To give a short answer to the question above before expanding it further, it could be said that the Patriot missiles will bring the reiteration of the NATO umbrella against a possible attack from the Middle East - today from Syria, tomorrow perhaps as a result of an Israeli-Iranian conflict or another threat that is not seen today.
The Turkish military announced on Monday that it would start a joint field survey with other NATO officers to select the best sites to deploy U.S.-made Patriot anti-missile missile systems along the 910 km long Turkish-Syrian border.
The American, German and Dutch-owned batteries will be deployed from their bases in Europe against a possible attack from Syria, which has been in a terrible civil war for nearly two years now. Syria has Russian-designed missiles and Turkey has limited air defenses to prevent such an attack.
It seems that the NATO approval to deploy Patriot batteries to Turkey, despite strong warnings from Russia that forced the NATO Secretary General to call the Russian Foreign Minister to explain their purely defensive properties, has been a painful process. Patriots have been deployed Turkey before - in 1991 and 2003 - both during the two Iraq wars, but those cases did not come as a result of the exclusive defense needs of Turkey. Plus, NATO is taking a stance, perhaps for the first time in its history, regarding a potential threat against one of its members from a Middle Eastern country.
Well, there is no need to debate the fashionable mid-1990s thesis that NATO would die following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Instead, it can easily be said that NATO is now extending its threat assessments further, and the Russian worry does have some basis. Plus, with NATO approval of Patriot deployment, Ankara has saved itself from a potential political trap that the civil war in Syria would turn into a bilateral matter. Instead, it is now an international one.
But more than those, the deployment has endorsed the strategic value of Turkey regarding Western military-political system. It seems that the Missile Shied early warning radar site based earlier this year in Kürecik, in the eastern Turkish province of Malatya, has added value to Turkey’s strategic position. This is as a third asset following the Turkish straits and the İncirlik air base near the southern province of Adana, near the Syrian border, with an operation radius simultaneously covering most of the energy knots and channels of the region. Despite Iran’s threats saying that the Kürecik site and the Patriots would turn Turkey into a target, their deterrent value could be much more important than their being a target.
The deployment of Patriot batteries in Turkey could positively change the parameters of the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, and could endorse the image of NATO as a deterrent power as well.
(The writer is a columnist at Hurriyet Daily News, where this article was published on Nov. 27, 2012)