISIS itself – has never wavered from its goal of overthrowing the Syrian government in favour of an Islamist regime that will be remote-controlled from Washington and Riyadh. Ankara, however, may harbour a larger and more sinister goal in mind: The union of the pan-Turkic and Pan-Islamic worlds under its leadership. A US-abetted nuclear blackmail would provide the ideal opening for this otherwise unlikely adventure.
The ball is now in Putin’s court. The Aug 1 downing of a Russian military helicopter in Syria’s Idlib province bordering Turkey was swiftly accompanied by the desecration of the pilots’ bodies. The terror group allegedly responsible for the shootdown, the Army of Conquest, was long backed by the ISIS quartet.
Erdogan, a natural quick-draw with the accusatory finger, has yet to condemn this attack. He may be frantically trying to pin this on the CIA. Any cockamamie conspiracy theory will do, with the new normal and standards in geopolitical narratives already laid down by the United States.
Again this backdrop, will Putin respond positively to Turkish overtures or will Moscow call for a UNSC meeting to demand the temporary removal of US nuclear weapons from Turkish soil? The latter course of action would infuriate a megalomaniacal Erdogan who might be backed by an equally enraged NATO; the same NATO whose military personnel are ironically besieged at Incirlik. Coincidentally, ISIS has just declared war on Russia, and one wonders whether this was a subtle warning meant for Putin? The possibilities here are of a veritable Byzantine vintage.
Either way, the farcical siege of Incirlik may catapult Erdogan to be a kingmaker or Caliph-in-waiting for the Turkic and Islamic worlds. If nuclear weapons go missing during a manufactured protest, the world will prostrate itself before Erdogan to have them recovered. The quid pro quo would likely be Erdogan’s geopolitical ultimatums to burnish his image in the Islamic world even while his military retrieves those missing nukes in a deliberate, piecemeal manner. In the interim, Western counter-terrorism experts may stoke rumours of nukes being smuggled into Chechnya, West Bank, Kashmir or Xinjiang or a via mysterious vessel floating in the Straits of Malacca. Remember the hyper-mediated fears whipped up after 9/11?
Few are gaming out the possibility of a US-Turkish plot to destabilise the Silk Road project. At the very least, Erdogan has always eyed a Turkic silk road controlled by Ankara; one where Turkey would be the undisputed lynchpin of Greater Eurasia.
It is therefore imperative to demand the removal of US nuclear weapons from Incirlik to relative safety – even temporarily – until Turkey returns to normality. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, it would be criminally remiss of Washington not to do so under the present circumstances.
@Mathew Maavak, 2016.