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AWACS in Syria? Say yes

Hofmann Max Kommentarbild
Max Hofmann
January 28, 2016

The United States wants NATO to provide aerial surveillance and coordination in Syria with its AWACS planes. DW's Max Hofmann presents five reasons why NATO should approve the US request.

Aufklärungsflugzeug Boeing mit AWACS
Image: Imago

1. It makes military sense

There are all kinds of aerial activity going on in Syrian skies these days. Russia, the USA, the UK, France and the Syrian regime all fly with their own agenda and bomb different targets. Accidents seem inevitable, but the AWACS could help avoid them. The NATO planes could not only be the eyes of the coalition against the "Islamic State" (IS) since AWACS radars pick up everything flying within 400 kilometers; they could also be used to coordinate coalition activities. Speaking from a military point of view, deploying AWACS is an absolute no brainer.

2. NATO is the best organization for the long run

The US military has 32 of its own AWACS, nearly twice as many as NATO, which has 17 stationed near the German city of Aachen. So why the request if the US military could use its own reconnaissance planes? First of all, the US military wants to avoid overstretching its resources, but it's also about getting NATO involved in the campaign against IS. The Americans know that whoever wants to change things in Syria is in it for the long haul. The Western military alliance has many flaws but if there's something they know how to do well, it's coordinating long-term missions. NATO did it in Afghanistan with the ISAF mission and could do it again in Syria. On top of that, the US is tired of always doing the heavy lifting - and rightfully so.

Deutsche Welle Studio Brüssel Max Hofmann
Max Hofmann is DW's Brussels bureau chiefImage: DW/B. Riegert

3. Islamic State is at war with what NATO stands for

Whoever still pretends that what happens in Syria is none of the West's business is wrong. Just like al Qaeda did with 9/11, IS is taking its war to us. The number of victims was much higher in New York City in 2001, but the Paris attacks of November 13, 2015, showed that these terrorists have the exact same mindset as their predecessors 15 years ago. IS is waging war not only against people in Syria and Iraq but also against the West itself by attacking our values and our way of life. That is exactly what NATO was founded to protect. That doesn't mean the alliance should be given carte blanche, but it should be allowed to provide nonlethal support to what is already a NATO-heavy coalition.

4. NATO's already tangled up in Syria

Here's news for those who want to prevent NATO from being a part of the conflict in Syria: it already is. As the alliance's most fickle member - and strategically, one of its most important ones - Turkey is being supported by NATO in a number of ways that fall just short of officially being a part of the anti-IS coalition. NATO has already agreed to increase its AWACS presence over Turkey, so if the planes are needed in Syria, they wouldn't have to travel far. As NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg mentioned, NATO has also already started defense capacity building programs for Jordan and Iraq.

5. It won't make things worse

Many politicians warn that an official NATO engagement in the Syrian war would further worsen relations with the Russians, who are continuously cranking up their military operations in Syria. Not to mention the negative effect, some politicians say, the engagement would have on the "Arab world." Stoltenberg took the wind out of that argument by pointing out that the coalition against IS is already perceived as "the West," and he's right. NATO is spearheaded by the United States as is the anti-IS coalition. It won't make a difference to most people if the alliance rubberstamps its involvement and it won't make things worse.

It seems Stoltenberg is hinting at a possible "yes" to the US request from the alliance's members. The next chapter of this story will likely come when NATO defense ministers meet in Brussels on February 11 and 12.

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Hofmann Max Kommentarbild
Max Hofmann Head of News & Current Affairs@maxhofmann