NATO Ready to Deploy to Turkey

NATO Ready to Deploy to TurkeyNATO Ready to Deploy to Turkey

NATO is ready to deploy to Turkey if needed, the chief of the military alliance said on Thursday, amid new tensions with Russia over its recent intervention in Syria.

“Turkey is a very strong and capable ally, but NATO of course is always ready to augment and to support,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said. “We are in constant dialogue with Turkey, looking ... if there is any need to do more.”

“We have increased our ability to support and help all allies, but of course also including those who are really close to the violence, close to the turmoil we see to the south; in this case, Turkey. So if needed, we deploy,” he added.

Stoltenberg was speaking after NATO defense ministers discussed the four-year conflict in Syria, which entered a new phase last week with the start of airstrikes by Russia, news24 reported.

The strikes are ostensibly meant to help fight the Islamic State extremist group, but are in practice targeting other opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad, the West says.

Tensions rose further after Russian warplanes operating in Syria twice violated the airspace of neighboring country and NATO member Turkey last weekend. NATO officials have said that the violations do not appear to have been accidental.

Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul asked during the ministers’ meeting for a stronger NATO presence and air defense capabilities in his country, but did not request an intervention by the alliance’s crisis response force, sources said on condition of anonymity.

NATO has ramped up the force to 40,000 troops because of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, but has said that it could also theoretically be deployed to southern trouble spots. Stoltenberg said NATO would consider “further needs along our southern borders” in the coming months.

“We don’t have to deploy the NATO response force ... to deliver deterrence,” he noted. “The important thing is that any adversary of NATO will know that we are able to deploy.”

He sidestepped questions about whether the defense ministers had discussed the possibility of sending ground troops to Turkey, saying: “NATO is ready to defend and protect all allies against any threat, and that of course also is valid for Turkey.”

The alliance already has five Patriot missile batteries stationed in Turkey, deployed in 2013 to thwart attacks from Syria. But the US and Germany have announced that they are pulling out the two batteries they have each provided.

The US cited a global defense posture review, while Germany said that it had assessed the threat of missile attacks as having dropped. German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday defended Berlin’s decision.

“The question is which threat can be averted in what way, and in this context the decision is right,” she said in Brussels.

“What we now see is other kinds of challenges,” Stoltenberg added. “We are discussing with different allies, with Turkey how and in what forms we can continue to support them.”

Ministers also heaped criticism on Russia for its actions in Syria. The relationship between NATO and Moscow is already severely strained over the crisis in Ukraine.

“Russia is making a very serious situation in Syria much more dangerous,” British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said.

Dutch Defense Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert accused Moscow of being “not constructive, not reliable and not cooperative.”