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Turkey: The Wildcard for a NATO Intervention in Syria?

Turkey: The Wildcard for a NATO Intervention in Syria?

Photo Credit: Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images

After the shooting down of a Turkish F4, supposedly unarmed, last Friday, Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, recently declared that Turkey considers Syria as a “clear and present danger.” However, he went further and claimed that “we [Turkey] won’t be trapped into a war of provocation, but we won’t be silent and do nothing either.” The disputes between Syria and Turkey have been around the location of the fighter jet and its alleged violation of Syrian airspace. Turkey has rejected such argument and called for a consultation with its NATO allies. The excellent graph by AFP below illustrates very clearly the points of contentions between Syria and Turkey:

Turkey: The Wildcard for a NATO Intervention in Syria?


So far Ankara has been seeking for assistance and cooperation with NATO. The North Atlantic Council (NAC) has met earlier on today–June 26–following Turkey’s request for consultation under Article 4. The Article 4 states that “the Parties will consult whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence, or security of any of the Parties is threatened.” However, Article 4 should not be confused with the famous Article 5, which is the heart and soul of NATO’s collective defence. Following the consultation Secretary General Rasmussen declared in a very brief statement that the NAC did not discuss the Article 5 as it simply was a consultation. NATO did not promise any action, but has expressed its support to Turkey as well as a unanimous declaration by NATO members that it was “another example of the Syrian authorities’ disregard for international norms, peace and security, and human life.”

Turkey: The Wildcard for a NATO Intervention in Syria?

Source: NATO

The Turkish wildcard is a considerable one and should be closely monitored in the coming days and weeks. If Syrian provocations continue to increase, Turkey could decide to retaliate. A Turkish retaliation could bring NATO into the game and ultimately in another war in the Mediterranean. Even though, NATO is still in wait-and-see approach–as well as gathering all the information concerning the incident–several of its core members like France have been extremely critical of al-Assad. In late May 2012, newly elected French President, Mr. Hollande, declared that he would not rule out an international military intervention in Syria. Such comment has raised criticism in Europe among its British and German counterparts, who saw it as part of a national strategy for political gain.

What is certain in case of a military operation, Syria will not be like Libya. Syria could offer a much stronger military resistance to any military plan of enforcement of a no-fly zone. Furthermore, a military operation from the Alliance would also affect the relations with Russia, a powerful ally of President Al-Assad. NATO and Russia have been working on rebuilding their relationship since the 2010 Lisbon Treaty despite considerable disagreements on a range of issue. As I have argued in a recently published article, the NATO-Russia relations have just been a perpetual beginning without any evolution.

However, we are still far from a military intervention. The diplomatic and political games are on as well as the escalation of words. Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, threatened Syria on June 26 to use force to any perceived threat along the share borders between the two countries. The Turkey card is quite complex and wild as it could either be seen as the backdoor for the Euro-Atlantic community to finally oust President Al-Assad and/or bring the Alliance into another conflict despite itself. The US will ultimately be the one mediating and trying to solve the crisis diplomatically. President Obama is in the middle of his presidential run and he probably does not want to start another war six months before Election Day.



Maxime H.A. Larivé

Maxime Larivé holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and European Politics from the University of Miami (USA). He is currently working at the EU Center of Excellence at the University of Miami as a Research Associate. His research focus on the questions of the European Union, foreign policy analysis, security studies, and European security and defense policy. Maxime has published several articles in the Journal of European Security, Perceptions, and European Union Miami Analysis as well as World Politics Review.