Nato head Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said that the alliance would only take action against Syria if Turkey is attacked.
Speaking to EUobserver in his office in Brussels last week, the secretary general of what calls itself “the word’s most powerful military alliance,” said he feels “frustration” when he hears about the “outrageous” human rights abuses being committed by Syrian forces.
He said Nato is not going in because the UN has not asked it to.
He noted that: “Even the Syrian opposition has not called on the international community to intervene militarily.”
But he said the “most important” reason is that it would do no good.
“It is my firm belief that any foreign military intervention would have unpredictable repercussions because Syrian society is very complicated, politically, ethnically, religiously and the regional context is very, very complex,” Rasmussen noted.
“Foreign military intervention might not lead to a solution to the conflict, [it] might even make things worse,” he added.
He said things would be different if Syria attacked its neighbour and Nato member Turkey, however.
Nato in January put Patriot missile-defence units on the Syria-Turkey border after Syrian artillery hit Turkish villages.
“The deployment of Patriot missiles serves as an affective deterrent and to de-escalate the situation along the border because the Syrians know they shouldn’t even think of attacking Turkey … I can assure you that we stand ready to do what it takes to ensure the effective defence and protection of Turkey,” Rasmussen said.
He indicated that protecting Nato members is the alliance’s top priority.
“Nato cannot act as the world’s policeman. We cannot travel from country to country to solve every conflict. It’s simply not possible,” he said.
“The essence of being a defence alliance is that we are here to ensure the territorial defence of our member states,” he added.
He said the Mali conflict should also be taken care of by local forces.
Nato member France is currently in a tricky position in Mali.
In January, it went in alone to expel jihadist rebels from towns in the north. It is currently in command of both French and Malian soldiers. But in the past two weeks, Malian troops have murdered dozens of civilians on its watch.
Rasmussen said France was right to act.
But he noted that neither France nor Nato is responsible for policing the situation in future.
“I don’t see a role for Nato. The UN has adopted a resolution according to which an African-led force should take over … It [protection of civilians] is first and foremost a responsibility for the Malian authorities,” he added.
Cold-War-days are gone
The US-dominated military alliance was created in the Cold War to protect the West from the Soviet Union.
Rasmussen warned that the US is taking less of an interest in European problems these days, however.
“You will still see the US engaged also when it comes to the resolution of conflicts in the European neighbourhood. But I think it’s a long term trend that the US would expect the Europeans to enhance their engagement in the resolution of crises in the near neighbourhood of Europe,” he said.
He urged European Nato members to stop dependence on US help.
“The Europeans lack a number of critical capabilities. One thing is better capacity to gather intelligence and to do reconnaissance … air-to-air refuelling is another issue … and we [European countries] are still missing some capacity in strategic airlift,” he said.
“If we are to maintain an American interest in the trans-Atlantic alliance, then the Europeans must also carry a fair share of the burden,” he noted.
EU countries this year plan to develop joint procurement of military equipment.
Some countries, such as France and Poland, also want a “European defence force” to guarantee European security with or without Nato support.
When asked if Nato would back the creation of a parallel EU force, Rasmussen warned against “waste of resources,” however.
“I’m not going to interfere with EU decisions of how Europe will structure its defence co-operation. But as a general remark, I think Europe first and foremost needs real military capabilities rather than new structures,” he said.