To have or not to have: That is not the question anymore

To have or not to have: That is not the question anymore

The volatility of the Middle East continues to challenge Turkish foreign policy, and forces her to revert back to old habits when faced real threats. As the civil war in Syria rages on and the future of the regime becomes precarious by the day, the rumors about Assad’s intention to use chemical weapons are spreading. In return, the US warned that this would be the red line for the US and Syria will face the consequences. Turkey invoked the article 4 of the NATO Treaty and, after much agony, requested patriot surface-to-air missile batteries to deter Syria.

Foreign ministers of the NATO countries approved to deploy patriots to bolster Turkish aerial defense on December 4. Since Russia and Iran were quick earlier on in labeling the move as provocative, NATO foreign ministers highlighted the defensive character of the system. It looks that assurances given at the NATO-Russia Council meeting on the same day, and especially during Putin’s visit to Turkey on last Monday, have dispelled Russian doubts. Amid the speculations in Turkey regarding who is going to control the batteries, who would shoulder the expenses, the real intention of NATO countries, and so on, a NATO delegation visited Turkey to determine potential locations of deployment and number of the batteries needed. The speculations are now about whether they would be used only against missiles or airplanes too; and whether there will be enough batteries to protect all the threatened areas.

This is a déjà vu: It’s not the first time Turkey is having qualms over patriots. They were deployed on Turkish soil in 1991 and 2003 during the Gulf and the Iraq wars. It is a deterrence system designed to counter oncoming missiles with varying degree of success. Turkey does not have its own long-range air defense system due to its expense, as one patriot missile battery with four missiles, costs around 4 million dollars. Only three NATO members, the US, Germany and the Netherlands, have the system. Turkey’s Middle Eastern neighbors, on the other hand, all have their alternative offensive missile systems and/or developing them.

The first question that busied the fertile minds re the patriots was over the control of the system. As in 1991 and 2003, the government circles attempted to convince us that Turkey would be holding the trigger. It was clear all along however that, as Turkey does not own the batteries and does not have the expertise to run them, they would be controlled by NATO, from the Allied Air Command Headquarters in Ramstein, where Turkish military staff is also deployed.

The most surreal part of the discussion relates to the speculations about the “real intentions” of the NATO countries in deploying such a system to Turkey. Conveniently forgetting that it was Turkey in the first place who asked for the deployment, speculations raged from wishing to defend NATO Early Warning Radar System in Kürecik, to preparing an assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The latest speculation is about whether the patriots would only be used against incoming missiles or also against airplanes carrying chemical bombs.

The simple truth is that the possibility of facing chemical weapons is not a threat that the government could take it lightly; hence the request for NATO protection and more importantly “deterrence by show of solidarity”. This is the most important aspect, not the ability of patriots to intercept all the oncoming missiles, which they cannot. And even if they could, it would not make much difference with the chemical warheads. The expectation is that their deployment will deter Esad regime from using its missiles against Turkey. That is the strategic foresight behind the deployments; no further speculations are needed.