THERE will be wars and rumours of wars, the Good Book tells about the last days. Well there are certainly wars galore as the carcass of the old Ottoman Empire is fought over by every possible interest group. But now a new epicentre of global instability has reappeared just in time for Brexit – Europe itself. And I mean nuclear instability.

Consider: on July 15 there was an attempted – but botched – military coup in Turkey against President Erdogan’s pro-Islamic government. Turkey, you will remember, is also heavily involved in the twin conflicts in Syria and Iraq. In fact, till recently, the Turkish border with Syria remained remarkably open to Daesh because Erdogan wanted to use them to put pressure on the neighbouring Kurds, whose demand for independence from Turkey is seen by the regime as a bigger threat than Islamic terrorism. Following the July coup attempt, however, Erdogan closed the border to Daesh and moved Turkish troops south into Syria, less with a view to confronting Daesh and more to containing the Kurdish YPG, which hopes to create its own mini state in north Syria.

Why should we be concerned by all this Byzantine manoeuvring? Because the volatile Turkish-Syrian border is the last place you would place nuclear weapons. Unless, of course, you happen to be the Pentagon. Bizarrely, the US has long used the Turkish air force base at Incirlik, 100 kilometres from the Syrian border, as the location to store around 50 B-61 tactical nuclear weapons. That constitutes some 25 per cent of the tactical nukes in the Nato stockpile.

By the way, the notion that a nuclear bomb is “tactical” has always been a misnomer. It suggests a weapon that is to be used on the battlefield against limited targets. But the whole point of a nuke is that it splatters everything and anything. The real point about the B-61 is that it is small enough to be hung on a plane and dropped anywhere close by. Which makes it great for nuclear blackmail. Hence the stockpile of B-61s at Incirlik, within striking distance of Russia, Iran and a series of Arab dictatorships.

Here’s another thing about the nifty B-61. Its explosive yield can be adjusted to suit a particular mission. The A-bomb that destroyed Hiroshima had an explosive force equivalent to about fifteen kilotons of TNT. The so-called “dial-a-yield” of the B-61 bombs at Incirlik can be adjusted from 0.3 kilotons to as many as a hundred and seventy kilotons. The point of this technological nonsense is that the Pentagon can always claim the B-61 stockpile in Turkey is not an offensive capability but a mere “tactical” and “defensive” weapon should Turkey be attacked. But hint, hint: we can always dial the bombs up to five times Hiroshima size if we want to – so behave!

At least this was the game plan till the night of 15 July and that failed military coup. On that night, all hell broke loose at Incirlik airbase. Subsequently, the base commander, General Bekir Ercan Van, was arrested for supporting the coup. Fearing General Van’s loyalty, pro-Erdogan units surrounded the airfield and cut off the power. Fortunately, local US personnel had a back-up generator. But that was the least of their worries with a full-scale coup going on.

Let’s face it: anybody with a few tanks could have helped themselves to 50 B-61 nukes, in the confusion. That includes General Van, President Erdogan, the Kurds or Daesh. Impossible? Back in 2010, local peace activists climbed over a fence at the Kleine Brogel Airbase, in Belgium, home to another stockpile of American “tactical” nukes. They then cut through a second fence, entered the hardened shelter containing the nuclear weapons, and placed anti-nuclear stickers on the walls.

AS dawn rose on the Saturday morning after the Turkish coup attempt, the American Embassy in Ankara raised the local security threat level to Delta, the highest state of alert, meaning a terrorist attack has occurred or may be imminent. Translated: anything can happen, so prepare for the worst. Fortunately, the coup passed without Incirlik losing any of its B-61 bombs. However, you have to ask why a level-headed guy like President Obama still keeps a quarter of Nato’s tactical nukes smack in the middle of a war zone, surrounded by Daesh and umpteen other Jihadist groups, not to mention the Kurds, the Assad regime, and the pro-Iranian Hezbollah?

To give Obama and the Pentagon their due, they have taken the July incident to heart. Some of those B-61 nukes – reports suggests about 20 – have now been moved. Guess where? Answer: Romania. The B-61s now reside at the Deveselu air base in Romania, which is also home to the new US/Nato anti-ballistic missile shield. As you can imagine, this has not gone down well in Moscow, which sees the shift of the nukes to just across the border as an implied threat. Which, of course, it is. Welcome to the new Cold War in Europe.

The anti-ballistic missile unit at Deveselu went operational this May. Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov, chairman of the Russian Duma’s defence committee, was suitably horrified: “This is a direct threat to us.’’ Mind you, Komoyedov is the former commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, and happily supported Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The point is that Russia and Nato have now returned to a nuclear arms race within Europe itself. And no one is sure where it will end.

The Kremlin was swift to reply to the shift of the B-61s to Romania. Yes we had that Russian carrier group sail down the coast of Scotland on its way to bomb Aleppo. But more worryingly, last month the Russians moved nuclear-capable Iskander-M tactical missile units into the Kaliningrad enclave that borders Poland and Lithuania, both Nato members. The Kremlin has done this before but the current move looks a permanent response to the redeployment of the B-61s to Deveselu. Each side is playing a game of nuclear poker and adding more chips to the game. I have no brief for President Putin.

He is an authoritarian opportunist who pays no regard to accepted international rules. But nor am I convinced by current Nato posturing. There has been scant public debate regarding the building of the anti-ballistic missile shield and none at all about how Nato deploys its tactical nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, the European Union has been undermined by Brexit, which has strengthened the hand of nativist and racist movements across the continent. The prevailing political scene is dangerously reminiscent of the early 1930s. Only this time with nukes.

Scotland is in a pivotal position to influence the course of events in a positive manner. As a northern country, we should stand by the Nordic and Baltic states in opposing bullying from the Kremlin. Equally, as a Nato and EU member, we should be seeking a pan-European dialogue to ease tensions across the Continent. That should include reshaping the institutions of the EU to make them more democratic. And it should include an approach to Russia to remove all tactical nuclear weapons (on both sides) from European soil. Of course, Scotland would need to be independent to achieve all that. Just saying.

Carolyn Leckie: Beware of the rise of fascism in UK and US