NATO is getting worried about a Turkish confrontation with Russia in Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin is obviously trying to split the alliance by goading Turkey into a conflict over a Kurdish stronghold along the Turkish-Syrian border. NATO would be presented with a choice between supporting a member state or a war with Russia. Not supporting Turkey in such a scenario would be the end of the alliance, a day Mr. Putin dreams about. A war with Russia is not an option.
“The armed forces of the two states are both active in fierce fighting on the Turkish-Syrian border, in some cases just a few kilometers from each other,” one NATO official says, according to Spiegel.
Germany is especially concerned about the rising tension between Moscow and Ankara. “That would likely be tantamount to doing Russia a favor,” says one Chancellery official.
NATO’s response depends on whether or not Turkey is seen as the aggressor. “NATO cannot allow itself to be pulled into a military escalation with Russia as a result of the recent tensions between Russia and Turkey,” says Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn.
Again Spiegel reports, Should Turkey be responsible for escalation, say officials in both Berlin and Brussels, Ankara would not be able to invoke the NATO treaty. Article 4 of the alliance’s founding treaty grants member states the right to demand consultations “whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.” Turkey has already invoked this article once in the Syrian conflict. The result was the stationing of German Patriot missiles on the Syrian border in eastern Turkey.
The decisive article, however, is Article 5, which guarantees that an “armed attack against one or more of (the alliance members) in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.” But Foreign Minister Asselborn notes that “the guarantee is only valid when a member state is clearly attacked.”
“We are not going to pay the price for a war started by the Turks,” says a German diplomat.
“Were the Russians to carry out a retaliatory strike against Turkey, we would have a problem,” says a NATO official. In such a case, Turkey could very well invoke Article 5. Were the North Atlantic Council to fail to achieve unanimity, Mr. Putin would once again have split the West, the official says.
It is a given that the diplomatic channels are burning over the possibility of such a conflict. I would hope that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s self-acknowledged superior diplomacy will win the day and this disaster of a scenario will not materialize.