For the second time in five months, Turkey has turned to NATO for
support in the face of Syrian attacks that have killed Turkish
citizens. Unfortunately, the transatlantic alliance has responded
both times with words rather than deeds.
When Syria shot down a jet plane of the Turkish Air Force in
June, Turkey requested a meeting of NATO members. According to
diplomatic sources, it asked the alliance to prepare contingency
plans to enforce a no-fly zone in Syria. The alliance voted against
this request and responded instead with a statement condemning the
Syrian attack in the strongest terms.
After numerous mortar attacks from Syria into Turkeys territory,
Syrian shelling Oct. 3 killed five Turkish civilians. Turkey again
asked NATO to meet to discuss the situation. NATO ambassadors
hastily convened and issued a new statement in which the allies
strongly condemned that attack.
NATO needs to offer Turkey more than repeated promises to follow
the crisis closely and with great concern. As my colleague and
former US Ambassador to Turkey Ross Wilson suggests, NATO needs to
pick up its game.
The alliances response to Turkey during this escalating crisis is
being closely scrutinized in Turkey and the region, and will have
powerful repercussions. If NATO persists in offering only paper
promises to Turkey, the perception that the alliance lacks the
political will to back up allies even if they are attacked will be a
major blow to NATOs credibility.
It is also not in NATOs interests to disappoint the country with
the second largest army within the alliance. Perceived failure to
live up to its alliance obligations will further weaken public
support for NATO within Turkey. Europe and the United States cant
afford a rift with what some describe as the only functioning Muslim
democracy in the greater Middle East a country with unmatched
geostrategic, economic, and cultural value in the region.
What can NATO do for Turkey?
Too much attention has been focused on the question of invoking
Article 5, the alliances mutual defense clause. Even during the many
crises of the cold war, Article 5 was never invoked.
In fact, the only time it has been exercised was after the 9/11
attacks against the United States. As tangible evidence of alliance
solidarity, NATO sent seven radar aircraft (Airborne Warning and
Control System, or AWACS) with crews from 13 NATO countries to help
patrol American skies.
Apart from this isolated case, the transatlantic alliance has
successfully overcome crises without invoking Article 5. This is
because NATO members have many options to support and reinforce one
another without having to turn to the mutual defense clause. These
options should be considered now.
For example, before the US-led coalition invaded Saddam Husseins
Iraq in 2003, Turkey requested a meeting with its allies, under
Article 4 of the NATO treaty, to discuss how the alliance could help
Turkey deter an attack from Iraq. …