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NATO’s Treaty Obligations to Turkey: Theory and Practice

Commentary, 5 October 2012
International Institutions, Europe, Middle East and North Africa
With the violence in Syria spilling into Turkey; Turkey as a NATO member has the right to call on the support of the alliance under Article 5. However implementing collective security is always more complex, thus a full scale NATO response in Syria is unlikely.

With the violence in Syria spilling into Turkey; Turkey as a NATO member has the right to call on the support of the alliance under Article 5. However implementing collective security is always more complex, thus a full scale NATO response in Syria is unlikely.

NATO Headquarters

 

NATO has a North Atlantic Treaty commitment to the security of Turkey under Article V. That does not mean of course that NATO would necessarily have to commit forces to the defence of Turkey unless Turkey did not have the capacity to defend itself. In this case Turkey certainly does have the capacity. Syrian shelling of Turkish territory and resultant deaths certainly invoke Article V but the first stage under the Treaty is one of members discussing response not necessarily committing forces. NATO's political and diplomatic support for Turkey is entirely in support of the Treaty Articles.

 

NATO's Options

 

NATO might consider it appropriate to deploy some forces to Turkey as a gesture of support under Article V (for instance additional air forces and perhaps maritime presence). This would have a deterrent effect against the Syrian government and also could have a compellent coercive effect to restrict the Syrian government's use of combat power. However the longer such forces were in place and were not used, the weaker the compellent effect.

 

It's worth bearing in mind that the Syrian action on Turkish territory might not have been directly by government and may indeed have been an error by more junior levels of military command. 

The attack on Turkey could be used by NATO as a justification for NATO intervention in Syria for prevention of further attacks under Article V. However many NATO nations would want a specific UN mandate for this level of action and it is very unlikely that there would be consensus among the 28 nations for anything so robust. In the case of Syria because of the complexity of the situation compared with Libya it is most unlikely that there will be US, UK or French leadership in initiating a NATO intervention. In the case of Libya the intervention was initially a coalition of the willing (US, UK, Fr etc) which was confirmed by NATO endorsement and handed over to NATO command subsequently. It is most unlikely that this would happen in the case of Syria for lack of domestic support and uncertainty of outcomes. None of these nations would want responsibility for long term occupation of Syria to restore order and stabilise as a result of a collapse of the government following NATO intervention.

 

Are There Parallels With Other NATO Operations? 

 

The US could well be one NATO nation that would be prepared to deploy further forces in defence of Turkey for the reasons discussed above but the US would not be likely to commit offensive forces to the defence of Turkey unless there was for instance clearly a buffer zone safe area of Syrian territory that could be seized. There again the complexities associated with the holding and use of this territory would make outcome difficult to predict.

 

The most obvious reason for a NATO or US led intervention of NATO members and other partners would be as the result of a negotiated truce, requiring a short term peace enforcement presence of combat forces with the prospect of handing over to a UN monitoring forces after a short period, along the lines of IFOR and KFOR in the Balkans. But in both cases NATO was left with long term commitments on the ground and there is unlikely to be NATO endorsement by the 28 nations unless there is a very clear hand-over plan in place with the necessary commitment of UN forces up front along the lines of the EAST Timor intervention in 1999.

 

Author

Michael Codner
Senior Research Fellow and Director of Personnel Services

Michael Codner is Senior Research Fellow in Military Sciences and Editorial Director of RUSI Defence Systems. Until 2013, he... read more

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