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Missile defense

Christoph Hasselbach / ncDecember 4, 2012

NATO foreign ministers approved the deployment of missiles to Turkey, while warning Syria against using chemical weapons.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen fREUTERS/Yves Herman
Image: Reuters

NATO Foreign Ministers on Tuesday (04.12.2012) approved the deployment of Patriot defense missiles to Turkey. Turkey had requested the missiles, following several attacks from neighboring Syria. Civilians were also killed in the attacks.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said it was in NATO's interest to grant the request: “To not show solidarity would have important consequences for the alliance and it would send the wrong signal to the Assad regime.”

Defensive maneuver

Next to the US and the Netherlands, Germany has the most modern Patriot defense system. That's why Germany is likely to play an important role, Westerwelle said to reporters in Brussels – provided the deployment gains parliamentary backing. But Westerwelle said that after having consulted with senior politicians, he expected “broad parliamentary backing” for the deployment of Patriot missiles from Germany to Turkey.

His Dutch counterpart Frans Timmermans made a parallel commitment for his country, provided that the Netherlands parliament supports the plan. “I think we have an obligation as a NATO ally to help protect NATO's borders. We're not talking about anything else, this is not a no-fly-zone. It has nothing to do with any operations to Syria. This is purely a protection of Turkey.”

German Patriot Rockets Carsten Rehder/dpa
German Patriot rockets may soon be deployed to TurkeyImage: picture-alliance/dpa

It remains unclear which of the three countries will provide the missiles, and how many.

Critics of the plan repeatedly point to the fact that the Patriot system is unable to repel mortar fire, and that the attacks launched from Syria were in fact mostly mortars.

Russian opposition

Turkeyhad requested a no-fly-zone over northern Syria, to be enforced by NATO. But according to NATO, that would require a UN mandate.

That is highly unlikely, given that Russia and China continue to exercise veto powers when it comes to Syria. Russia is opposed to the deployment of Patriot missiles. Yet Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide forbade Russian interference, saying it was entirely up to NATO to respond to attacks against member states.

In the course of the NATO-Russia Summit, foreign ministers met Russian counterpart Sergej Lawrow to discuss Syria. However, they were unable to reach a common position.

Westerwelle warned his NATO allies against condemning Russia too sharply: “Despite the irritations, I urge us to continue talks.” He stressed that NATO needed Russian support to effectively deal with crises, as in Iran or North Korea.

NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen stressed mutual interests and good cooperation in Afghanistan, along with the need to work toward a strategic partnership. He stressed that NATO and Russia were heading in the right direction, but suggested that the relationship needed a new push. Rasmussen regretted that differences in dealing with the Syrian conflict were overshadowing positive steps taken to date.

Chemical weapons the 'red line'

NATO voiced its alarm at reports that the Syrian government would attack the rebels with chemical weapons, if need be. Damascus has denied these rumors. Westerwelle called any attacks with chemical weapons a "red line" - but didn't elaborate on the consequences, let alone a German response.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle speaks to reporters while arriving at a two-day NATO foreign ministers at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels December 4, 2012. NATO foreign ministers will agree on Tuesday to send Patriot missiles to beef up Turkey's air defenses and calm Turkey's fears that it could come under missile attack, possibly with chemical weapons, from Syria, diplomats said. REUTERS/Yves Herman (BELGIUM - Tags: MILITARY POLITICS)
Guido Westerwelle continues to urge dialogue with RussiaImage: Reuters

"We know that Syria possesses missiles," Rasmussen said. "We know they have chemical weapons. And this is also the reason why it is a matter of urgency to ensure effective defense and protection of our ally Turkey," he added.

"Use of chemical weapons would be completely unacceptable for the whole international community, and if anyone resorts to these terrible weapons, I would expect an immediate reaction from the international community," Rasmussen stated.

Here, it remains unclear which role NATO would play.