NATO can fight ter­ror­ism and help refugees

Tehran Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Sav­ing lives in the Mediter­ranean would also help de­feat Is­lamic State (ISIL).

The North At­lantic Treaty Or­ga­ni­za­tion has now for­mally en­listed in the fight against ISIL. It can be­gin by help­ing to stem the flow of refugees try­ing to reach Europe from North Africa.

This would be more than a hu­man­i­tar­ian ex­er­cise; it would be a coun­tert­er­ror­ism op­er­a­tion. Wher­ever refugees gather in hope­less­ness, vi­o­lent ex­trem­ists have a fer­tile re­cruit­ing ground. And the num­ber of refugees is stag­ger­ing.

Nearly 200,000 peo­ple flee­ing vi­o­lence and poverty tried to cross the Mediter­ranean last year, and at least 5,000 died in the at­tempt. The UN es­ti­mates that there are more than half a mil­lion refugees, asy­lum seek­ers and dis­placed peo­ple in Libya alone. Nei­ther the frac­tured Libyan gov­ern­ment nor the Euro­pean Union can cope with the num­bers, leav­ing hundreds of thou­sands of peo­ple in makeshift refugee camps -- some of which are con­trolled by hu­man traf­fick­ers and re­sem­ble con­cen­tra­tion camps, ac­cord­ing to a German gov­ern­ment re­port.

Those who make it across the Mediter­ranean don’t fare much bet­ter. Most end up in over­crowded camps in Italy where so­cial ser­vices are lack­ing and ap­pli­ca­tions for asy­lum lan­guish. Those in­ter­cepted in Libyan wa­ters are sent back. Some­times the traf­fick­ers dump their hu­man cargo in the sea to avoid cap­ture.

So what can NATO do? With more than 700 ships at its dis­posal, a lot.

For starters, it can build on Ital­ian-led Op­er­a­tion Sophia, which has saved thou­sands of lives but is woe­fully in­ad­e­quate to the task. NATO’s so­phis­ti­cated surveil­lance ca­pa­bil­i­ties, such as long-range pa­trol air­planes and satel­lite im­agery, can mon­i­tor ports in Africa and the Mid­dle East and aid in search-and-res­cue ef­forts. NATO can also help the EU’s ef­forts to pro­fes­sion­al­ize the Libyan coast guard.

The al­liance can fos­ter far more naval co­op­er­a­tion and in­tel­li­gence shar­ing among its mem­bers, and with in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal en­ti­ties like In­ter­pol. This should also in­volve an­other un­der­uti­lized as­set: private ship­ping com­pa­nies, which are ob­li­gated to re­spond to other ves­sels in dis­tress. NATO could also en­cour­age mem­ber states build more camps on Mediter­ranean is­lands and could aid with con­struc­tion, perime­ter se­cu­rity, health care and the like.

NATO pa­trols in the Mediter­ranean could also pro­vide a more di­rect ben­e­fit in the fight against ter­ror­ists: stem­ming the flow of arms from the Mid­dle East to ter­ror­ists in North Africa. ISIL al­ready has a foothold in Libya and is try­ing to ex­pand into Tu­nisia.

Two years ago, the civil war in Syria caused the ex­o­dus of mil­lions, which set off a po­lit­i­cal cri­sis from Greece to the UK and cre­ated a last­ing rift be­tween Turkey and its NATO al­lies. That time, the al­liance watched from the side­lines. Now, as fight­ing intensifies and con­di­tions de­te­ri­o­rate in Syria, NATO can’t af­ford to make the same mis­take.

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