With unconfirmed reports of Turkish units moving to the Syrian border, Turkey is poised to take the lead on a NATO mission no one has wanted to touch. Turkey taking the reins shows optimism for future potential on NATO’s heart monitor. NATO is not merely a support structure for US operations abroad, but as indicated by Turkey’s actions, an institution by which any member state can take the lead on security issues no matter how feckless the majority.
Turkey has been sitting on the periphery for a long time. The nation many dismissed as a NATO ornament and an EU impossibility has proven itself an economic powerhouse, a political leader, and now a military spearhead. “Everybody should know that Turkey’s wrath is just as strong and devastating as its friendship is valuable,” said President Erdogan. With the speed and rigor of the Turkish response both politically and militarily, perhaps the long-ago sick man of Europe will become its backbone.
Turkey convened a meeting of the North Atlantic Council earlier today where Turkish officials presented their version of events. As expected, the outcome was one of condemnation but no immediate military response. Following the meeting, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen expressed solidarity with Turkey and condemned the shoot-down “in the strongest terms.” NATO also released a statement with unanimous endorsement calling the incident, “another example of the Syrian authorities’ disregard for international norms, peace and security, and human life.”
The past two weeks might mark a new low for relations between Turkey and Syria, but it does not mark a turning point in the Syrian conflict itself, which drags on and on.
Syria allegedly engaged a second Turkish aircraft. According to a TV statement on Monday by Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Bulent Arinc, a Turkish CASA searching for the wreckage of the F-4 came under fire by, who ceased when warned by the Turkish military. As the wreckage of the craft was reportedly found Sunday, it is unclear when the plane came under fire or what shot at it. Also unknown is if the rescue craft was in fact hit, but it was not brought down.
UPDATE 24 JUNE 1245 EST:
Turkey officially responded Sunday to Friday’s downing of a jet by Syria stating that the jet had been over international airspace at the time. Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu disagreed with earlier Syrian assertions that the plane was not identified as Turkish, and said it had strayed into Syrian airspace but quickly left after it was warned. He also claimed the jet had been on a training mission.
Al-Jazeera quotes Turkish news channels that search and rescue crews have located the aircrafts’ wreckage in Syrian waters. Still no word on the fate of the crew or whether a second Turkish plane had been involved and received damage. Turkey has requested consultation with its NATO allies and will meet in Brussels on Tuesday with the North Atlantic Council to present its findings and formulate a response. As we reported earlier, Turkey is unlikely to invoke Article 5 of NATO’s founding Washington Treaty.
Original post here:
Syria has shot down a Turkish F-4E, according to a statement from the office of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan. Al-Jazeera reports Syria has confirmed downing the craft. A statement by the military said, “Our air defences confronted a target that penetrated our air space over our territorial waters pre-afternoon on Friday and shot it down. It turned out to be a Turkish military plane.”
It is unclear which variant of F-4E from Turkey’s inventory has been brought down, but given the nature of its likely mission – reconnaissance – it was probably an RF-4E. However, the base the patrol flew from, Erhac, is home to the 7th Main Jet Base Group Command and F-4E 2020 Terminator and F-4E Phantom II variants. This does not however preclude forward basing of RF-4Es from their normal home at Eskisehir, far to the northwest, in order to cut down flying time to the Syrian border. As of 2010, Turkey had 161 F/RF-4Es. The RF-4Es were first delivered in 1978, but began a modernization project in 2009.
According to the BBC, PM Erdogan’s statement said a search for the two crew members of the plane was underway and involved Turkish and Syrian coast guard vessels. PM Erdogan told reporters “Regarding our pilots, we do not have any information, but at the moment four of our gunboats and some Syrian gunboats are carrying out a joint search there.”
The Turkish military said it lost radio contact with the F-4 at 1158 (0858 GMT) on Friday while it was flying over Hatay, about 90 minutes after it took off from Erhac airbase in the province of Malatya, to the north-west.
The private news channel, NTV, later cited unnamed military sources as saying that the plane had crashed off Hatay’s Mediterranean coast, in Syrian territorial waters, but that there had been no border violation.
Witnesses in the Syrian coastal city of Latakia meanwhile told BBC Arabic that Syrian air defences had shot down an unidentified aircraft near the town of Ras al-Basit.
