NATO’s ‘very urgent challenge’ on its southern border

Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, NATO Deputy Secretary General

From Alexander Vershbow, NATO:  One very urgent challenge is the crisis on our south-eastern border.  The Alliance remains deeply concerned by the situation in Syria, and continues to fully support the efforts of the international community to find a political solution.  

As we saw last year, the escalating violence, including the regime’s use of ballistic missiles against its own people, has the potential to threaten the population and territory of our ally Turkey.  For this reason, we are currently deploying Patriot missiles to augment Turkey’s air defence capabilities.  This decision demonstrates our solidarity as an Alliance.  But it also shows the ability of European Allies to deliver real security.  And I want to use this opportunity to thank the German Government for the determination it has shown on this issue.

It is increasingly clear that President Assad’s days are numbered.  Within our transatlantic community, I think we must begin to consider how we might help a post-Assad Syria make the transition to a normal, stable, peaceful society, and avoid the worst-case scenarios of sectarian conflict, civil war or partition.

NATO has considerable experience, including with disarming militias, securing military sites, and assisting security sector reform.  We have also helped other international organizations and NGOs in the provision of humanitarian relief and disaster assistance.  We must be ready to make that expertise available if it is requested by the Syrians, in concert with the United Nations and regional organizations like the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council.

NATO had the foresight, beginning in the mid-90s, to establish partnerships with several of the nations of North Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf region through our Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.  These partnerships provided the basis for four of our Middle Eastern partners to contribute military forces to our Libya operations.  They could serve as the framework for NATO to help countries seeking to reshape their societies following the Arab Awakening.

But let me add that, although I’m proud to be called NATO-centric, I realise that NATO doesn’t have all the answers.  In the case of Mali, for example, it makes sense for the European Union, led by France and working with African nations and regional organisations, to take the lead in managing the crisis.  But as we have seen in recent days, the ongoing efforts to defeat the extremists who have seized control in Northern Mali, and who now threaten the south, have received tangible assistance from Europe’s North American partners in the form of intelligence, airlift and other logistical support.  That’s because we have a shared interest in preventing Al Qaida from deepening its foothold in the Maghreb.

Excerpts from "Meeting Today’s Security Challenges," by by Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, NATO Deputy Secretary General.  (photo: NATO)

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