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NATO To Deploy Warships Between Greek Islands And Turkey


In the first six weeks of this year, more than 76,000 migrant and refugees crossed the Mediterranean Sea to get to Europe. Hundreds have died in that amount of time. In the last year, hundreds of thousands have made the trip, fleeing war and poverty. Now, for the first time, NATO plane to take action. Here's NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg earlier today.


JENS STOLTENBERG: We have just agreed that the NATO will provide support to assist with the refugee and migrant crisis. This is based on a joint request by Germany, Greece and Turkey. The goal is to participate in the international efforts to stem the illegal trafficking and illegal migration in the Aegean.

SHAPIRO: To talk more about that goal and how this may work, we're joined by Ivo Daalder, former U.S. ambassador to NATO. Welcome to the program.

IVO DAALDER: Glad to be here.

SHAPIRO: One of the things that NATO's secretary general said was that this is a decision to help, quote, "manage a human tragedy in a better way than we've managed to do so far" - sounds like an implicit criticism there of the EU's handling of this to date.

DAALDER: Well, clearly, we haven't handled it well. The numbers that you cited at the outset just this year in the middle of winter, risking their lives trying to make that crossing - this is a huge humanitarian tragedy that we haven't been able to deal with. And now you see NATO military naval vessels part of a much larger effort to deal with this migrant problem.

SHAPIRO: And so what's NATO's role going to be?

DAALDER: Well, that's a real question. The important thing is they're going to redeploy four ships that are part of a standing NATO maritime group into the Aegean. The actual area in which they will operate is quite small, so you will have a pretty good presence. NATO officials are saying it's useful for surveillance and intelligence gathering to find out how smugglers and human traffickers are participating in the migrants crossing the ocean. I'm not sure how effective that will be. I think the most important thing these people will be able to do is - we'll have four ship that are capable of responding in case of an accident or one of those boats going down, and perhaps as a result, the number of deaths will go down.

SHAPIRO: This has been such a huge crisis since at least last spring if not earlier. Why did NATO wait until now to get involved?

DAALDER: Well, the European Union wanted to take the lead, was taking the lead, was responding and, until very recently, didn't want NATO involved. Most of the European Union members, of course, are also members of NATO. So if the discussion was ever raised to NATO, the answer was, let the European Union do that. I think the recognition by Germany and Greece in particular to EU members that it was time for something new led to this response.

SHAPIRO: Time for something new, but how much can this new NATO effort actually accomplish?

DAALDER: I think initially, it won't accomplish very much. I'm not sure it will even deter either traffickers or people taking these dangerous routes across the Mediterranean. They're coming from a desperate situation and are looking for a place in which they can bring their families and be safe. So I think this will continue. But it does bring NATO military capability into the picture. It sets a precedent. All of a sudden, NATO now has a role to play, and the issue of migration and the issue of dealing with Syria is now squarely on the NATO agenda.

SHAPIRO: Smugglers rarely get on these boats leaving Turkey for Greece, and as you said, this is unlikely to deter people from trying to make the crossing. So is the only goal here just to limit the number of deaths at sea?

DAALDER: While I don't think that's a goal, I think it's a possible consequence. I think that the most one can say is that having this capability in the area, which is, as I said, quite small, may give more opportunity to rescue people who are in dire straits as they try to cross the Aegean. The intelligence and surveillance capability of these naval vessels is quite significant, which means they can listen to cell phone communication, et cetera, and it may be able to work with law enforcement capability in Turkey to enhance the effort against traffickers.

But this not a solution to the problem. This is one modest effort that needs to be part of a much larger effort to deal with this refugee crisis both from the origin in Syria and how to deal with them when they are, in fact, coming into Europe.

SHAPIRO: Once one of these NATO ships intercepts a raft full of migrants, what happens?

DAALDER: It's my understanding that it's not the role of these ships to actually intercept rafts or people. It is to surveil and to see what is going on. But if one of those rafts were to go down, which is leading to the large number of deaths we're already seeing, then NATO ships, like every other ship on the international seas, has an obligation to rescue these people.

SHAPIRO: At which point the migrants are returned to Turkey or taken to Greece or what?

DAALDER: They are most likely, at that point, returned to Turkey rather than to Greece.

SHAPIRO: In all likelihood, to make the attempt once again.

DAALDER: That's one of the tragedies we have.

SHAPIRO: That's former U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder. He's currently president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Thanks for coming into the studio.

DAALDER: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.