Why NATO is deploying missiles in Turkey

Updated: 2012-12-08 08:06

By Wang Hui (China Daily)

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NATO's decision to accede to Turkey's request of deploying Patriot missiles along the Turkish-Syrian border will have profound implications on the security scenario in the Middle East. Since there is no guarantee that NATO's allegedly defensive measure will not be used against others, the move will complicate the already tricky situation in the region and prevent the Syrian crisis from being resolved diplomatically.

Western countries have thrown their weight behind Syrian rebels, providing them with covert as well as overt support during the 21-month Syrian crisis. NATO officials have until now ruled out military intervention in Syria mainly because member states are wary of the consequences that would follow. In other words, NATO is not really opposed to a forcible regime change in Syria - like the one it did in Libya. It's just waiting for the opportune moment.

Under such circumstances, the deployment of Patriot missiles along Turkey's border could be seen as the first step in NATO's preparations for military intervention in Syria.

During his talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen tried to reassure Moscow that the Patriot missiles would not be used to impose a no-fly zone in Syria and instead were aimed at defending Turkey from Syrian missiles.

History tells us that any show of force in a strategically sensitive place cannot be a sign of goodwill or peace. For one thing, NATO's military maneuverings at the doorsteps of Syria could embolden the Syrian opposition forces to intensify their fight against the government forces, which would only cause more bloodshed in the turbulent country.

Given NATO's record, its pledges that the missile deployment is defensive in nature sound hollow. In March 2011, NATO usurped a UN resolution that mandated the implementation of a no-fly zone in Libya to launch airstrikes on the North African country, which led to the fall of Muammar Gadhafi. There is no guarantee that NATO would not use the Patriot missiles' cover to do the same in Syria shall the opportunity arise.

Moreover, NATO's claim that the missiles are intended to defend Turkey against any attack from Syria does not sound convincing at all.

It's true that in October, firing from inside the Syrian border triggered a sporadic exchange of shelling with Turkey, which is believed to have fueled Ankara's fears of the Syrian crisis spilling into Turkish land. But just as Lavrov said, Turkey's concern should not be overstated.

Turkey's military is far superior to Syria's, and it has the added advantage of being home to an American military base. Technically, Turkey does not lack the resources or the means to defend its borders given the current situation in Syria.

As such, none of the excuses NATO has used to justify its military maneuverings in Turkey is credible. What is NATO's real intention then? A look at the timing of the ongoing hullabaloo around Syria's chemical weapons issue may shed some light on the question.

Interestingly, while NATO was mulling Turkey's proposal of missile deployment, news of Syria supposedly moving chemical weapons hit the headlines. As Western leaders seized the occasion to warn the Syrian government of the consequences if it ever used the weapons, NATO foreign ministers accepted Turkey's demand.

The fear of chemical weapons, though not used for the first time, obviously prompted NATO to play the moral card and agree to deploy the Patriot missiles. With the chemical weapons issue continuing to brew, NATO could get another excuse to intervene in Syria in more indirect ways.

But NATO should stop assuming the vanguard's role in the internal affairs of other countries, because trampling the UN Charter will only aggravate the Syrian crisis and plunge the region deeper into instability.

The author is a senior writer with China Daily. E-mail: wanghui@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 12/08/2012 page5)