By Nilsu Goren, Ph.D.
In “The Clash of Civilizations,” Samuel Huntington categorized Turkey as a “torn” state between the West and Islam.While this categorization is overly simplistic, it points to Turkey’s problematic identity that is reflected in its foreign and security policymaking between East and West. This complicated landscape is seen in Turkey’s quest to balance its security dynamics as it works to address energy challenges and climate change risks.
The state of affairs between Turkey and the West, the United States in particular, reflect a test of solidarity. There are increasing concerns over Turkey being an “unreliable” ally given the divergence of interests on a number of regional challenges in the Middle East. This is especially the case in Syria where Turkey argues that its allies are not sensitive to its national security concerns, leading to unilateral action and alternative alliances, such as a strategic partnership with Russia and a new nuclear energy program.
Turkey is also a non-nuclear member of a nuclear alliance in a region where nuclear proliferation is of particular concern. It is the only North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member that has a border with the Middle East. Despite the frequent nuclear “cascade” scenarios naming Turkey as a country that could pursue nuclear weapons in the region, nuclear weapons and their delivery systems do not have a defining role in Turkish security and defense strategies.
As a rule-abiding member of the global nonproliferation regime, Turkey is keen on pursuing civilian nuclear technology. Addressing the fast-growing demand for electricity and supporting economic development are key drivers of Turkey’s interest in pursuing a nuclear power program. Energy security and diversification is a vital component of Turkey’s 2023 goals – 2023 being the centennial of the establishment of the modern Republic of Turkey in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Turkey’s previously failed attempts to access civilian nuclear technology has led to an intergovernmental approach with Russia to construct the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) near Mersin along the Mediterranean Sea. The “build-own-operate” (BOO) model offered by the Russian Federation is advantageous for a nuclear newcomer such as Turkey as it alleviates financial risks, minimizes delays, and brings operational know-how.
This brief provides an overview of Turkey’s energy needs and nuclear energy plans and an analysis of these plans in context of climate change, nuclear security and broader security trends in Turkey and its region, with a particular emphasis on the safety and security implications of the BOO model.
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