Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Stay Calm and Carry On

With news of a downed Russian plane over Turkish airspace, opinions have begun to surface of possible conflict between Russia and NATO. Vladimir Putin has responded with strong rhetoric warning of "serious consequences". He added the incident was a stab in the back perpetrated by "the accomplices to terror". While French President Hollande and American President Obama responded against any escalation, NATO secretary general Stoltenberg has stated the military alliance stands in solidarity with Turkey. With such strong rhetoric and the history of Russian-Turkey relations, perhaps people should have something to worry about.

But, let's step back. We recognize the need for deconfliction and the respect for each others airspace. It is a tragedy that Russia has lost troops not only in the initial shooting down of the plane but also in the rescue operation in which a Russian helicopter was destroyed with a TOW missile by Syrian rebels. But should this incident escalate into greater conflict?

The reality is Russia and the other NATO nations have little to gain from escalation. In fact, they have too much to lose. Europe and the US clearly want Russia to be a part of the solution in Syria. Russia has strong ties to the Assad regime and can be highly influential in aiding peace negotiations. At the same time, Russia cannot fight too many diplomatic fronts. Considering the events of Ukraine, Russia has limited options to make anything more out of the incident.

But this is Russia that we are talking about. They aren't renown for being diplomatic and in some cases they can be quite reckless. Russia could engage in some covert actions, possibly supporting the Kurds or reducing Turkey influence and regional ambitions. With heightened tensions, it will be important to see what response Russia takes.

For US interests, it is extremely important to urge de-escalation. Turkey is a member of NATO and had the right to shoot down a foreign warplane over their airspace. But many feel some sympathy to Russia because even if they did fly over their airspace, it was only for about 5 seconds. It is difficult to unequivocally support the Turkish side without giving some consideration to Russia. As both countries believe they have serious grievances, it will take a multilateral effort to ease tensions. America and its allies in Europe must take steps to find a tranquil solution and work to deconflict airspace in and around Syria. This incident has the possibility to unravel and disrupt any effort in Syria as well as incite future tension and conflict. Preventing this starts with staying calm and carrying on.

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