Is This How The Third World War Begins?

Russia-MIG29

A Russian MiG-29. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

News that Russian fighters have violated Turkish airspace increases tensions in the Middle East.

More worryingly, it raises the possibility of a dogfight in the skies over Turkey.

Now, this matters because Turkey – like Britain, the US and 25 other nations – is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) which is a collective defence pact that regards an attack on one ally as an attack on all.

It is not inconceivable that Turkish fighters could shoot down an intruding aircraft prompting retaliation from a Russia led by Vladimir Putin; not a man to allow the downing of a Russian jet to pass without response.

This scenario would pitch NATO into crisis. For a member state would have been attacked and NATO leaders would be confronting the danger of a confrontation that could potentially escalate out of control into war with Russia.

To date there have been two incidents reported. The first took place on Saturday (3 October 2015) near Yayladagi in the southern Hatay region of Turkey. A Russian fighter jet entered Turkish airspace prompting the Turks to scramble jets and see off the intruder. Russia admitted that one of its planes had entered Turkish airspace but said that it was “by mistake” reportedly due to the weather.

No accident

Then on Sunday, a MIG-29 jet – thought to be Russian – harassed two Turkish F-16s for more than five minutes by locking its radar onto them. The Turkish military said the incident occurred while the F-16s were patrolling the Turkish-Syrian border.

Don’t think that any of this is accidental, whatever the Russian foreign ministry may say about the weather. In these days of satellite navigation and high-tech weaponry, you can be sure that the Russian jets and their military controllers knew exactly where they were flying and what they were doing.

US secretary of state John Kerry said: “We’re greatly concerned about it because it is precisely the kind of thing that had Turkey responded under its rights could have resulted in a shoot-down”.

Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Haber Turk television that the rules of engagement for his armed forces were clear, whoever violates Turkey’s airspace: “The Turkish Armed Forces have their orders,” he said. “The necessary will be done even if it is a flying bird that violates Turkey’s border…”

If Turkey were to shoot down a Russian intruder then the consequences would be serious. If the Russians then retaliated the results could be disastrous. A dogfight between Russian and Turkish jets that resulted in a Turkish aircraft being shot down could trigger the Ankara government to call on its allies to come to its defence under Article 5 of the NATO treaty which enshrines the principle of collective defence. Article 5 has been invoked in the past following the attacks the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US.

Go to war over “a scrap of paper”?  It has happened before…

NATO leaders would then face a dilemma between, on one hand, risking a military confrontation between NATO and the Russian Federation and, on the other, backing down in the face of apparently deliberate actions by Russia to ignore the sovereignty of Turkey. Choose one way and we are on the brink of war. Choose the other and Putin would have called NATO’s bluff leaving the alliance’s founding principle of collective defence in tatters.

Now, the war weary electorates of western Europe and north America may find it difficult to understand how a spat between Turkey and Russia could drag them into a war with Russia. But Britain, the US and the rest of NATO are bound by treaty into a collective defence pact that their leaders would not want to see exposed as toothless.

Indeed, countries have gone to war as a result of their treaty obligations before. Britain entered the first world war following the invasion of Belgium by German troops because Britain was bound by treaty to uphold the neutrality of Belgium.

German chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg reportedly exclaimed that he could not believe that Britain and Germany would be going to war over a mere “scrap of paper”.

Let’s hope Putin does not think the same way about the NATO treaty.

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Comments
One Response to “Is This How The Third World War Begins?”
  1. Reblogged this on 61chrissterry and commented:
    A very real worry, lets hope every leader understands the consequences of their actions or nonactions.

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