At least five people, including two Turkish officials, were wounded on Monday when a cross-border shooting hit a refugee camp in Turkey’s Kilis province along the Syrian border. This incident has been described by the Turks as a “violation” of its border. It adds another level of complexity to the international community’s efforts to force the recalcitrant Assad regime to end its violence against the Syrian people.
Speaking to reporters about the incident, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an said:
We have many options. A country has rights born out of international law against border violations…Also, NATO has responsibilities with regards to Turkey’s borders, according to Article 5.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu added:
Turkey’s border is also a NATO border. Therefore, with regards to NATO member countries’ mutual responsibilities, this would become an issue of interest to all these countries…in terms of protecting the borders.
Rightfully, NATO as an alliance has made it very clear that it neither supports nor plans a military intervention in Syria. As Heritage analysis has pointed out, a limited peacekeeping intervention could prolong the suffering of the Syrian people, which is sure to continue as long as the Assad regime remains in power.
Article 5 of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty guarantees the alliance’s collective security and has been invoked only once—after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. While this incident would not merit the invocation of NATO’s Article 5, Turkey is using it to prioritize Syria on the international stage—especially as the G8 Foreign Ministers meeting is taking place in Washington this week.
If the Turks submit a formal request to NATO, this would not be the first time that Turkey has requested the alliance to help defend its borders. During the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war, Turkey requested support from NATO to defend its airspace, in the form of NATO Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWAC) and patriot missile batteries, against possible Iraqi intrusion.
In fact, Turkey invoked the little-known Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty for the first time in NATO’s history. When a member invokes Article 4, it requires all NATO members to meet in order to address the security concerns of the alliance member invoking the article.
Initially, this request for NATO support was vetoed by Germany, Belgium, and France on the grounds that any move by NATO to protect Turkey’s airspace would be implicit support of the pending U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Eventually, an agreement was made, and NATO assets were deployed—but only after a parliamentary procedure was used allowing NATO to agree to deployment inside its Defense Planning Committee, which at the time did not include France. With French opposition sidelined, Germany and Belgium eventually supported the move.
Since the Syrian uprising began over a year ago, Ankara’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy has quickly collapsed. Turkey is now one of the most vocal governments calling for Bashar al-Assad to step down. Ankara’s relations with neighboring Iran have also frosted as the regime has been an active supporter of the Assad regime, providing security agents, arms, and technological assistance. In addition to hosting the opposition, the Syrian National Council in Istanbul is housing tens of thousands of refugees. Syria presents Turkey with an opportunity to expand its regional influence. However, Ankara is faced with difficult circumstances in a rough neighborhood.
If bloodshed escalates along the Turkish–Syria border, Ankara could be tempted to invoke Article 4. However, until there is an armed attack on Turkey’s territorial integrity, it will be difficult to justify the invocation of Article 5.