Get ready for war — a NATO-led war that’s going to depose the Assad tyranny in favor of an Islamist tyranny (checked in on Libya lately?), as well as put relations with Russia into the deep freeze. We never learn.
There’s always a remote possibility that an incident like this one could precipitate a larger war, but I doubt very much that this incident will lead Turkey or NATO to attack Syria. Turkey does not want any direct involvement in a Syrian war, which is why it has made a point of ruling out outside military intervention very early on. Turkey may be providing some support to anti-Assad forces, but it isn’t going to risk open confrontation. What is even more certain is that Turkey’s European and American allies are opposed to NATO involvement in Syria.
Even if Turkey called on NATO to invoke Article V (which it isn’t likely to do), the alliance members would have to agree to do so, and doing so does not always require allied military action. NATO runs by consensus, and there are presumably quite a few member states that would object to overreacting to an isolated border incident. Considering the gravity of the situation the last time that NATO invoked Article V (immediately after the 9/11 attacks), it would seem absurd to treat the unfortunate isolated destruction of one military jet in the same way. If U.S. and some allied governments were of a mind to use force in Syria, this could be used as a pretext for doing so, but because they are not so inclined they will not make much of this. Erdogan will go through the motions of raising this issue with NATO. Just as he blew the earlier cross-border shooting incident out of proportion to maintain his nationalist credibility, he might make some noise about this before doing nothing. More to the point, having cried wolf over an incident that didn’t even involve Turkish nationals Erdogan isn’t in much of a position to demand allied solidarity now.
James Joyner recently reviewed the alliance’s likely response to this incident and the allies’ obligations to Turkey:
But it’s virtually inconceivable that the NAC would deem this to be a qualifying “attack.” First, Article 5 couches the response in terms of “the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations.” An overly aggressive defensive action by Syria–especially a one-off–would not seem to qualify. While the Turkish pilot would certainly have been within his rights to use deadly force to protect himself, a retaliatory strike at this juncture by Turkey–much less its NATO allies–would be in violation of the UN Charter [bold mine-DL]. Second, borrowing language from Article 51, Article 5 specifies the rationale for the use of force as “to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.” Given that the incident is already contained–that is, not likely to be followed by any sort of follow-on action by Syria absent further provocation–said security already exists. Indeed, a NATO or Turkish response would make the area more, not less, secure.
The Turks have a great deal to lose by retaliating in response to this incident, and Erdogan has little to gain politically by plunging Turkey into a major conflict. There is very little support inside Turkey for Western military intervention, and Erdogan would probably be exposing himself to a significant backlash at home if he were seen as instrumental in bringing about such an intervention.