There appears to be agreement on the basic facts: a Turkish F-4 violated Syrian airspace and the Syrian military shot it down over its territorial waters. Further, there is no dispute that the AKP-led Turkish government has for months offered sanctuary and armed the Syrian opposition forces in what amounts to a civil war in Syria between a hideous, brutal tyranny and an increasingly Islamist opposition. The Turkish leadership, even while accepting that its plane violated Syrian airspace, is growling about retaliation. The Syrian government has done its best to tamp down Turkish anger.
How should Western states respond to this crisis between Ankara and Damascus, one which has the potential to grow into a war between two states? More specifically, what if the Republic of Turkey invokes Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which in the case of “an armed attack against one or more of them … shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them … will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking … such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force”?
Because both sides in the Syrian conflict represent hideous alternatives, I argue that Western governments should stay out. I repeat that, with all the greater urgency, during this crisis. The West has no interest in supporting aggressive Turkish government; quite the contrary, it needs to send Erdoğan & Co. a clear signal rejecting their bellicose and quasi-rogue foreign policy. As for Article 5, it’s clearly inoperative here, what with the recent history of Turkish aggression against Syria, culminating in the warplane’s intrusion. Again, stay out.