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Why Syria's regional spillovers could prompt intervention (+video)

Turkey's forced landing of a Syrian passenger jet from Moscow suspected of carrying military cargo is the latest example of regional spillover from the Syria crisis. The risks of these cascading spillovers may ultimately emerge as the leading rationale for international intervention.

COMMENTARY: Stephen Walt analyzes the many complex and vitally important issues underlying US-Middle East policy as part of the American Conversation Essentials series.
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The international debate over military intervention in Syria has, understandably, been couched largely in terms of the “responsibility to protect” Syrians from a brutal regime. But there is also a growing risk of spillovers into other countries that could further destabilize an already troubled region – including the Eastern Mediterranean. Taken together, these cascading risks may ultimately emerge as the leading rationale for international action.

First, despite incentives for caution on both sides, the risk of a more serious conventional military clash between Turkey and Syria is real. Turkey, a key US and European partner and NATO ally, is highly exposed to the consequences of protracted conflict and chaos in Syria. To date, some 90,000 refugees have fled across the border to Turkey. Continuing incidents of direct Syrian attacks and loss of life on Turkish territory, and Turkish retaliation, raise the specter of escalating conflict between Ankara and Damascus.

An incident this week illustrates the wide reach of the Syria crisis. On Wednesday, Turkish military jets forced a Syrian passenger jet from Moscow to land in Ankara. Turkish state-run television reports the jet was carrying military communications equipment. Syria is furious, calling the interception "piracy." Russia, meanwhile, says the cargo was not of Russian origin and is angered by the treatment of the passengers, including Russian nationals.

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