Could Turkey’s NATO Membership Lead To Wider War With Islamic State?

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Could an ISIS attack on Turkey be a prelude to NATO ground troops (read: American ground troops) on the ground? As impossible as that may seem, it’s not so far fetched.

Turkey is coming under increasing pressure from Daesh (AKA ISIS, or the Islamic State) forces. Meanwhile thousands upon thousands of refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq have been streaming across the country’s borders, seeking refuge from the onslaught. Given the situation, it’s fair a fair assumption that Daesh could eventually end up attacking Turkey, and if so how the nation’s NATO partners will respond.

Already, NATO leaders are pledging to stand by Turkey, if attacked. These messages could themselves be a prelude to a wider war and more direct involvement from NATO forces, including possibly boots on the ground. Make no mistake, I am not arguing that a war is imminent, or even planned, but instead that the outbreak of war is not entirely impossible and that an attack on Turkey could be the catalyst.

NATO Membership Requires Response

NATO was created to counteract the power of the Soviet Union and later Russia in Europe. The defense organization largely pitted Western Europe against Eastern Europe, with the USA backing the West, while the USSR backed (and largely controlled) the East.

Turkey was one of the earliest members, joining the alliance in 1952. NATO was founded just a few short years earlier in 1949, and then consisted primarily of Western European countries. An attack on one NATO country would amount to an attack on all NATO countries, and could require armed response, or at least material support.

As the world’s most prestigious military alliance, NATO will be under pressure to maintain its image of solidarity. NATO’s top command has already said that they will defend Turkey if it is attacked, though the extent of that defense was not outlined.

Most likely, it’d include the increased provision of arms, and perhaps NATO led air strikes, but the door could be open for troops on the ground.

Tensions With Russia Will Complicate Picture Further

NATO will be under even more pressure to respond to any Daesh aggression due to the tensions between Russia and Europe. Many NATO states were once part of Russia’s sphere of influence and a few border directly with Russia.

NATO’s central command will not want to look weak in the eyes of Russia and will need to prove that it is serious about responding. If tensions weren’t high with Russia, it’d be easier for NATO to brush off the attack as terrorist activity, not a military strike. Given the situation with Russia, however, if Daesh can get away with attacking a member state without soliciting a response it could call into question the alliance’s solidarity.

Will Daesh Attack Turkey?

Already, members of Daesh have lobbed a few mortars over the border. These light attacks could have merely been accidents and Turkey may be finding itself in the cross fire of the Kurd-Daesh battles going on in neighbouring Syria.

Still, security experts fear that Daesh members could start crossing the border to attack refuges, and could even try to expand its “caliphate” to Turkish territory. Turkey as a large, well-armed, and well trained military, however, so it’s unlikely that Daesh will attempt to launch a full scale assault.

Daesh members could try to infiltrate Turkey to wreak havoc, however, and that in and of itself would present a difficult situation for NATO. How much of a response would be warranted in said situation?

More importantly, could NATO leaders be looking for an excuse to launch ground attacks against Daesh? Western leaders have already identified Daesh as a chief threat to Western countries and Western interests. Unfortunately, however, air strikes by Western and Arab powers have failed to stop their advance.

Some are already wondering if troops on the ground will be necessary to defeat Daesh, and an attack on Turkey could give NATO the perfect excuse. An invasion of Iraq or even Daesh controlled portions of Syria wouldn’t be a war of “aggression” but instead an act of self-defense, or at least that’s what NATO could argue.

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