NATO defence ministers are due Wednesday to discuss a possible role for the alliance in managing the migration crisis at two-day talks that will also focus on the conflict in Syria and boosting defences against perceived Russian aggression.
Last year, more than 1 million asylum seekers and migrants reached Europe, with many of them fleeing the conflict in Syria. Most arrived in Greece via the short sea crossing from Turkey, often aided by migrant smuggling networks.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and German Chancellor Angela Merkel raised the idea of NATO involvement to crack down on smugglers at talks in Ankara on Monday.
"I think that we will take very seriously a request from Turkey and other allies to look into what NATO can do," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday.
He said he had discussed the issue in phone calls with the Turkish and German defence ministers, while noting that any decision would also involve the 26 other allies.
NATO could provide intelligence sharing capabilities as well as sea and air reinforcements, according to the US ambassador to the alliance, Douglas Lute, who said Tuesday that no formal request had been made yet.
The alliance has ramped up assistance to Turkey in recent months by providing surveillance planes and increasing its maritime presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, among other things, after Ankara said it felt threatened by the instability on its border.
NATO has so far refused to be drawn into the conflict in neighbouring Syria, but all alliance members are involved in a US-led coalition targeting the Islamic State extremist group.
Ministers are expected to respond Wednesday to a request out of Washington for surveillance planes to assist the coalition efforts. Germany in particular has been hesitant, due in part to concerns that a NATO involvement could complicate peace negotiations.
As a compromise, NATO could provide its AWACS (Airborne Early Warning and Control System) surveillance planes to allies, freeing up their national capabilities to take part in the campaign, Stoltenberg indicated Tuesday.
The ministers will also turn their attention to NATO's eastern flank, with efforts underway to further bolster the alliance against the new security threat perceived from Russia, in light of the conflict in Ukraine which began almost two years ago.
Last week, US President Barack Obama announced plans to seek a fourfold increase - to 3.4 billion dollars - in Washington's funding of European security in the 2017 budget.
The money would be used in part to have an overall 3,000 US soldiers stationed in Europe on a rotational basis at any one time, as well as pre-positioning military equipment that could be quickly available in case of an emergency, a US official said on condition of anonymity.
The issue is expected to feature when NATO leaders meet for their next summit, taking place in Warsaw in July.
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