- On the Brink with Erdoğan: Could Turkey Push NATO to War with Russia in 2016?
by MICHAEL GOLDFARB, http://www.politico.eu/
LONDON — 2015 is drawing to an end. The unanswered questions of the year — especially the ones related to ISIL, Syria and the massive flow of refugees from the region into Europe — are being carried over onto 2016’s balance sheet.
So are the unasked questions. Chief among them is, “For how long will you tolerate the government of Turkey, a member of NATO and would-be member of the EU, taking steps that make defeating ISIL, or Daesh, more difficult?”
And, as a supplementary question to the leaders of Europe, “Why are you buying off the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to gain its cooperation in dealing with all the problems arising from the disintegration of Syria? Shouldn’t his cooperation be part and parcel of membership in a democratic ‘alliance’?”
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Around 800,000 people entered the EU via Turkey this year and at the end of November, EU leaders agreed to give their Turkish counterpart €3 billion in aid to help stem the flow. In addition, the leaders sweetened the pot with a new fast-track visa system for Turks traveling to Europe and agreeing to postpone publishing a progress report on Turkey’s human rights record that is part of ongoing talks on EU accession.
When the outline of the deal was made public in October, a Human Rights Watch analyst, Emma Sinclair Webb, wrote that “it is scandalous and short-sighted that the EU is willing to ignore the huge crackdown under way in Turkey in its attempt to secure a deal to keep out refugees.”
But that is small beer compared to a month ago, when a Turkish fighter jet shot down a Russian plane. Since then tensions have grown between the two countries. The Turkish newspaper Zaman reports of renewed tensions between the two countries in the south Caucasus, saying that defense officials in Ankara claim “it is only a matter of time before the tension over Nagorno-Karabakh relapses into war.”
If there is another incident — and given how crowded the skies along the Syria-Turkey border are, it can’t be ruled out — and Russia decides to retaliate by shooting down a Turkish jet, what happens then? Turkey is a NATO member and would be within its rights to invoke the Article 5 “collective defense” response.
Would the Alliance really go to war against Russia then?
That’s another question nobody asked at year’s end. I hope at least some of the Western Alliance’s leaders are thinking about the answer during the holidays.