As the current situation in Syria and Iraq deteriorates, it’s time for NATO to act quickly and get involved. A NATO mission has the ability to contribute not only military surveillance aircraft, cyber security expertise, and training but to gather on the ground intelligence. Here are some of my thoughts published in Foreign Policy.
As ISIS consolidates its position across the Syrian and Iraqi divide, NATO must realize that it is only a matter of time before a wave of EU passport-bearing jihadists will be headed back home to wreak havoc. Those AK-toting fundamentalists are a bit busy at the moment destroying two Shiite/Alawite regimes in Iraq and Syria respectively, but the eye of Sunni extremism will inevitably turn its attention to the capitals of Europe. This means NATO must begin now to do all it can to undermine this potential future threat, and the key will be along the Turkish border.
While direct military intervention in either Syria or Iraq is politically fraught and will certainly present a pair of extremely difficult scenarios upon which to achieve consensus, there are prudent military options well worth exploring now.
First, as always, the alliance must know what is happening along its borders. This means leveraging the considerable capability inherent in NATO intelligence gathering, including AWACS flights along the Turkish-Iraqi-Syrian border to capture both radar and signals intelligence. It should also include the use of remotely piloted vehicles, many of which are available through the 28 nations of the alliance. NATO aircraft routinely operate from Turkish air bases, and these locations could be key for such flights.
NATO also has recently committed to purchasing and deploying the highly effective Global Hawk remotely piloted vehicle. This deployment, scheduled for several years hence, should be accelerated — not just for the Syrian/Iraqi crises, but for the inevitable challenges that will arise along NATO’s southern border. Scheduled to be based out of Sigonella, Sicily, these aircraft could be forward deployed to either Greek or Turkish bases to operate along the Turkish border — creating targeting options for strikes at ISIS formations in Iraq should the alliance choose to do so.
Dean Stavridis with his basset hound, Lilly.
Dean James Stavridis is the 12th leader of The Fletcher School since its founding in 1933. A retired Admiral in the U.S. Navy, he led the NATO Alliance in global operations from 2009 to 2013 as Supreme Allied Commander.