By James Hess, Ph.D.
Professor, School of Security and Global Studies, American Military University
Last week, I discussed the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Idlib, Syria. Yesterday, that crisis escalated when 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an airstrike in northwest Syria and 35 were wounded.
At the very least, this situation has the potential to spill into a regional war. Turkey is a member of NATO, and Syria receives military support from Russia. Currently, Russia is denying that its air forces are responsible, and there has been no word from Syria.
Russia Criticizing NATO Expansion, But Seeking to Further Its Own Interests in the Middle East
Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has routinely criticized the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for expanding into countries closer to Russia. Russia sees this expansion as provocative, and tensions between Russia and the West have hardly cooled since the Cold War.
Also, Russia has provided military support to Syria during its prolonged civil war. One could argue that Russia is doing this to maintain its own expansion against NATO, especially in volatile regions such as the Middle East.
There are reports that Russia is allying itself closer to Iran. Given the recent tensions between the U.S. and Iran, that alliance further points to Russia’s efforts to counter NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe.
As Syria continues its offensive to end the civil war, the province of Idlib has become the latest battleground. Idlib borders Turkey to the southeast and has experienced a significant crisis – almost one million refugees are caught in the middle of the conflict.
NATO’s Response to Attacks on Turkish Soldiers
U.S. ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, responded “Oh my gosh…[t]his is a big development.” She further discussed that all options are on the table.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is supporting Turkey in this situation. He has asked for Syria and Russia to stop the ongoing offensive and allow the U.N. to find a resolution to the conflict. Today, all 29 ambassadors of NATO countries met regarding the crisis in Idlib.
As a NATO member, Turkey could ask other countries for assistance in the conflict. Article 5 of the NATO treaty provides for the collective defensive of all member nations.
While it is too early to determine if this ongoing crisis will develop into a larger conflict, it is certain that this situation is far from over. There is also the likelihood that Syrian refugees will continue pushing to flee into Europe, especially if the Assad regime ultimately wins the civil war. With Europe still trying to cope with the last round of refugees from the Middle East, which peaked in 2015, this crisis will further exacerbate the economic, medical, political, and other issues associated with a large-scale influx of refugees.
About the Author
Dr. James Hess is a professor at American Military University. Dr. Hess received his Ph.D. from Louisiana State University, where he studied improving analytical methodologies in counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism environments. He is also a fellow and affiliated faculty with the University of Arizona’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies where he researches Islamic Jurisprudence and its impact on terrorism.
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