quarta-feira, 10 de fevereiro de 2016
German-Turkish refugee request ambushes NATO talks
German-Turkish refugee request ambushes NATO talks
Merkel and Davutoğlu catch NATO on the back foot by asking for help on Syrian refugees.
By FLORIAN EDER AND HANS VON DER BURCHARD 2/9/16, 7:55 PM CET
Military alliances don’t like surprises, which is why NATO was taken aback by an apparently impromptu German and Turkish proposal that it should take on a new role in the refugee crisis, such as sea patrols against human traffickers in the Aegean.
The initiative — fruit of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in Ankara on Monday — promises to overshadow a meeting of NATO defense ministers on Wednesday and Thursday, which had been scheduled to focus on Eastern Europe, the Russian threat, Georgia and defense spending. Syria was only meant to be discussed over dinner.
“Turkey and Germany will together recommend to NATO … becoming involved concerning the consequences of the flow of refugees from Syria,” Davutoğlu told a joint news conference with Merkel. “In particular, we will make a joint effort on the effective use of NATO’s observation and monitoring mechanisms on the border and in the Aegean.”
“It isn’t really NATO’s job” — NATO official.
Merkel committed defense ministers to discuss whether and how NATO “could be helpful with monitoring the situation” in the Aegean, “with support for the tasks of Frontex and the Turkish coast guard.” Germany and Turkey are both NATO members.
“We wonder what the outline is, and why NATO?” asked one official at its headquarters in Brussels. “It isn’t really NATO’s job.”
“NATO doesn’t have any legal mandate nor framework to manage this type of situation,” said another source at NATO, where the feeling was that the request was so far vague and unprepared.
The public response was polite, but cautious.
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO secretary general, learned about the new initiative in two phone calls from the German and Turkish defense ministers. He told reporters Tuesday that no decision had been taken.
“I expect that the Turkish minister will provide us with more details when we meet tomorrow and that the ministers will address this issue,” he said. “I think we will take very seriously a request from Turkey and all our allies to look what NATO can do to cope and deal with the crisis and all the challenges they face, or at least in Turkey.”
The U.S. ambassador to NATO, Douglas Lute, didn’t rule out some sort of help for the crisis affecting Europe, though he also made it clear that responding to the refugee crisis is primarily the EU’s job, rather than Washington or NATO’s.
Well over a million refugees arrived on Europe’s doorsteps last year, many of them fleeing the war in Syria, where NATO members such as the U.S., France and Britain — but not the alliance itself — are carrying out air strikes against ISIL.
Wait and see
Turkey is home to an estimated 2.5 million Syrian refugees and has been promised €3 billion of EU aid to help look after them, in exchange for help controlling the flow of migrants into Europe via land borders with Greece and across the Aegean Sea.
“If there’s a request that’s made by a German and/or Turkish minister in the next couple of days, we have to assess what exactly the request is … NATO has a lot of capabilities it might bring to bear on this: Everything from intelligence sharing, information sharing … [and] hypothetically maritime or air capabilities,” said Lute. “We have to wait and see what the request is.”
“The primary responsibility does not fall to NATO but to the European Union, which itself accepts that it has the primary responsibility to back up its member states in these sorts of crisis. So border control, migration and so forth,” he said.
“This is fundamentally an issue that should be addressed a couple of miles from here at EU headquarters. But that doesn’t mean that NATO can’t assist. So we just have to wait and see … what the form of such a request might be,” he told reporters.
Last year, in response to Ankara’s worries about Russian air raids on Syria causing incursions on its airspace, NATO agreed an air defense package including support from AWACS surveillance planes and ships in the Eastern Mediterranean. Stoltenberg said defense ministers would discuss “how we can follow up” on this.
The U.S. has also put in a request for NATO AWACS planes to help support the campaign against ISIL. Stoltenberg said NATO was “actively considering” this request, which would “increase the coalition’s ability to conduct airstrikes against ISIL.”
The ministerial meeting comes as Russian assaults around Aleppo in northern Syria have pushed tens of thousands of refugees to the border with Turkey, creating new urgency in the search for a political solution to the civil war in Syria.
“The intense Russian air strikes, mainly against opposition forces, are undermining these efforts,” said Stoltenberg, accusing Russia of “raising tensions in the region” and violating the airspace of NATO member Turkey.
Lute, the U.S. ambassador, equated Russian fighter jets’ incursions into Turkish airspace with its military takeover of Crimea and its support for pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine.
“What we see here is a pattern of disregard for the most fundamental international norm, which is territorial sovereignty and the respect of borders,” said Lute.
Maïa de la Baume contributed to this article.
Florian Eder and Hans von der Burchard