The coming fielding of Patriot air-defense systems in Turkey is viewed by experts as being more a token demonstration of NATO's support for a member nation than a serious military buildup, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
The 28-member alliance on Tuesday approved deploying Patriot missile batteries along Turkey's long border with Syria amid global fears that the 21-month civil war in the Arab nation could produce the first use of chemical weapons anywhere in more than two decades. Damascus has repeatedly said it would not use its chemical arsenal against domestic opposition forces but has suggested unconventional weapons might be employed in the event of a foreign military intervention.
"The first and overwhelming reason for this is political posturing," Institute for the Study of War senior analyst Christopher Harmer said in an interview. "There is no real threat from Syria into Turkey."
Shells fired by the Syrian military have in several instances landed in Turkish territory, causing the deaths of multiple people and leading Ankara to request air-defense support from its NATO allies. Patriot systems can be used against both incoming missiles and airplanes. While Ankara and Brussels have said they are not interested in creating a no-fly zone over Syria, the deployed Patriots could have a key role in rapidly establishing a 25-mile safety zone in the Arab country should the political calculus shift.
The Patriot deployments are "not part of a no-fly zone," U.S. Defense Department spokesman Maj. Robert Firman said, though he acknowledged that such weapons could hypothetically be utilized in the maintenance of a no-fly area.
The missiles are anticipated to come from Germany, the Netherlands and the United States. The national legislatures in Berlin and Amsterdam might have to sign off on any Patriot deployments -- a process that would likely add time to the weeks needed for physically installing the missile batteries.
NATO spokesman Lt. Col. Jay Janzen said Ankara has not specified how many Patriot units it wants. A NATO delegation that recently scouted possible battery locations in Turkey could propose a certain quantity of units be provided that could be modified contingent on the readiness of the three supplying countries.
The deployed batteries will be connected to the alliance's air defense structure and would be operated by NATO command-and-control. In the event Syria launches a missile at Turkey, early warning radar units are anticipated to detect and track the missile's flight path and to send signals for the Patriots to attempt an intercept, the New York Times reported. Some of the antimissile units are expected to be Patriot Advanced Capability 3 systems, the most advanced versions in the Patriot product line.
Patriots systems configured for missile defense have a top flight distance of 16 miles, meaning they would not be able to enter Syrian territory, said an anonymous alliance envoy. If a Patriot missile destroys a Syrian missile, the fragments from the kinetic intercept would land in Turkey. Ten possible locations, mainly in the southeastern part of the nation, are under consideration to host the Patriots. However, NATO does not have sufficient available systems to supply all of those sites, an alliance official said.
Syria possesses 700 missiles and Turkey is aware of their locations, storage methods and overseeing personnel, Today's Zaman quoted Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu as saying. The Assad government wields a number of extended-distance missiles, he told the Turkish newspaper Sabah.
Russia has objected to the planned deployments, though, contending there is no serious threat of Turkey coming under attack by Syria and that the Patriots would further destabilize the situation. However, Moscow on Tuesday had a low-key response to the NATO decision.
"We are not trying to interfere. We are just attracting attention to the fact that threats should not be overstated," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Brussels, where he met with the alliance's foreign ministers.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Tuesday condemned any consideration by Syrian dictator Bashar Assad of mounting chemical attacks. He insisted, though, the approval of Patriot deployments was not related to reports suggesting the Syrian government might be moving toward use of chemical arms, the Washington Post separately reported.
"The aim of this deployment is to ensure effective defensive protection of Turkey against any missile attack, whether the missiles carry chemical weapons or not," the alliance chief said.