Thursday, December 6, 2012

NATO, Patriots, Missiles, Oh My

I have been engaged in a twitter conversation with Roland Paris about the quick German decision to send Patriot missiles to Turkey to protect from Syrian planes/missiles.  I registered a bit of surprise in all of this and noted that maybe this was Merkl compensating for her overreaction in the other direction over Libya. Roland indicated that since these missiles are for defensive purposes, it was not so problematic. 

But I have a few thoughts that I could not squeeze into tweets:
  1. I am curious about the text of the NATO agreement since NATO agreements tend to be fairly loose and let the participant countries impose restraints (such as caveats).  
  2. In 2009, when NATO was considering deployments of AWACS planes to Afghanistan to help control the airspace, much of the German debate considered these planes to be defensive, that they would not be assisting Operation Enduring Freedom (the counter-terrorist part of the mission), and so on, but most of these views about what the AWACS would be doing were largely, well, imaginary.  The planes would be coordinating other planes in the airspace including those engaged in more aggressive missions or else the airspace would be uncoordinated and the planes would be relatively irrelevant.  
  3. Once the Dutch (more in a second), Germans, and Americans send their Patriot systems to Turkey, one or more of these countries can choose at any time to "re-flag" their contingent so that they operate under national control.  So, if the US decides that it wants its Patriots to engage Syrian planes and missiles that are aimed at Syrian targets, it can choose to do so even if NATO has a restrictive OPLAN (operations plan).  I have had interesting conversations with sailors about ships being under NATO command until it becomes inconvenient, the ships become re-flagged as not under NATO command, do what they have to do, and then re-flag.  Again, I am curious about the OPLAN that NATO has or will be writing, as the devil is a bit more in the details despite what SACEUR may be saying about "defensive" orientations.
  4. For me, the interesting thing will be to watch the Dutch, as their past decisions about NATO deployments tend to be entertaining in a car-crash kind of way--that the parties do not necessarily know how they will vote until the day of the vote.  I would guess that they will need an Article 100 letter that specifies how the Dutch contingent will act and so on.  
All of this bears close watching even as most of us now have to do a pile of grading.

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