The alliance’s response to Turkey during this escalating crisis is being closely scrutinized in Turkey and the region, and will have powerful repercussions. If NATO persists in offering only paper promises to Turkey, the perception that the alliance lacks the political will to back up allies even if they are attacked will be a major blow to NATO’s credibility.
It is also not in NATO’s interests to disappoint the country with the second largest army within the alliance. Perceived failure to live up to its alliance obligations will further weaken public support for NATO within Turkey. Europe and the United States can’t afford a rift with what some describe as the only functioning Muslim democracy in the greater Middle East – a country with unmatched geostrategic, economic, and cultural value in the region.
What can NATO do for Turkey?
Too much attention has been focused on the question of invoking Article 5, the alliance’s mutual defense clause. Even during the many crises of the cold war, Article 5 was never invoked.
In fact, the only time it has been exercised was after the 9/11 attacks against the United States. As tangible evidence of alliance solidarity, NATO sent seven radar aircraft (Airborne Warning and Control System, or AWACS) with crews from 13 NATO countries to help patrol American skies.
Apart from this isolated case, the transatlantic alliance has successfully overcome crises without invoking Article 5. This is because NATO members have many options to support and reinforce one another without having to turn to the mutual defense clause. These options should be considered now.