The nuclear strategy aims to ensure energy supplies while strengthening the non-proliferation treaty.
By Aaron Stein for Southeast European Times -- 23/05/11
Energy Minister Taner Yildiz is leading Turkey's nuclear energy efforts. [Reuters]
Turkey's proximity to the Middle East, a region with a long history of instability and proliferation, has prompted Ankara to adopt strong non-proliferation policies.
The Group of 10 (G10) -- Turkey, Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland and the United Arab Emirates -- met late in April to push the global community "to work towards achieving nuclear disarmament and a strengthening of the international non-proliferation regime".
With an eye towards the 2012 Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, the G10 nations adopted four concrete proposals to strengthen global nonproliferation efforts: the halt of fissile material production, entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), nuclear transparency and accountability, and NPT compliance. The G10 also renewed calls for the establishment of a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone (MEWMDFZ).
According to international relations professor and non-proliferation expert at Hacettepe University Sebnem Udum, Turkey views a MEWMDFZ as a perfect complement to the NPT because Turkey "is aware of the fact that it is not entirely the NATO nuclear umbrella that deters threats from the Middle East or sustains its non-nuclear status".
"The status as a non-nuclear-weapon state is by itself a security asset, because it gives Ankara the image of a committed and reliable member of the regime and of the international community," she tells SETimes.
However, the push comes just 12 months after Turkey signed its first nuclear reactor tender with Russia, prompting some to question Turkey's nuclear intentions. Much of the skepticism stems from neighbouring Iran's enrichment programme, which has clouded global nuclear and non-proliferation issues.
Despite Turkey's strong anti-proliferation policies, Ankara and its traditional Western allies differ on their interpretation of the NPT.
"Ankara's approach … is strongly influenced by the fact that, unlike the United States, it is a non-nuclear weapon state, and it does not currently possess a robust peaceful nuclear infrastructure. As such, Turkey interprets Article IV of the NPT, which affords non-nuclear weapon states an 'inalienable' right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, in the broadest possible sense," Jessica Varnum, a research associate and adjunct professor at the Centre for Nonproliferation Studies, tells SETimes.
Turkey is worried that efforts by nuclear supplying countries to limit the spread of peaceful nuclear technology may hinder its own quest for nuclear power.
"While Turkey is unlikely to construct commercial enrichment or reprocessing facilities, which would be prohibitively expensive, it interprets the NPT text -- which does not offer clear guidance on this issue -- as permitting non-nuclear weapon states to have enrichment and reprocessing technologies as part of a peaceful nuclear programme, and does not believe that non-nuclear weapon states should have to give up this alleged right," Varnum told SETimes.
Udum says Turkey's "main preoccupation is with establishing nuclear power plants, despite the protests mainly after Fukushima. It [Turkey] also has been lukewarm to receiving nuclear fuel from an international consortium."
She adds that Turkey is working hard "to strike a balance between good neighbourly relations with Iran (and the rest of the Middle East), but at the same time convincing Iran to keep non-nuclear if Iran feels isolated or threatened by the West".
Public support for Iran's enrichment programme has prompted some in the United States and elsewhere to lump Turkey together with other proliferation prone states in the Middle East, a stance that Varnum cautions against. "It is important to remember that at the big picture level, Turkey has demonstrated a strong commitment to the nonproliferation regime and the NPT process."