Given the animosity between both Ankara and Damascus, and the substantial military forces arrayed on either side of the border – Turkey has NATO’s second largest military after the United States – a Turkish-Syrian conflict would represent a dramatic development. At that point, NATO could hardly avoid becoming involved in a key test of alliance commitment to collective defense.
Second, the wider Syrian crisis is leading to a series of proxy wars – Iran supporting its Syrian ally, President Bashar al-Assad; and Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and others backing the Free Syrian Army and other armed rebel groups. Syrian opposition forces, operating from Turkish territory, are now leading actors in the anti-Assad insurgency.
But the presence of these armed groups is contributing to insecurity in Turkey. Previously prosperous and stable areas in Turkey’s south are experiencing economic crisis and chaotic conditions. Syria appears to have revived its active support for violent operations by the separatist PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) in Turkey. Many Turks are convinced that Iran is also playing a part in this strategy.
The likelihood of a protracted conflict in Syria (a decade or more of chaos is not inconceivable) suggests that these sponsored, irregular wars may define the strategic map of the region for some time to come.