More must be done to solve the conflict in Syria, I believe more can come from Turkey’s relationship with NATO.
As estimates now pass 30,000 for those dead in the Syrian civil war, many look to NATO to perform a Libyan-style no fly zone which would potentially lead to Bashar al-Assad’s removal from power and certainly slow the bloodshed. I will not argue a Western-led intervention is not ideal, nor is it impossible, but I will argue it is very unlikely and quite impractical. Despite this, Syria remains a situation that needs immediate attention. I believe this attention must come from a regional actor, a secular democracy, a NATO member, and a state with a vested interest in bringing the bloody civil war from a state of stalemate to a peaceful end. This state is of course Turkey.
No Western intervention without American firepower
Before exploring why a Western intervention is impractical, it must be made clear that a Western intervention in Syria would essentially be an American one. Unlike in Libya where the United States ‘led from behind,’ in Syria America would have to ‘lead from the front.’ Syria’s population (which is several times larger than Libya’s) is “tucked in or alongside mountainous terrain” presenting “a set of challenges for interveners looking to minimize civilian casualties.” The geography of Libya on the other hand is much more favourable to an air-campaign. Furthermore, “Syria’s military is more than eight times what Colonel Qaddafi’s was.” An intervention is by no means impossible, but to minimize Western casualties, American firepower would be essential to eliminate all of Syria’s anti-aircraft capabilities. Therefore a Western intervention is essentially an American one with Western support, all reasons for the impracticality of an American intervention thus cause impracticality for any Western nation’s intervention.
The legality of an intervention
It is illegal under international law for any state to invade any other sovereign state unless its security is at state. Thus it is currently illegal for America to intervene in Syria. An American intervention can become legal under the UN’s 2005 principal, The Responsibility to Protect (R2P). The principal calls for “intervention for human protection purposes.” It is through this method that the Libyan intervention was deemed legal, the UN Security Council adopted Article 1973, authorizing NATO “to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under attack in the country.” The R2P doctrine could be used to intervene in Syria, however to be deemed legal an intervention must be authorised by the Security Council. As of now it appears as if Russia and China would veto an intervention in Syria, and thus as of yet a legal-intervention is impossible.
The United States and its NATO allies could still intervene in Syria illegally. The 1999 NATO air-campaign in Kosovo was launched without a Security Council resolution. NATO never went to the UN to justify the Kosovo campaign because Russia clearly would have vetoed such a resolution as Kosovo is seen as within its sphere-of-influence. In 2003 the US and the ‘coalition of the willing’ invaded Iraq without UN approval. Unfortunately the invasion of Iraq has made illegal – but perhaps justifiable – interventions such as those in Kosovo or potentially Syria appear illegitimate. Barack Obama’s entire foreign policy is based on overcoming the damage Iraq did to America’s reputation. Obama’s The Audacity of Hope argues that the use of multilateral force is critical to the US’s interests – “[w]hen the world’s sole superpower willingly restrains its power and abides by internationally agreed-upon standards of conduct, it sends a message that these rules are worth following, and robs terrorists and dictators of the argument that these rules are simply tools of American imperialism.” Therefore I believe it is both impractical and unlikely America (and thus the West) will intervene in Syria.
Until very recently a Syrian intervention was also impractical because the rebels had not become a unified force like they had in Libya. The recent creation of the National Coalition for Opposition Forces and the Revolution in Qatar’s capital Doha may change this, but as of now the implications of this development are unclear.
I have outlined why an American intervention is currently illegal, and thus both impractical and unlikely. Through this reasoning, an intervention can become legal if a) Russia and China decide to pass a UN resolution under R2P that would authorize an intervention for humanitarian purposes, or b) an American ally’s security is put at jeopardy and that state decides to invade Syria. If a NATO ally’s security was put at stake, it would be imperative for all member states to intervene, including the US. The first possibility, that Russia and China change their stance on intervention seems extremely unlikely. Both nation-states approved of the Libyan intervention to not appear as if they were against the Arab-World’s opinion – both Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were actually involved (although to a limited degree) in the Libyan air-campaign. However both now believe NATO went too far. In Russia and China’s opinion NATO did not simply “take all necessary measures to protect civilians under attack in the country” as Article 1973 authorised, the intervention blatantly was meant to remove Qaddafi from power. Since both Russia and China are essentially authoritarian regimes, both fear similar resolutions could be used against themselves. Therefore both will certainly veto any resolution authorizing the use of military force in Syria. That leaves us with the second possibility. Turkey could argue its security is threatened, and it is a NATO ally.
The remaining option
I will admit that Turkey invoking NATO’s Article 5 is extremely unlikely. The invasion of Afghanistan is the only instance in which the article has been invoked and Turkey’s current situation is nowhere near that of the USA on 9/11. However I believe it is a possibility that has been overlooked. In an interview with The Guardian, Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu asked: “How long can this situation continue? I mean in Bosnia, now we have Ban Ki-moon [the UN secretary general] apologising 20 years after. Who will apologise for Syria in 20 years’ time? How can we stay idle?” If this is what the Turkish government believes, why does it not do more to add legality and legitimacy to an intervention? Ankara could easily argue its security is put at jeopardy by the war-ravaged region to its South that is Syria, thus making a NATO intervention legal and legitimate (see graph and map). A legal NATO intervention would mean the United States could legally intervene, using its superior military force to end the reign of a dictator who kills his own people.
As previously stated the invoking of Article 5 by Turkey is unprecedented in such a situation, however the appearance of this as a possibility could be enough to end the civil war. The very threat of a possible NATO intervention may put enough pressure on Assad’s underlings to cause a coup within Damascus, thus ending Assad’s bloody reign. The fact that Assad seems to have escalated the violence as it became clearer that an intervention would not occur adds evidence to the assertion that the possibility of an intervention may if nothing else slow the violence. Even if Turkey does not invoke Article 5 itself, making moves in this direction may be enough. The fact is clear: Turkey can do more to end the violence in Syria.
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