NATO Patriots to Turkey for ‘Defensive Purposes Only’

NATO has agreed to deploy Patriot missiles along the Turkey-Syria border to protect Turkish airspace and territory, while making clear no escalation is intended.

NATO has agreed to deploy Patriot missiles along the Turkey-Syria border to protect Turkish airspace and territory, while making clear no escalation is intended.

In a statement issued from Brussels, NATO ministers declared, “The situation along NATO’s south-eastern border and the repeated violations of Turkey’s territory raise grave concern. As the North Atlantic Council made clear on June 26 and October 3, we stand with Turkey in the spirit of strong solidarity. We, the NATO foreign ministers, declare our determination to deter threats to and defend Turkey.”

As I note in my New Atlanticist posting “NATO Deploying Patriots to Turkey,”

The ministers took care to emphasize, however, that “Any deployment will be defensive only. It will in no way support a no-fly zone or any offensive operation.”

This would seem to go without saying given the nature of the system, which was most famously used in the first Gulf War to shoot down incoming SCUD missiles, but the latest generation Patriot does have the technical ability to shoot down airplanes 160 kilometers into Syria.

Still, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has gone out of his way to assure followers of his Twitter feed even in advance of the announcement that the move was “Defensive only, not for no-fly zone.” Presumably, his target audience here was in Russia, as he repeatedly referenced Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in subsequent tweets on the matter.

Mostly, then, this announcement is a symbolic move to assure Turkey, which has repeatedly demanded NATO action over various minor incidents with Syria since the civil war began there, that the Alliance intends to live up to the spirit of its Article 5 commitment. While it theoretically ratchets up the possibility that NATO will get drawn into the Syrian quagmire—shooting down a Syrian plane in Syrian airspace from Turkey would be an act of war that could set off a cycle of retaliation—it’s a low cost move that should calm tensions along the border.

There’s only so many times NATO can say “No” to Turkey and retain their confidence as an ally. This is the smallest “Yes” that wouldn’t be perceived as a “No.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. It does feel like the situation in Syria is rapidly approaching a point where either Assad steps down our outside intervention of some kind becomes inevitable.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    This is not going to end well – far worse than Libya!

  3. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I’m so disappointed – I read the headline and thought that our Tea Party Patriots were going to be putting their money where their mouth is.

    I wonder if the knockback from a grenade launcher would tip over a Hoveround?

  4. CB says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    sad but true. the writing, its on the wall.

  5. Isn’t the deployment of ABM weapons by definition for defensive purposes? They don’t really have an offensive use.

  6. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Pretty much. Patriot was originally designed, I think, as an anti-aircraft artillery system and became mostly an anti-ballistic missile system. But it can shoot down anything that flies and has a greater range against airplanes (presumably because they’re a helluva lot bigger). So, theoretically, Patriot could be used to shoot down Syrian planes flying anywhere near Turkey, enforcing a sort of no-fly zone. It would be an inefficient way to do that, though, given US air supremacy.