Cheapening NATO’s Security Promise Weakens It

Turkey NATO Flags

From James Joyner, the New Atlanticist:  After an incident last week in which two Syrians were killed by Assad regime forces while attempting to flee to safety in Turkey , Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan declared that "NATO has a responsibility to protect Turkish borders."

It is true that Article 5 of the Washington Treaty which formed NATO states, "The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them." But it’s absurd, indeed, to argue that Syrian forces shooting at Syrian nationals incidentally crossing the Turkish border constitutes an "armed attack" against Turkey. Quite obviously, neither the Syrian government nor its armed forces intended to initiate hostilities with Turkey and it would be a gross overreaction, indeed, if Turkey were to use force against Syria in retaliation–much less ask the other 27 allies to treat this as a matter of collective security. . . .

Article 5 is the very heart of the Alliance. It is a bedrock promise that each ally makes to the group: to stand together in the event of an attack and, it is hoped, deter an attack simply by that solidarity being in place. It was, of course, made with an attack by the Soviet Union into Western Europe in mind. Ironically, the only time it has ever been invoked was in the wake of the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001–which the European Allies declared to be an attack against the Alliance as a whole. Given that the mission in Afghanistan turned out to be a decade-plus slog having very little to do with that initial attack, most likely wish they’ve never done it.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council. A version of this piece was published by The National Interest. 

Image: turkey-nato-flags.jpg