Will the Patriots trigger a World War III?

Patriot_missileWhen asked about the kind of weapons used in the next world war, Albert Einstein said: “I don’t know what kind of weapons will be used in the third world war, assuming there will be a third world war. But I can tell you what the fourth world war will be fought with—stone clubs.” The WWIII will obviously be fought with missiles carrying nuclear weapons ensuring annihilation of almost the entire mankind. These missiles could be of any make ranging from Scuds and Stingers to the latter-day Patriots. The patriots are now being blamed by Iran and Russia to be responsible for the next world war. Let’s look at this strong reaction triggered by deployment of Patriots in Turkey and whether these missiles can trigger a global conflict.

Second World War ended in 1945 ushering the humanity into a new era of global conflicts called “cold war”. The bipolar world order, dividing the planet into pro and anti-US countries was in fact shaped by this cold war. There were some efforts of non-alignment but most of the proponents of non-aligned movement (NAM) were actually aligned with anti-US block. Cold war ended in 1991 with disintegration of USSR leading to unipolar world order where only one power reigned supreme. Other countries like China are out to challenge this supremacy through economic development and the changing global scenario also makes Russia, a successor of USSR, and emerging threat for and a super power of sorts in the ongoing uni-polarity. These two powers were, however, unable to stop American misadventure in Afghanistan and Iran in 2001 and 2003.

The events unfolding as a result of Syrian crisis and Israel’s planned attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities have, however, indicated that a conflict of the scale of a global war is imminent. The latest event of arrival and deployment of Patriot missiles in Turkey from the US and Germany have triggered the fears of such a conflict. While Turkey defends this deployment as a measure to strengthen its defenses, Iran has accused that planned deployment of US-made Patriot missiles in Turkey is a “provocative” action which could bring about “uncalculated” results. Iran’s top general issued a stern warning to Ankara over its planned hosting of the missile batteries, saying it was part of a Western plot to “create a world war.”

It is said that NATO has agreed to provide Patriot missiles, at Turkey’s request, to bolster its member’s border defenses amid tensions with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But both Russia and Iran, the most powerful allies of the Assad regime, are opposed to the move.

According to an article carried by RT, Turkey being a longtime geopolitical hotspot, has recently played a key role in the struggle for influence between regional and Western powers over NATO missile deployments – Ankara is once again at the center of a global crisis. What prompted this new crisis (and evoked a distinct feeling of Cold War déjà vu) was Ankara’s appeal to NATO to deploy its Patriot missiles in the southern Turkish provinces, along the 900-km-long border with Syria. While described as a purely defensive move, aimed at enhancing Turkish security in the wake of the escalating Syrian war and alleged possibility of a chemical weapons attack by the cornered President Assad, the initiative was denounced straight away by Ankara’s neighbors and other regional powers – Moscow, Tehran and Damascus.

Moscow was wary of the NATO anti-aircraft system’s deployment in Turkey who warned last Friday that “the stockpile of extra weapons” in the border area would “bring about an additional element of tension.” Despite these protests, there is little chance the Patriot deployment process on Turkish soil will be reversed. At its ministerial meeting in Brussels, held on December 5th and 6th, NATO unequivocally gave the Turkish request its stamp of approval, standing by the commitments under the organization’s collective security pact. A team of NATO officials and experts has already landed in Turkey to finalize the terms and conditions of the deal, which will allow Ankara to station six NATO Patriot systems on its soil – two American, two German and two Dutch. The missiles are expected to reach Turkey soon, within weeks according to some estimates.

Are these missiles actually being deployed to thwart any threat emanating from Syria? There is a great deal of skepticism among the defense community. Some question the validity of Turkey’s claim of defending itself from any possible attack from Syria. The Patriot system is not used against shells and rocket-propelled grenades, which eventually could be fired at Turkey from Syrian territory. Patriot missiles are used to intercept and destroy missiles as well as to shoot down aircraft. But what missiles does Syria possess that the Patriots could be used against, and why would President Assad arm these alleged missiles with deadly sarin gas (if he even possesses such chemical weapons)? The speed at which NATO is rushing to deploy these missiles raises many eyebrows and analysts are not prepared to buy the story that these missiles would thwart attack from Syria.

According to Russian sources, there could be a second motivation for this action, which is a preparation for military strike against Iran. But if one considers the distance between the region of Patriot deployment in Turkey and the Iranian border, Moscow’s worry could seem a bit far-fetched. However, Moscow fears that Patriot missiles can easily be moved to any region in Turkey, including its eastern border with Iran. These are mobile units that can be moved to any point in Turkey. It’s only about 500 kilometers from where the units will be located to Tebriz in Iran, where some say there are secret nuclear facilities. Some analysts fear that considering that the US wants to use Turkey as an advance missile shield, the Patriots might be stationed there forever. Turkey wanted to modernize its weapons anyway and already started taking bids for similar weapons systems. Under these circumstances, the weapons are most likely directed against Iran. Iranian armed forces chief General Hassan Firouzabadi said last Saturday that the lessons of 1962 Cuban missile crisis may return to haunt the world.

“Each one of these Patriots is a black mark on the world map, and is meant to cause a world war. They are making plans for a world war, and this is very dangerous for the future of humanity and for the future of Europe itself,” General Firouzabadi warned. The already tense relations between Ankara and Tehran have been further strained by a last-minute announcement that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has skipped a much-awaited visit to Turkey and talks with Prime Minister Erdogan in a move largely seen as a sign of Iran’s growing displeasure with the Patriot deployment.

According to technical details publically available, the Patriot missile system is designed to detect, target and then hit an incoming missile that may be no more than 10 to 20 feet (3 to 6 meters) long and is typically flying at three to five times the speed of sound. The upgraded Patriot system can also destroy incoming aircraft and cruise missiles. The Patriot missile system has been deployed in many situations because it is able to shoot down enemy missiles (e.g., Scud missiles) and protect soldiers and civilians from a missile attack.

Like the Stinger missile and the Sidewinder missile, the Patriot is a guided missile. However, the Patriot is somewhat more sophisticated. In both the Stinger and Sidewinder missiles, the infrared seeker is sensitive to engine heat. A human being is responsible for finding and identifying the target, appropriately aiming the missile so that the its heat-seeking eye can lock onto the target, and then firing the missile. A Patriot missile, instead, depends on radar. The Patriot missile system uses its ground-based radar to find, identify and track the targets. An incoming missile could be 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) away when the Patriot’s radar locks onto it. At that distance, the incoming missile would not even be visible to a human being, much less identifiable. It is even possible for the Patriot missile system to operate in a completely automatic mode with no human intervention at all. An incoming missile flying at Mach 5 is traveling approximately one mile every second. There just isn’t a lot of time to react and respond once the missile is detected, making automatic detection and launching an important feature. While the Stinger is a shoulder-launched weapon and the Sidewinder launches from aircraft, Patriot missiles are launched from Patriot missile batteries based on the ground.

Whether or not the Patriot missile system is Iran-centric or is genuinely installed to beef-up Turkey’s defenses against Syria, the events unfolding are disturbing.

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