BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Tuesday put the weight of the alliance behind Turkey, which has been exchanging fire with Syria over the past week along their common border.
Turkey, a NATO member, has been firing back at Syria since last week, when five Turkish civilians were killed by shells fired from Syria.
“Obviously, Turkey has a right to defend herself within international law,” Rasmussen said during the opening of a meeting of defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels. “I would add to that, that obviously Turkey can rely on NATO solidarity. We have all necessary plans in place to protect and defend Turkey if necessary.”
Rasmussen declined to describe in any detail what those plans are, or whether it includes a strategy for enforcing a no-fly zone in the country.
“But let me stress, this is an alliance based on the principle of solidarity, and of course Turkey can rely on alliance solidarity,” he said. “We hope it won’t be necessary to activate such a plan. I do believe the right way forward is to find a political solution.”
At the same time, Rasmussen was critical of the U.N. Security Council, which has been unable to make a clear statement about the crisis in Syria amid Russian and Chinese refusal to endorse Western-backed resolutions condemning the Syrian government.
“It’s absolutely outrageous, what we are witnessing,” Rasmussen said. “The situation is very complex. It may have repercussions in the whole region.”
Rasmussen stressed that the alliance hoped for a political solution to the crisis.
The NATO commitment came on the first of two days of meetings, where Syria was just one of several thorny issues NATO is wrestling with in Brussels.
Talks also are focusing on the alliance’s plans for a 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan and a subsequent, scaled-down training mission. Rasmussen said NATO will endorse a broad framework for how to execute an operation focused on training and advising.
In recent months, the effort in Afghanistan has faced numerous challenges, most notably a spike in so-called insider attacks. That, coupled with reports that the U.S. has given up on peace talks with the Taliban, has raised questions among allies about the potential for a more rapid withdrawal.
Rasmussen said there are no such plans in the works.
“The goal of the strategy and the time line remain unchanged,” he said.
On Wednesday, Marine Gen. John Allen, commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, is expected to update defense ministers on the mission and what commanders are doing to deal with rising numbers of insider attacks, which have resulted in growing mistrust in the field.
Meanwhile, defense ministers from the 28-member alliance also looked at ways to bolster the military capabilities of allies amid tight budgets, Rasmussen said earlier in the day.
“We will take stock of the situation and also discuss whether we can use common funding in more efficient ways — use common funding to promote some of the multilateral projects, use common funding to promote our smart defense,” a strategy of sharing resources and capabilities.
Better burden-sharing, with nations carving out unique niches to serve the alliance as a whole is viewed as one way to keep NATO vital as Europe struggles to emerge from an economic crisis. Such an investment strategy could reduce redundancies in capabilities while adding other operational capacities in other areas such as reconnaissance and surveillance.
While the U.S. spends roughly 4.8 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, European NATO members spend about 1.7 percent of their GDP, on average.
“This period of economic austerity poses a challenge to defense budgets,” Rasmussen said, “but it also opens an opportunity for strength and cooperation and new ways of providing security.”