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April 27, 2012, Friday

Syria and NATO

There is theoretically a cease-fire in Syria; nevertheless, we have had no signs that, on the ground, the fighting has actually stopped.

The Bashar al-Assad regime has allowed international observers to monitor Syria but he has clearly demanded that these observers should not come from countries that have attended the “Friends of the Syrian People” meetings. This was a way for him to express once again his distrust of Western countries. Meanwhile, he continues to present the unrest in his country as terrorism and his own actions as self-defense. However, it is obvious that he is using disproportionate power and innocent people keep dying. Some Syrians, fearing brutal repression, have fled their countries; the risk of the crisis escalating is real and thus Syria is a threat to the stability of all its neighbors.

Turkey’s major concern about Syria is watching the country disintegrate. That’s one of the reasons Ankara has recently been encouraged to come to an understanding with northern Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani. Turkey has also called incessantly for the UN Security Council to take responsibility. The risk that Turkey would like to avoid in Syria is a massive wave of refugees. Turkey would not like to see an increase in Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) activity along the border, the emergence of an independent Kurdish state, the reappearance of the Turkish-Syrian disputes over Hatay province or the sharing of water resources. Moreover, Turkey definitely does not need to be dragged into a war.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent declarations on Al Jazeera about the role of NATO have to be highlighted. The prime minister has said that in the case of renewed military provocations on the Turkish-Syrian border, NATO may step in. This warning could have been quite dissuasive for Assad, but there are a number of problems.

NATO can intervene in a legitimate manner only if there is a UN Security Council resolution allowing it. If Russia is somehow convinced not to use its veto, there will be no problem; however, if not, there will be no resolution. Besides, even if there is a resolution, no one can guarantee that all NATO members will do their bit because article five of the North Atlantic Treaty establishing the principle of collective defense -- an armed attack against one member shall be considered an attack against all members -- does not mean automatic military assistance from all member countries. In other words, Turkey may take military action, hoping that other NATO members will come to help, but then discover that no one is actually coming.

Meanwhile, NATO is trying to fix its relations with Russia. In this context, NATO could propose to undertake joint military action against Syria with Russia. In that case, Turkey and Russia could play the leading role, but of course, all this will be possible if Russia and the US come to a comprehensive agreement. Such an agreement, however, will mean leaving some European countries out of the game. The Obama administration is trying to get closer to Russia, essentially in order to put pressure on China, but there is also an undeniable will on the American side to put some European countries in their places.

Naturally, NATO can get involved only if Turkey comes under direct attack. Let’s imagine for a moment that Assad has committed the mistake of attacking Turkey, NATO has made its decision, Russia has been convinced and the UN Security Council has adopted a resolution. What about Israel then? Because NATO forces in Syria mean NATO forces between Israel and Iran. In other words, calling for NATO to enter Syria aims also to provide Israel with some kind of protection. It would only be worth it if a Palestinian state was to be recognized soon.

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