The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has now formally enlisted in the fight against Islamic State. 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 U.N. estimates 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, it can do 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.