A second Turkish plane may also have been damaged. A TV station in Lebanon reported Syrian security sources stating their forces shot down one plane and hit another in Syrian airspace. The truth of the latter claim will perhaps be hard to verify, as the station is controlled by Hezbollah, an ally of the Assad regime, but it is very likely the downed F-4E was flying its mission with another.
How Turkey responds remains to be seen. PM Erdogan’s statement, released after a 2-hour emergency meeting, said Turkey would respond decisively once all the circumstances were established. Turkey, a NATO member, might attempt to invoke Article 5 of the NATO treaty, commonly known as the collective self-defense article, but the terms of the treaty state such an attack must occur in Europe or North America, e.g. not above Syria, giving other NATO members a convenient out. In any case, based on initial public Turkish reaction to the incident, PM Erdogan’s government will likely not have to take such a drastic step. According to “InAnatalya,” a Daily Kos Turkish contributor, “Reaction has been quiet. It seems to be understood by the people in Turkey that the F4 was in Syrian airspace.”
There have also been conflicting reports over whether Syria had earlier apologized for the incident.
One would be hard pressed to find an article analyzing Somali piracy—be it journalistic, academic, or militarily focused—that does not make the claim that this maritime problem can only be solved on land. In the four years that the international community has attempted to address this crisis, however, a coherent and coordinated onshore strategy has yet to emerge. The development of indigenous counter-piracy capacity in the affected states of the East African seaboard has, despite rhetoric to the contrary, received scant attention from donor states. Authorities in the epicentres of Somali piracy—the autonomous states of Puntland and Galmudug—have largely been left to fend for themselves. Mistakenly, the international response to Somali piracy remains blinded by a military-centric focus on naval shows of force.
An American think-tank project, The Oceans Beyond Piracy report, calculated the total annual cost of counter-piracy military operations to be $1.27-billion USD. Using the same methodology, the annual operating cost of NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield has been placed at $293-million, while a figure of $450-million has been given for the EU’s Operation Atalanta. While both of these missions have been extended to the end of 2012, it is unlikely they will be able to continue indefinitely in an age of fiscal austerity and military cutbacks. Economic constraints have already forced the number of ships deployed to Operation Atalanta to fall “below the red line” of a six vessel deployment, according to EU Military Committee chairman, Hakan Syren. NATO was similarly forced to divert naval resources away from the Horn of Africa when they were need for operations off the coast of Libya. There is also the danger that naval efforts may fall victim to their own success: a drop in incidences of piracy may cause a scaled down naval presence, but as the pirate structures onshore would remain intact, the gangs would only have to wait for coalition forces to withdraw before returning to sea.
A sustainable solution to the piracy crisis therefore requires a coordinated strategy tailored to address the root causes that allowed the practice to take hold in Somalia’s pirate-prone states and flourish in the wider region. The explosion of piracy first witnessed in 2008 has been attributed to the decline of local institutions in the autonomous state of Puntland, particularly its inability to pay its once-effective police and coastguard forces. As security in Puntland has improved over the last two years, the piracy nexus has shifted south to the weaker sub-state of Galmudug. Offshore, the pirates have been able to expand the scope of their operations from the mouth of the Red Sea to the Mozambique Channel due to the underdeveloped maritime security capacity of regional states. As piracy expert Martin Murphy notes, effective policing at sea requires “boats well equipped with radar, communications, well trained and honest crews … shore based command and control facilities … reliable intelligence about pirate activity [and] air support and surveillance”, all measures which are prohibitively expensive for the developing states in the region to implement.
Part of the mandate of NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield is to “facilitate and support the development of regional states’ capacity to conduct effective counter-piracy operations.” In practice however, capacity building has accounted for only a fraction of Ocean Shield’s budget and has not been conducted through any centralized organ. Two possible channels—the Djibouti Code of Conduct and the UN’s Somali Trust Fund—received only a combined total of $5.95-million in international assistance in 2011, a fraction of the amount spent on military operations.
Towards an enduring counter-piracy partnership
If Somali piracy is to be combated in a sustainable manner, it is imperative that NATO—in conjunction with partner states and organizations—begin shifting resources away from a military-centric counter-piracy strategy and towards a program for regional maritime security capacity building that enables regional authorities to meet the challenges of piracy by themselves in the long-term.
While a number of channels for capacity building have been created, a report by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs recognizes that, “there is no single coherent strategy for building coast guard capacity in the maritime area, and no comprehensive framework for the efforts.” In order to rectify this problem, NATO and the African Union (AU)—working through regional sub-bodies—should establish a new “Maritime Security Dialogue.” When attempting to lay the foundation for a joint capacity building program there are five main areas that need to be considered: regional naval cooperation, equipment and vessel procurement, training, intelligence coordination, and engagement with Somalia’s autonomous units.
