Reuniting Europe

I consulted with George Friedman before publishing the story US moves nuclear weapons from Turkey to Romania, which I wrote together with Joel Schalit. He warned me to be careful with our sources, because nukes are obviously sensitive for the US, “and whoever talks doesn’t know and those who do know wouldn’t talk”.

I kept this warning in mind, but we published the story anyway, despite the fact that the Romanian government strongly denied that the country had become home to American nuclear weapons. Of course, we quoted the Romanian government.

Nuke

In contrast, NATO didn’t dismiss the report, but instead referred to paragraph 53 of the Communiqué of the NATO Warsaw Summit (published on 9 July), which says: “NATO’s nuclear deterrence posture also relies, in part, on United States’ nuclear weapons forward-deployed in Europe and on capabilities and infrastructure provided by Allies concerned. These Allies will ensure that all components of NATO’s nuclear deterrent remain safe, secure, and effective.”

Though the alliance has maintained a policy of ambiguity about the presence of US nuclear weapons on its soil, the idea that Romania had joined fellow NATO members in hosting them does not seem far fetched. Why Italy, for example, and not Bucharest? Or Germany, for that matter. The fact that Washington refrained from commenting on the reports reinforces the seriousness of the claims, particularly in contrast with Romania’s denials. These are American weapons, after all.

I am also aware that tensions between Turkey and the US have grown so much that moving the weapons would be a security priority for Washington. A prominent pro-government editor, Ibrahim Karagul, tweeted, “The nukes in Incirlik must be handed over to Turkey, or else, Turkey should take control of them.” Given the difficult political situation in the country, particularly for the press, Karagul was echoing statements already made in Ankara.

And a member of Russia’s upper house of parliament suggested that Turkey could provide its Incirlik air base for Russian Air Force jets in their campaign across the border in Syria.

“Turkey could provide the Incirlik base to the Russian Aerospace Forces for its use in counterterrorism operations [in Syria]. This could become a logical continuation of Turkish President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan’s step toward Russia,” Senator Viktor Ozerov, a member of the Russian Federation Council Defense and Security Committee, was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti on 16 August.

From my perspective, it was clear that following the foiled coup attempt on 15 July, the US (and NATO) are losing Turkey, and that Russia is building a new Moscow-Ankara-Teheran axis, with enormous geopolitical consequences for the Western alliance, and its regional allies. I’m aware that US Vice President Joe Biden will visit Turkey on 24 August in what may be a last attempt to save what can be saved. I wish him luck, but I’m not optimistic.

Without a doubt, the situation is fraught with tension, enough to generate heated debate amongst political analysts, who for the most part, agree on such matters. Hence, the op-ed which George Friedman published on his website Geopolitical Futures, in which he contends that our article bears the hallmarks of disinformation. He sent me the text in advance, and I thank him for that.

Friedman does raise important questions, which I summarise below.

“If true, it was a major story. Clearly, by journalistic standards, it was well beyond the threshold required for publication. There were two sources, who I will assume were seemingly good sources. They obviously required anonymity, because to tell this they had to be breaking someone’s rules on secrecy. And the story was obviously important to the European public who the journalists serve,” Friedman writes.

Friedman argues that the location of US nuclear weapons is extremely classified, because if any enemies knew the location of the nuclear weapons, they could destroy them with even conventional weapons. Therefore, he believes, no serious source would disclose information about moving such weapons, because they would face thirty years in jail.

He also states that “sometimes 10 sources are all wrong or lying”. And that the beneficiary of the story is clearly Russia. Friedman also says that in this case, neither of the two sources had to be working for the Russians. “There are probably many degrees of separation between Russia and the sources. It would be impossible to trace the information back,” he concludes.

I still think that I was not manipulated, as the two sources are wholly unrelated. They didn’t say much (I wish they had) and cannot be considered whistleblowers. But given the larger background, it makes sense that the Americans would want to move away their nukes from Incirlik. The alleged choice of Romania doesn’t surprise me. Bucharest is a staunch US ally. This is where the US missile shield is located, and there is infrastructure to accommodate advanced tactical weaponry, such as the AEGIS anti-missile system it was built to host.

And indeed, the NATO summit decision to ensure that the US nuclear deterrent remains safe is a commitment for countries like Romania to play their part, and take risks like this when asked to by the alliance. Another question is how Russia would react to moving those nukes even closer to its borders. But they would not react to a press article, I assume. Moscow would have its own information, and clarify issues in bilateral contacts.

We didn’t follow George Friedman’s advice to be more careful with our sources, because that would have amounted to self-censorship. I think, and our publisher agrees, that the chief beneficiary of the story is our readership, which cares deeply about such issues. Even if we are not 100% correct, I’m convinced that the most of what we were told is true, and worthy of publication. Given the speed of the geopolitical developments, it is healthier to provide some insight before events overwhelm us, than to pretend we didn’t know.

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