At the moment, the nation Assad fears the most is neighboring Turkey. Turkey, a NATO member, has powerful military forces. It helped foster the creation of the Syrian National Council, the main rebel political opposition group. Turkey operates nine refugee camps along the Turkey-Syria border. Occasionally, Turkey has raised the rhetorical heat and discussed establishing a "buffer zone" inside Syria to protect Syrian refugees. Turkish officials, however, have been reluctant to go further.
Yet Turkey is now publicly discussing invoking two international agreements, both of which would legitimate armed intervention in Syria. One instrument is the 1998 Adana Agreement. The other is Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which covers mutual defense in the event of an attack. Article 5 says an armed attack against any single NATO members constitutes an attack on all NATO members.
Turkey and Syria signed the Adana Agreement after Turkey threatened to invade Syria because the Assad dictatorship was harboring the Kurdistan Workers Party's (PKK) senior commander. The treaty's language, however, is not limited to the PKK. It states that Syria "will not permit any activity that emanates from its territory aimed at jeopardizing the security and stability of Turkey." Turkey already harbors 25,000 to 30,000 Syrian refugees. Turkish aid groups expect that number to swell to 50,000. Does a refugee surge violate the treaty? It could, conceivably.
NATO Article 5 offers another legal avenue. On April 9, Syrian security forces fired across the Turkey-Syria border and wounded four people in a refugee camp in Turkey's Kilis province. That constituted an armed violation of Turkey's border. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan noted, with cool anger, that "NATO has responsibilities to do with Turkey's borders, according to Article 5."
Bluster or potent signal? Erdogan is leaving his legal options open.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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