While ships assigned to Operation Ocean Shield have already made a number of port visits to African partner nations, it is advised that NATO deepen this engagement by conducting more joint counter-piracy exercises with regional players, particularly those that fall outside of the current international patrol areas. In order to increase the indigenous capacity of regional states, NATO members should consider donating vessels and equipment that is ready to be decommissioned. Given that the pirate gangs are often better equipped than regional coastguards, it is also advisable that boats and navigation equipment seized from pirates be turned over to regional authorities, rather than destroyed as is commonly the case.
NATO is comprised of the most highly trained and specialized maritime forces in the world and it is imperative that this expertise be offered to the regional states that will become the bulwark against piracy when the international flotilla eventually departs. While individual NATO members have engaged in bilateral training programs, it is in the interest of regional cooperation and interoperability that a common training center be established, perhaps building on existing programs in Djibouti or Nairobi.
In order to tackle piracy and other maritime crimes in a more informed and coordinated manner, East Africa requires a headquarters that functions as an intelligence sharing and reporting center. Given the role that members of the Somali diaspora play in raising capital for pirate ventures, intelligence sharing is particularly pertinent to the tracking and prosecution of pirate financiers.
A committed international engagement with Somalia’s autonomous regions—primarily Somaliland, Puntland, and Galmudug—is the most important aspect of a long-term counter-piracy policy. While it is imperative that NATO and its members do not interfere with the process of political reconciliation currently underway in Somalia, it is crucial that these sub-state units are treated as autonomous actors within the Maritime Security Dialogue, as it is currently not possible to build a national Somali coastguard in the absence of an effective central government.
NATO and other foreign actors have traditionally been reluctant to engage local institutions, as it was feared that they were corrupt and infiltrated by pirates. However, this situation has changed dramatically in recent years, as the government of Puntland has arrested and imprisoned more pirates than any other nation. The newly created (and largely self-financed) Puntland Marine Police Force (PMPF) has recently launched raids against the pirate hubs of Eyl, Garacad, and Bayla. Given that it can take up to seven hours to reach pirate beach camps from the PMPF’s garrisons, Puntland’s counter-piracy efforts would be much more effective if NATO donor nations provided all-terrain vehicles and funded the development of roads, radar stations, and other forms of basic infrastructure. Jay Bahadur, one of the few Western journalists to spend significant time in Puntland, has also recommended that NATO and other foreign partners help fund the PMPF and other local police services. Local intelligence networks could also be improved simply by providing coastal communities with cell phones and establishing an anti-piracy tip line that would provide modest rewards for information about the activities of pirate gangs.
The benefits of a better way forward
In order to bring an end to Somali piracy, NATO and its partners will have to work more closely with the AU and its member states to build up indigenous maritime security capacity both within Somalia’s autonomous states and the wider region. While relations between the AU and NATO have been strained and mutually suspicious at times, counter-piracy capacity building offers a unique opportunity to build a more trusting and cooperative relationship between the two organizations. Aside from mitigating the financial and human costs of piracy, the recommendations outlined above should also serve to increase regional integration, deter and disrupt other types of maritime crime, and bring a plethora of economic benefits to the region.
NATO and its partner organizations have recognized that indigenous maritime security capacity building offers the only sustainable solution to the piracy crisis, but there appears be a lack of institutional will to change course. At present, NATO’s partnership policy does not cover funding or equipment procurement, and this will have to be modified to make capacity building truly successful. Capacity building will require significant initial investments, making it imperative that bilateral donors coordinate their efforts with other members of the Alliance and synergise their efforts with international organizations such as the EU and UN. If the international community is successfully able to change course, NATO, the AU and the wider world will reap the benefits of a more effective counter-piracy policy long after the bandits have been driven from the sea.
James Marcus Bridger serves as a Content Editor and Senior Research Analyst with the Atlantic Council of Canada as part of the Department of National Defence’s Security and Defence Forum Program. He holds a MA in Political Science from the University of Toronto, where he specialized in International Relations. James’ current research focuses on issues of African and maritime security.
Any views or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and the news agencies and do not necessarily represent those of the Atlantic Council of Canada. This article is published for information purposes only.