After Syrian Mortar Attack, Turkey Aims to Reinforce Deterrence
|Tiros de mortero en el pueblo turco de Akcakale.|
Media coverage of the motion, which authorizes strikes on Syrian targets, has warned that Turkish military involvement could turn this civil war into a regional conflict that would inevitably draw in the international community.
But while today marks the second day of Turkish shelling within Syria, Turkish government officials have insisted that the new legislation is not a mandate for war, but rather a measure to protect their borders.
"This is primarily a signal of resolve to defend their territorial integrity," Stephen Flanagan, Henry A. Kissinger Chair in Diplomacy and National Security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Trend Lines. "It is a warning to anyone in Syria, be it the Syrian rebels or certainly the Syrian armed forces, that they cannot be cavalier about violating Turkish sovereignty."
With this newly ratified measure, he continued, Turkey is taking "limited steps." They are designed to deter Syria by promising retaliation, while also making it clear that by no means does Turkey want war with its neighbor.
Flanagan referenced a Twitter post by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisting that while Turkey does not want war with Syria, his country is "capable of protecting its borders and will retaliate when necessary."
While Erdogan has called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, Turkey is not prepared to take extensive military action, Flanagan said.
This is partly because Ankara does not want the Syrian civil war to escalate into a regional conflict, but also because there is no unified international support for an intervention in Syria that would undoubtedly be costly and uncertain in outcome.
Flanagan described the two days of Turkish retaliation on Syrian territory thus far as "a proportionate retaliatory step, particularly in light of the uncertainty about who was actually firing at the Turkish side yesterday."
Initially, there were some reports that the mortar shelling may have come from Syrian rebel forces hoping to draw the Turkish government into the conflict on their side, but Syria has since apologized through the United Nations for the shelling of the Turkish town, saying it would not happen again.
Flanagan said it seems now that the attack was either an errant strike by the Syrian armed forces or a warning shot to demonstrate to Turkey the damage that Syria could do in case Turkey was considering any kind of action, as the Syrian armed forces also do not want Turkish involvement.
After the deadly shelling on Wednesday, Turkey contacted NATO to request an urgent meeting of members, which Article IV of the NATO Charter allows when a member state feels its security is threatened, Flanagan said.
The only other times that Turkey has turned to NATO in this way, he continued, were in June, after Syria downed a Turkish reconnaissance jet, and in 2003, on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
The decision to involve NATO, said Flanagan, "underscored the degree of seriousness of purpose."
"If there were another strike against a Turkish village by the Syrian side, under the mandate given to them by the national assembly, now they would certainly take a retaliatory action," said Flanagan. "But it would be a measured one. I don't expect them to be sending in big armored columns to clear out a Syrian village."
Expanding on the current stalemate within the United Nations when it comes to use of force on Syria, he said Turkey will not go into Syria without the support of NATO, support which in turn will not come without U.N. sanction that is itself blocked by Russia.
"The situation remains very volatile," Flanagan said, but while he said "there can be miscalculations made or mistakes made that lead to an escalation," he still emphasized that neither Turkey nor Syria want the civil war to become an international conflict.
"Clearly this has to be watched carefully," Flanagan said. "And I think and expect that despite the heat, the Turks are going to be very cautious about this because they know what the risks are."