Sunday, 24 June 2012

Updated: NATO Ambassadors Will Meet Over Shot Down Turkish Plane

Updated 20.30 BST

Turkey has asked NATO Ambassadors in the North Atlantic Council for consultations over the Syrian shooting down of a Turkish F-4 jet. NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu confirmed that the North Atlantic Council will meet to discuss the case on Tuesday June 26.

The Turkish F-4 jet was shot down on Friday 22 June, with Syria claiming it was in Syrian airspace and Turkey saying it was conducting an open exercise to test their national radar systems over international waters.

Article 4 of NATO's founding treaty reads:
The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.
Turkey has previously raised the possibility of invoking NATO in its defence after Syrian forces fired over the Turkish border. (See this previous NATO Monitor piece) While no automatic action will follow from the Article 4 consultation, the possibility of NATO assisting Turkey to guard against Syria does exist. 

However, Russia is standing by its Syrian ally, not least to guard its military access to the port of Tartus, the Russian Navy's only Mediterranean base. Any NATO action could have serious consequences for its relationship with Russia, so NATO leaders are likely to continue to act cautiously as they have been doing. The Telegraph website reports diplomats as saying that Turkey is not likely to seek NATO military action, but rather political support for action it chooses to take itself.

This air of caution is borne out by Guido Westerwelle's declaration that the main need is to avoid escalation. The US has issued a statement of support for Turkey, with no mention of NATO action. France has yet to ract at ministerial level. British Foreign Secretary William Hague, for example, issued a statement about the shooting down saying:
The Assad regime should not make the mistake of believing that it can act with impunity. It will be held to account for its behaviour. The UK stands ready to pursue robust action at theUnited Nations Security Council.
Since action in the UNSC gives Russia a veto over any action, this would imply that the UK wants a political rather than a military response to this incident. Careful action in a situation where numerous regional and global powers have an interest is to be applauded. However, NATO is also constrained by its inability to command a UN mandate in Syria, largely because of Russian and Chinese objections to NATO's overstretch in Libya, where a protection of civilians mandate was used to overthrow the Gaddhafi regime. NATO Monitor will watch for progress in this case on Tuesday.

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