It appears that NATO is sliding into the most serious crisis since its foundation as Turkish troops have engaged in a war against Kurdish rebels in northern Syria where the United States maintains a significant military presence.
This means that the risk of a military engagement between two member-states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is significant.
The military leader of US forces in northern Syria ignored an appeal by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for an American withdrawal from the region.
It was the only possible outcome.
A superpower would never retreat on the basis of an ultimatum by an ally, even if the strategic significance of the country in question is considerable.
On the other hand, however, Washington cannot ignore the fact that the Kurdish question poses a major security problem for Turkey, threatening the country’s very territorial integrity. As a result, all of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political rivals, bar the Kurdish party, have backed him on this issue.
The problem with the “circumstantial alliances” that Washington uses to tackle crises in regions beyond NATO’s remit is that, at the end of these ad hoc cooperations, these allies tend to go their own way.
The use of Islamist fundamentalists by the US against Soviet forces in the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 contributed to the broadening radicalization of Islamic extremists who have now transferred their terrorist activities to the West.
The arming of Kurds in Syria by the West, and in particular by Washington, in order to face down the forces of Bashar al-Assad and the so-called Islamic State, led Turkey to extreme, though predictable, reactions.
Something is clearly amiss with the West’s “occasional allies.” Some in Greece may claim that the alienation of Ankara or even a rupture with the West could eventually prove beneficial as Greece would become the West’s advanced outpost in the region.
But this line of reasoning overlooks an extremely significant fact: that a potential armed conflict between Greece and Turkey has been repeatedly averted since the 1950s because the two countries are members of NATO, despite the fact that the alliance was not active in preventing an escalation of tensions.
A potentially fatal threat for Greece would be an unchecked Turkey outside NATO, but the risk of such an eventuality appears to be disappearing.