The Withdrawal of Patriot Missiles from Turkey and its Aftermath

22 September 2015
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Turkey’s hosting of Patriot missiles  is not a new phenomenon. NATO previously deployed these missiles in Turkey during the 1991 Gulf war and later on in 2003 during the Iraqi invasion based on the perception of an imminent security threat. NATO’s decision to station patriot missiles in Turkey for a third time in 2013 stemmed directly from the effects of the Syrian civil war on Turkey. The stationing of these missiles came after the initiation of Article 4 of the Washington Treaty and as a result of Ankara’s request after the downing of a Turkish jet by Syrian forces and the killing of five due to shelling by Damascus in 2012. At the time Turkey was supporting the Syrian opposition against President Bashar al-Assad and Ankara had concerns about Turkey’s vulnerability to Syrian missiles, not only the those tipped with conventional warheads but also chemical weapons. In 2012 when Syria launched Scud missile attacks with conventional warheads against opposition forces in northern Syria, it revealed that Ankara had a right to be concerned. These attacks revealed that the Syrian regime was already equipped to deploy missiles in its struggle against opposition forces and to slow their battlefield gains on the ground. In the face of these rising security threats, Ankara requested NATO’s military aid and the Alliance agreed to deploy Patriot missiles in the southern part of Turkey towards Syria.

The three NATO allies, namely the United States, the Netherlands and Germany agreed to provide two Patriot missiles and about 250 soldiers to supplement Turkey’s air defenses (the Dutch mission was later replaced by a single Spanish battery ). Then in mid-August 2015, through the press, the Turkish public learned of both the US and German intentions to withdraw their Patriot missile batteries from Turkey before the end of the year due to the expiration of NATO’s mandate. According to a joint announcement made by the US Embassy in Ankara and the Turkish government, ‘‘the Patriot missiles will be redeployed to the United States for critical modernization upgrades’’ and that ’‘the US and NATO commitment to the defense of its allies-including Turkey-are steadfast’’ . Importantly, the announcement also mentioned ‘‘that these air-defense units could be returned to Turkey within a week if a need was to arise’’ . Accordingly, ‘‘US navy ships [that are present in the Mediterranean [would now continue to] support Turkey’s defense’’ .

On the eve of the US and German decision to withdraw the Patriot batteries it is vital to re-visit the reasons as to why Turkey currently needs an anti-missile defense mechanism. Turkey’s need for missile defense has gained urgency as a result of hard security threats, including the present proliferation of ballistic missiles to the east and south of Ankara. These emanate from state or non-state actors present in Iraq, Syria and Iran. Hence, this analysis will examine Turkey’s present and future military needs as associated with missile defense capabilities in the face of the mounting security threats from the Middle East, both to Ankara’s territories as well as its critical energy infrastructure.


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