Fears of a potential World War 3 developed soon after Turkey announced that it had shot down a Russian warplane that had entered its airspace.
There are reasons to believe that that incident could lead to a major conflict. Being a NATO ally, if Turkey comes under an external attack, the other members of NATO (the United States and most of Europe) could be obliged to join forces with it, thus pulling the world’s top four nuclear powers into a large scale war. Currently, Turkey and Russia are bombing two opposite sides of Syria.
NATO’s treaty incorporates the principle of collective defense – stating that an attack on one of its members means an attack on all – which is part of the Article 5 of the alliance’s treaty. While Article 5 has been invoked previously to launch military action, there needs to be an attack on the alliance, one that involves consequences, to cite Article 5, according to Beyza Unal, a research fellow at the London-based Chatham House think tank. “I don’t think that would include violating airspace,” Unal said. She further added that even France “didn’t go that far” in bringing up Article 5 following the Paris attacks that killed 129 people.
Meanwhile, NATO has urged for the de-escalation of the matter. One of the ways this could be achieved is by having NATO and Russia sign an agreement that lays out and defines rules of engagement, according to NBC News.
Mark Galeotti, who teaches at the New York University, suggests “neither Moscow nor, at the very least, the other European NATO powers will want to let this go too far. Russia cannot fight hot diplomatic wars on too many fronts, and Europe clearly wants Moscow to be part of the solution in Syria and maybe Ukraine, too.” He added, saying, that “there is in many capitals concern about Turkey, its agenda and its role in the region.”
Russia may not strategize military action against Turkey directly, but it could target groups in Syria that are allied with Ankara, Sarah Lain, researcher at London’s Royal United Services Institute, suggests.
Neither side believes that the other is going to invade it, suggesting that Russia or Turkey will not see it as anything more than an isolated incident, according to Vox. Russia does not have enough forces in or near Syria to launch a major conflict; the same goes for the United States. There is little scope of a major conflict brewing, especially with Russia’s poor economic state.
“Russia can’t really afford to lose any economic partners right now,” Lain said. “Russia can’t really afford at the moment to lose vast revenue, which it would if it cut off gas to Turkey.”
Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, confirmed that Moscow was not willing to enter into a war with Turkey. Council of Foreign Relations President Richard Haas wrote in the Financial Times that the preference right now for opponents of ISIS should be to influence Russia, and not isolate it. “This is not yet a crisis, and if what took place is allowed to fester — or worse yet escalate — ISIS will be the big winner,” Haas wrote.