28 February 2020   Leave a comment

NATO has offered words of support to Turkey in its current standoff with Russia over Idlib, Syria. But the idea of a “no-fly” zone suggested by some members of the US Congress was not part of the words of solidarity. NATO is obliged to come to the defense of its members, but only if their national territory is attacked. Since the Russian air strike that killed Turkish soldiers occurred on Syrian territory, NATO does not have to act under Article 5 of its charter:

“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”

NATO is extremely reluctant to be drawn into the dispute between Turkey and Russia for both strategic and political reasons. Russia likely does not approve of Syrian President Assad’s decision to retake all the territory in Idlib, but it has nonetheless stood by its ally. According to The Economist: “Russia denied responsibility, but suggested that Turkey may have invited the attack by placing its troops alongside Syrian rebels and not informing Russia of their location. Just hours after the strike Russia sent two warships armed with cruise missiles to the eastern Mediterranean. The warships sailed through the Bosphorus, which bisects Istanbul, Turkey’s biggest city.” The Russian stance complicates NATO’s decision-making with respect to defending Turkey. Time magazine points out:

“The allies are extremely reluctant to be drawn into a conflict of Turkey’s making, and particularly because President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has used up a lot of good will by testing his fellow NATO members’ patience for quite a while.

“The Syria offensive comes on top of tensions over Turkey’s purchase of Russian-made S400 missiles, which threaten NATO security and the F-35 stealth jet. Erdogan also purged thousands of Turkish military officers following the failed coup in Turkey in 2016 and some have sought, and been granted, asylum in Europe.

“But despite high political-military tensions, Turkey is too important to eject from the 29-member alliance.

“Turkey is of great strategic importance to NATO. The large, mainly Muslim country straddles the Bosporus Strait, making it a vital bridge between Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia. It’s also the only waterway in and out of the Black Sea, where Russia’s naval fleet is based.

“NATO allies also rely on the Incirlik air base in southeastern Turkey as a staging point for access to the Middle East. The alliance runs aerial surveillance operations from Incirlik and the United States has nuclear weapons stationed there.”

Turkish President Erdogan may well be rethinking his relationship with NATO, but he has certainly squandered that source of support in the immediate crisis. How President Erdogan will respond to the Russian challenge will determine a lot:

“The irony of Erdogan spending so much time and effort to distance himself from NATO and the EU and now clamoring for their help will not be lost on the Russians. Still the Kremlin’s risky strategy could backfire if Erdogan decides to press on with a ground offensive against Assad’s army and deploys Turkey’s air force. In the “who blinks first” game, it is not clear who will carry the day.

“This conflict may still end to Putin’s satisfaction — if he acts quickly enough on the ground in Syria to preempt any Turkish action. Massive bombardment of Idlib would achieve it; civilian casualties were never of concern to Putin and his generals. Or perhaps some kind of shaky compromise was cobbled together after he spoke with Erdogan on the phone Friday. But in the long term Putin may have created new problems for himself.

“Erdogan will never forget his humiliation by Russia. It weakened him domestically and in the eyes of NATO allies. He may well start repairing relations with the alliance. He will not be making peace with the Assad regime, which means that Putin’s dream of leaving Syria behind may not come true.”

Erdogan will pressure Europe to support him through the threat of allowing thousands of refugees to migrant into Europe, a possibility that threatens greater political instability on the continent. But there is little that Europe can or is willing to do to rile Russia. And it is unlikely that President Trump wishes to cross Russian President Putin. So the most likely outcome is continued tension in Syria and the suffering of the civilian population. The world has decided not to come to their aid.

Posted February 28, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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