Until now, NATO has refused to follow the path in Syria that it laid out in haste against Libya — military intervention ostensibly to stop a massacre of civilians, but actually to decapitate the regime. They may not have much choice after today. NATO member Turkey has authorized military action against Syria in response to a cross-border attack from Bashar Assad’s forces that killed five civilians, and that defense effort may end up trapping NATO into the conflict it clearly doesn’t want to enter:
Turkey’s parliament voted Thursday to authorize military cross-border operations into Syria, a day after an apparently errant mortar strike from inside Syria killed five Turkish civilians.
Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay told the Associated Press that the 320-129 vote “is not for war,” but is intended to deter Syria from further violence that could spill over the border.
Turkey has shown a willingness in the past to send troops into neighboring countries to address perceived threats to its safety. Specifically, it repeatedly sent forces into Iraq to combat Kurdish guerrillas who had struck at Turkish targets.
Even before Thursday’s vote, Turkey launched two rounds of artillery attacks against Syria — Wednesday night and Thursday — in retaliation for the deaths of its five civilians, marking the most serious escalation in international tensions since the Syrian revolt erupted 19 months ago.
The NATO defense doctrine has always been “an attack on one is an attack on all.” That doesn’t make NATO participation automatic, but it will put tremendous pressure on NATO to ally with the only Muslim member of their coalition. It presents an opportunity for NATO to intervene, but the fallout from their Libyan adventure and the lack of good choices in Syria has kept NATO from engaging. If Turkey goes to war — and that’s still a big if — NATO might not have any choice but to assist its member with no-fly zone operations at the very least to protect Turkish ground forces.
Russia already sees this danger, and wants Assad to apologize immediately to defuse the situation:
Amid growing international concerns that the conflict could escalate further, Syria’s ally Russia on Thursday urged Syria to publicly admit that its forces had fired the shell that killed the civilians.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Syrian authorities had told him the incident “was a tragic accident and that it will not happen again,” the Russian news agency RIA quoted him as saying during a visit to Islamabad.
“We think it is of fundamental importance for Damascus to state that officially,” he added.
That’s a sphere-of-influence concern talking. Russia has strong relations with Syria, and doesn’t want NATO to topple Assad to install a West-friendly regime in his place — or worse yet, an Islamist regime that will bridge the gap between Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Iranian mullahs. The latter is a concern for NATO and the West, or at least it should be. Considering the drift of Turkey’s government towards Islamist politics, even a Turkish occupation under NATO’s umbrella would spell trouble for all sides.
Keep an eye on this conflict. It’s more likely to go hot than the Iran/Israel standoff.