Oh the Cold War, what fun! The world awaited nuclear destruction at a drop of a hat. Military interventions to prevent dominoes from falling became a national past time, while capitalists and communists ducked it out for control of the hearts and minds of the world! Who doesn’t miss those fun times? As a matter of fact, doesn’t it make sense that we should keep in place the same trip wires that nearly destroyed the world? How could that possibly go wrong?
In all seriousness, the Cold War might not have been all that bad from an impersonal, realist geopolitical outlook. The world was balanced and there were no great power or superpower wars as there were in every other era in human history. But one cannot argue that from any level of analysis, be it personal or systemic, that the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Berlin Crisis, the Suez Crisis, the Taiwan Strait Crises, and the Yom Kippur Crisis were fun times. Those were events that nearly brought about the destruction of the world. So why do we still have so many Cold War relics in place in American foreign policy? Especially, we should consider that some of those relics contributed to the crises listed above. Even if we just look forward, these Cold War relics still present trip wires for avoidable wars.
Let’s turn our attention to the big one: NATO. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Of huge strategic importance during the Cold War, NATO essentially coupled America and Western Europe together, hemmed in the Soviet Union and, the most famous article in American foreign policy, an attack on one is an attack on all. Though only invoked once, if there ever was a seed of our own destruction, it will be Article Five.
Now, Article Five has made headlines since March. Turkey, a NATO member state, does receive protection from Article Five and the NATO umbrella. And with violence spilling across the Turkish frontier from the Syrian Civil War, the Turks have been quick to remind the world and the other NATO member states that Article Five says that all NATO members are treaty bound to come rushing to the aid of the Turks.
After five Turkish citizens were killed in a Syrian artillery attack along the Turkish border, the Turkish parliament declared Syria an imminent danger, and returned fire. The Turkish response devastated several key Syrian military instillations and forced the Syrians to apologize, I know big stuff.
What is really interesting is that is the narrative. At a deeper level more happened, but other than a quick response with quick words nothing else happened. NATO came forward, October 09, 2012, to declare solidarity with Turkey. Turkey has mobilized some fighters to their southern frontier. America, too, has mobilized a squadron F-22 Raptors, the best fighter jet in the world, to the island of Crete. But other than a few minor tactical adjustments and a few diplomatic niceties nothing else happened.
Where was the intervention? Where were the NATO liberators rushing forth to lift the siege of brave Turks from the hordes of invading Syria?
What is even stranger, NATO rushed to intervene in a Libya uprising on grounds of Human Rights, a nice sentiment but not part of the NATO founding charter. But when a NATO member is actually in an artillery battle with an aggressor, NATO can only say a few eloquent words.
Interesting enough, but once boiling down the situation it all makes sense. As I have said before, events don’t take place in a vacuum. There are many moving parts in this story that explain what happened, what did not happen and most importantly, how the United States dodged a bullet.
Let us first look at Libya. A noble humanitarian intervention let by NATO from a sense of noblesse oblige. What a pretty world. A little known fact, but the brave knights from the European half of NATO charged in wearing shiny white arm atop unicorns.
So as you can see, I am skeptical to call the Libya situation a humanitarian intervention. Of course it was sold to America as one because Americans are idealists and like to believe that our foreign policy serves moral ends. In reality, this is another sad example of brave American heroes being turned into mercenaries to serve an interest that is not American. Britain and France had a chance to get cheap oil if Gadhafi had been removed. They jumped on the opportunity. The intervention did not go smoothly for the Europeans. So the fearless Europeans deployed their best strategy they have used since the start of the 20th, call in the Yanks! America came to the rescue. America won the air war, but the US had no stomach for a ground war allowing Libya to devolve into the mess that exists today.
But at the time there were no concerns that NATO has given today about a two front war. The war in Afghanistan did not take a timeout so NATO could fight in Libya. This seems to be a justification that NATO came up with on the fly, but the argument lacks any justification.
In reality, the difference between these two very similar cases is the economic incentive. European elements of NATO have no problem sending America’s kill power to help them economically (the Balkans and Libya come to mind). But where is the qui bono in NATO taking part in a humanitarian intervention in Syria?
The answer is no one. The one thing that NATO Europe wants from that region, the Turkish-Syrian border, is for Turkey to join the EU. But after years of being denied membership and years of EU fiscal shortsightedness have left Turkey unwilling to join.
Qui Bono? Not for Turkey. The Turks would have NATO rush to the rescue in a fight they could win with a regime that, although dangerous to individual Turkish citizens along the frontier, poses no real threat to Turkish geopolitical strategy. In exchange for that useless assistance, the Turks would have open their market to allow Germany somewhere else to export, slow down domestic Turkish production and pay for the fiscal flamboyance of the rest of Europe. Quite clearly, a NATO bailout does not help the Turks.
It is really only worth European NATO’s time if they get the Turkish economic juggernaut to join the EU. Short of that, any intervention would be pro bono, and that phrase is not in the vocabulary of European foreign policy.
As for the guys who actually do things pro bono, America has slowly matured and is not so cavalier about charging into every little crisis that pops up. We have a pop up blocker so to speak. Instead of being so idealist, America is choosing to intervene only when American interests are at stake. As a result, America does not want to intervene unless there is a chance to allow one state in the region to become a hegemon that could rival the America internationally.
In summation, it is difficult to see this boarder squabble develop into a NATO intervention. I would not rule out Turkey becoming a regional hegemon with this as the Catalyst, but NATO getting involved is very unlikely.
Though we have dodged a bullet on this front, we need to heed the warning. Old war guarantees might drag us into new wars. Therefore let us be smart, sever ties where we can, strengthen agreements we still need and allow American policy to mature to that of a global power. This is a lesson we will need to implement soon if we intend for the 21st century to see the reign of Pax Americana.