Foreign Policy Chat - Syria Shoots Down Turkish Plane, Leaving NATO With Tough Decision

Syria's transition from being Turkey's friend to foe over the past year and a half was cemented Friday when Syrian forces shot down a Turkish plane that entered Syrian airspace.  Turkish officials claim that the plane was conducting a routine training mission and entered the airspace accidentally, while Syrian officials issued a statement saying the country's defense systems were used to deal with an "unidentified aerial target" in accordance with "the law observed in such cases."

Many questions remain about Friday's events. The Economist asks why Syrian President Assad would risk further isolating his regime by shooting down a plane, suggesting that fears of international intervention and the defection of a Syrian air force pilot last week led Syrian forces to overreact. For Turkey, however, the main question now is what reaction, if any, this incident will prompt for NATO. As a member of NATO, Turkey is protected under Article V in the organization's collective security agreement, which specifies that an attack against one member state is an attack against all. An armed attack against a member state would permit the organization to act as deemed necessary to "restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area," including through the use of force. Uri Friedman at Foreign Policy points out, however, that the NATO meeting convened by Turkey, scheduled for Tuesday, is unlikely to result in an agreement for NATO intervention.

NATO countries could use the downing of the Turkish plane as an excuse to push for intervention, but that is unlikely. The European Union, which today extended sanctions against the Syrian government, has already advised Turkey to respond with restraint.  The Netherlands has taken military intervention off the table. In lieu of military intervention, on Sunday Slate and the Washington Post both urged more aggressive political efforts by Western countries, including increased support for the peace plan and rebel organizations, but there is little evidence that these actions would result in a resolution to the conflict. The peace plan proposed by UN envoy Kofi Annan has already failed twice. The rebels are unorganized and occupy a tactical landscape that is very different from Libya and makes a limited but successful military intervention functionally impossible.  Additionally, there is growing evidence Islamic militants are active within the opposition coalition, making serious material support both unfeasible and politically dangerous. After a year and a half of violence, two undesirable choices remain: an alliance either needs to commit to intervention - and openly acknowledge the real costs and strategic realities of that go along with decision - or to simply do their best to contain the violence while letting it play out internally. Tomorrow's NATO meeting is an opportunity to finally move decisively in one direction or the other. Half-hearted attempts to revive strategies that have already failed will clearly not resolve the crisis.