WASHINGTON — Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, wants more than control over a wide swath of Syria along his country’s border. He says he wants the Bomb.
In the weeks leading up to his order to launch the military across the border to clear Kurdish areas, Mr. Erdogan made no secret of his larger ambition. “Some countries have missiles with nuclear warheads,” he told a meeting of his governing party in September. But the West insists “we can’t have them,” he said. “This, I cannot accept.”
With Turkey now in open confrontation with its NATO allies, having gambled and won a bet that it could conduct a military incursion into Syria and get away with it, Mr. Erdogan’s threat takes on new meaning. If the United States could not prevent the Turkish leader from routing its Kurdish allies, how can it stop him from building a nuclear weapon or following Iran in gathering the technology to do so?
It was not the first time Mr. Erdogan has spoken about breaking free of the restrictions on countries that have signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and no one is quite sure of his true intentions. The Turkish autocrat is a master of keeping allies and adversaries off balance, as President Trump discovered in the past two weeks.
“The Turks have said for years that they will follow what Iran does,” said John J. Hamre, a former deputy secretary of defense who now runs the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “But this time is different. Erdogan has just facilitated America’s retreat from the region.”
“Maybe, like the Iranians, he needs to show that he is on the two-yard line, that he could get a weapon at any moment,” Mr. Hamre said.