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Turkey Suggests Invoking NATO Collective Defense Provision in Syrian Conflict

A Turkish flag flies next to NATO logo at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, November 26, 2019. (Francois Lenoir/Reuters)

Turkey on Tuesday floated the possibility of invoking NATO’s collective defense provision in its ongoing conflict with U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish forces.

“We do not question the viability of Article 5. On the contrary, we expect it to be fulfilled,” said Gulnur Aybet, senior foreign policy adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, referring to the collective defense provision.

“A NATO that is fit for purpose would acknowledge this existential threat to Turkey, and this would actually make NATO stronger,” Aybet continued at a town hall event in London ahead of the NATO Leaders’ Meeting.

President Trump announced in October that the U.S. would withdraw the American troops stationed in northeastern Syria, drawing bipartisan criticism and warnings that Turkey and the Islamic State would step into the resulting void. Trump argued the Islamic State had been defeated in the region and said he did not want the U.S. to “police” the area any longer. However, he vowed to punish Turkey if the country takes any action the U.S. considers “off limits” in the wake of the decision.

After the U.S. troops were removed from the region, Turkey launched a military operation into northeastern Syria against American-allied Kurdish forces, displacing 200,000 people and causing dozens of civilians deaths.

Trump temporarily slapped additional sanctions on Turkey after the Syria invasion but has appeared reluctant to take a heavy hand to the country over the conflict, even saying during a meeting last month with the Turkish president that the U.S. plans to expand its trade relationship with Turkey “very significantly.”

“If NATO members do not recognize this existential threat to Turkey, I think this will undermine NATO,” Aybet said. “You cannot have a compromise and address the immediate national security concerns of some allies and not address the immediate national security concerns of another ally. So, in terms of national security concerns, we really have to be on the same page, otherwise, we will not be able to agree on anything else.”

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