Former Defense Secretary William Cohen said in an interview with CNN last night that the U.S. doesn’t want to go to war in Syria, but with tensions mounting between Turkey — a NATO ally — and Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad’s embattled government over a downed Turkish plane, the U.S.’s alliance may require it to:
COHEN: I think that [Assad] wants to be careful. Russia wants to be careful. NATO wants to be careful that we don’t see this spin out of control that suddenly there’s a war declared against Syria by NATO, which I think doesn’t have the power to declare war, but has the power to declare we’re with Turkey if Turkey should respond from a military point of view… We have to be very careful there. We want to avoid that.
I think the shot that’s been fired is a verbal one, saying that Syria, you’re on notice. If you so much as fire one of our aircraft again, we’re going to retaliate, and it won’t be a very low level. So, I think Syria is on notice.
The United States, the other NATO countries, are saying we’re with you politically. We hope we don’t have to be involved in a war, but if war comes, it’s one nation of NATO, it’s all of us.
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Cohen is referring to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty which states that an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all members, and each “will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”
Turkey’s stance toward Syria’s brutal crackdown on Arab Spring demonstrations last year and, now, military assaults against civilian areas in its civil war with various rebel factions has grown more aggressive. Turkey hosts the main exiled Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Council, and leadership of the largest rebel faction, the Free Syrian Army. According to reports, Turkey sold anti-tank missiles to the rebels, purchased with Saudia Arabian and Qatari money.