Baseless concerns surround NATO
Ideas that escalations in Syria will lead to World War III are baseless and highly unlikely in today’s world Cold War overtones quickly emerged after Turkey shot down a Russian bomber last week. The chances of military escalation are low. However, this incident highlighted the dangers of Russian and NATO aircrafts operating over the same territories.
Turkey and Russia have both offered contradictory reports of the events that led to the Russian bomber being shot down. Turkey claims that two Russian bombers violated their airspace. The Turkish military released a map showing both bombers transiting a narrow strip of land in Turkey, less than two miles wide. They also claim that the bomber was warned 10 times that it was violating Turkish airspace. Russia, on the other hand, paints a different picture.
Russia insists that neither bomber crossed into Turkey’s airspace and that Turkey never warned them. However, the U.S. military confirmed that the Russian pilots were warned but chose to ignore the warnings.
This is not the first air encounter between Russia and NATO. Since 2014, there have been over twentyfive instances of Russian aircrafts flying near or into another nation’s airspace. These flights are usually reconnaissance missions or practice. The majority of these occur over the Baltic Sea and involve NATO aircrafts intercepting their Russian counterparts. In Oct. 2015, NATO protested Russia for two incursions into Turkey’s airspace, in the same region where the bomber was shot down. Both Turkey and Russia promised not to go to war over the downed jet. But this still left a nervous NATO and the world with a single question: Why did Turkey risk serious confrontation?
As stated above, these incursions have happened before and have been tolerated. However, the president of Turkey had several other reasons to allow his fighter to fire on the Russian bomber. He has long been frustrated with Russia over many issues beyond Syria, the problem of what to do with Syria and the fact that Russia has been bombing Turkmen villages, which Turkey has strong ethnic ties to. It is noteworthy to point out that the Turkmen villages are not allied with ISIS. In fact, the majority of the rebels being bombed by Russia are not allied with ISIS. They are, however, allied with Western nations such as Turkey and the United States.
This episode has also made herculean the effort to reach a breakthrough on Syria. The United States, Turkey and the rest of NATO believe that the Syrian president needs to be removed from power to ensure a stable and peaceful Syria. Russia contends that propping up the Syria president would yield better results than NATO’s strategy.
Since the downing of the Russian bomber, many people have called for Turkey’s removal from NATO. They quickly drew comparisons to World War I, where alliances dragged in all the world’s great economic powers. Critics of Turkey’s membership in NATO fear the country will drag the world into the next global conflict. Conversely, the threat of World War III is fading into nothingness. A lot has changed since World War II, specifically the arrival of mutually assured destruction.
The possibility of complete nuclear annihilation provided an enormous disincentive to launch and expand total war efforts. Rather than engaging each other directly, countries now choose to fight through proxy wars. Secondly, the world has become more interconnected due to economic cooperation treaties and free-trade agreements. Global trade interdependency has become too big to fail. Finally, the spread of technology and media means the world is now more socially connected than ever before. Public shock and disgust of the brutality of war being broadcasted over YouTube and Facebook makes carrying our large-scale military operations much more difficult.
Terrorism, inequality, internal and civil political discord or diplomatic misunderstandings can all create pressures for war. But what is clear is that the incentives for a total world war are shrinking and the disincentives are growing.