Turkey announces it will host NATO anti-missile radar

Pentagon says radar system will go online this year to help spot missile threats coming from outside Europe, including, potentially, from Iran.

September 2, 2011 22:57
3 minute read.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Ezequiel Scagnetti)

ISTANBUL - Turkey announced on Friday it would host a NATO early warning radar system, which the United States said would go online this year to help spot missile threats coming from outside Europe, including, potentially, from Iran.

Turkey, with NATO's second biggest military, has a geo-strategic importance to the alliance dating back to its role as a front-line state in the Cold War era.

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But its value to NATO has risen as Middle East states with anti-Western policies, like Iran, have developed their missile capabilities.

"Turkey's hosting of this element will constitute our country's contribution to the defense system being developed in the framework of NATO's new strategic concept," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement.

"It will strengthen NATO's defense capacity and our national defense system," the spokesman said, adding the radar system was being allocated by the United States.

At the Pentagon, spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan said the radar system would link into ships equipped with ballistic missile defenses operating in the Mediterranean.

He said it was an outgrowth of the agreement at a NATO summit in Lisbon last November, where leaders approved a new mission statement for the Western military alliance, committing among other things to missile defense.

Commenting on a question about the radar's potential focus on Iran, Lapan said, "We made no secret of the fact that Iran's missile program is of concern."

"But again the idea is a protective system that would protect those NATO allies from ballistic missile threats emanating outside (Europe), whether they came from a non-state actor -- whatever the source is," he said.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Turkey would be making a "critical contribution" to the alliance's overall defense against emerging ballistic missile threats.

"Turkey's decision will significantly contribute to NATO's capability to provide protection to its European territory, populations and forces," he said in a statement.

Turkish move may alienate Iran, Russia

In recent years, Turkey has sought stronger ties with fellow Muslim states in the Middle East, including Iran, to rebalance a foreign policy that previously leaned heavily toward the West.

But it has split with Iran as of late on Syria's violent crackdown on dissent.

Turkey, seen as a bridge between the Middle East and the West, has become increasingly critical of Iranian ally Syria, with Turkish President Abdullah Gul saying he had lost confidence in the country.

Turkey has also sought stronger ties with Russia, which has said a NATO missile defense system could threaten its security if it develops the capability to down Russian nuclear missiles.

Still, Russia's NATO envoy said a radar system in Turkey would not threaten Russian security, but reiterated accusations the United States was pushing ahead with its plans for a missile shield despite vows to cooperate with Moscow.

The Kremlin is demanding a role in a joint system or binding guarantees that Russia would not be targeted.

"According to Russian military experts, the deployment of a radar in Turkey is not a direct threat to Russia's strategic nuclear forces," the Interfax news agency quoted Russia's NATO envoy, Dmitry Rogozin, as saying.

But he said, "The United States continues to pursue its plan for deployment of the military infrastructure of missile defense ... independently of consultations it is holding in the NATO format and, more broadly, with Russian participation."

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