NATO will convene in the shortest time possible to discuss the Turkish request, a statement from the Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.
“Ambassadors will have an initial informal discussion on the Turkish request today,” a NATO official said.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that he had received a letter from the Turkish government requesting the deployment of Patriot missiles.
“Such a deployment would augment Turkey’s air defense capabilities to defend the population and territory of Turkey,” Rasmussen said in a statement. “It would contribute to the de-escalation of the crisis along NATO’s southeastern border. And it would be a concrete demonstration of Alliance solidarity and resolve.”
Rasmussen said the Turkish government has underlined that the deployment will be for defensive purposes only and that “it will in no way support a no-fly zone or any offensive operation.”
In Ankara, Turkey’s government said in a statement that “in face of the threats and risks posed to our national security by the ongoing crisis in Syria … it has been decided to formally request from NATO that our national air defense be reinforced with the support of allied air defense elements.”
Any deployment of NATO forces needs the approval of the alliance’s governing body, the North Atlantic Council.
But this is seen as a formality since NATO has already said it has plans in place to protect Turkey from a spillover of Syria’s civil war.
“NATO will discuss Turkey’s request without delay,” Rasmussen said. “If approved, the deployment would be undertaken in accordance with NATO’s standing air defense plan.”
He said NATO countries that have Patriots, namely Germany, the Netherlands and the United States, will now decide if they will offer their missiles for deployment in Turkey and for how long.
A joint team will visit Turkey next week to conduct a site-survey for the possible deployment of the Patriots, Rasmussen also said.
“The security of the Alliance is indivisible. NATO is fully committed to deterring against any threats and defending Turkey’s territorial integrity,” he said.
Germany, the Netherlands and the United States, are the only three NATO allies with appropriate Patriot surface-to-air missile systems available.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said on Wednesday he had told his ambassador to NATO to approve Turkey’s request, while the Dutch government said it would consider it.
US ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder said on his Twitter account that no immediate decision was expected on Wednesday.
Turkey is reluctant to be drawn into a regional conflict but the proximity to its border of bombing raids is testing its pledge to defend itself. It has found itself increasingly isolated and frustrated by a lack of international action.
A major player in supporting Syria’s opposition and planning for the post-conflict era, Turkey is worried about Syria’s chemical weapons, the refugee crisis along its border, and what it says is Syrian support for Kurdish militants on its own soil.
“The missile request is totally based on a defensive perspective, for the protection of NATO territories, there is no kind of aggressive intention from our side,” a Turkish government official said, adding that the missiles were only one part of the contingency planning.
“Our worst case scenario is firstly a huge refugee influx … and secondly what the international community would do if Syrians trying to escape to Turkey are shot at,” he said.
“If there are tens of thousands waiting on the border and they are attacked, what would be the response.”
Concerns in Ankara deepened last week with an air assault by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad on the rebel-held frontier town of Ras al-Ain, which triggered some of the biggest refugee movements since the 20-month-old conflict began.
More than 120,000 Syrian refugees are sheltering in camps in southern Turkey and with winter setting in and millions of people estimated to be short of food inside Syria, there are concerns many more will pour in.
The ambassadors of the 28 NATO member states convened a meeting at the alliance’s Brussels headquarters.
The request followed talks between Ankara and NATO allies about how to shore up security on the 900-km (560-mile) border with Syria after mortar rounds landed on Turkish territory, increasing concerns about the civil war spilling over into Syria’s neighbours.
Turkey has led calls for a buffer zone to be set up inside Syria where refugees could be safely sheltered, a move which would need to be policed by foreign air power to be credible, but the idea has gained little international traction.
Ankara twice this year has invoked Article 4 of the NATO charter which provides for consultations when a member state feels that its territorial integrity, political independence or security is under threat.
But some experts said deploying Patriots to Turkey would be partly symbolic, aimed at showing that NATO was behind Turkey.
Manufacturer Raytheon says Patriot provides “a reliable and lethal capability to defeat advanced threats, including aircraft, tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and UAVs (drones)”.
NATO has installed anti-aircraft batteries in Turkey twice before, during the 1991 and 2003 Iraq wars. They were provided by the Netherlands. However, they were never used and were removed a few months later.