It is 1914 all over again…at least potentially. As we have all seen the Russian Ambassador to Turkey was assassinated today by a gunman in Ankara. Andrei Karlov was Putin’s Ambassador to Turkey from July 2013 until his death today. Karlov was a career diplomat serving in the Soviet and then Russian Diplomatic Service since 1976.
Given Russian involvement in the Syrian Civil War, Karlov was instrumental to relations between Putin and al-Assad, as well as the continuingly deteriorating relations between Erdogan and Putin. Per sources the gunman yelled “Allahu Akbar” and “This is for Aleppo.” Aleppo is where the Russian and Syrian Forces have mercilessly bombed the rebel Stronghold leading to massive civilian casualties. Further complicating matters is the fact that the assassin was a Turkish Police Officer, leading to a possible assumption (that may or may not be true), that this was a state sponsored assassination.
Turkey has opposed Assad and the Syrian Regime since the onset of the civil war and has provided training and aid to the Free Syrian Army under the supervision of Turkish Intelligence. Turkey currently hosts Riad al-Asaad the Commander of the Free Syrian Army. In 2011 Turkey began protecting the FSA and given them a safe area of operations. In 2012 after the Syrian Air Force shot down a Turkish fighter jet relations worsened culminating in the recent direct military involvement by the Turkish Military in Syria.
Turkey has been a NATO Member since 1952. Although it has increasing become theocratic under the current President Recep Erdogan, it is a NATO member. Article 5 of the NATO Charter states that an attack on one member nation is an attack on all member nations. It has only been invoked once, in 2001 by President George W. Bush following the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Vladimir Putin has shown aggression against NATO countries in the Baltic States and it is believed by some that Putin’s takeover of the Crimea was a trial balloon to see what US response would be to further expansion of the Russian State.
On June 28th, 1914 Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in a brazen attack. Princip was a Yugoslav Nationalist with connections to Young Bosnia a Yugoslav revolutionary movement and the Black Hand a militant terrorist organization. Due to entangling alliances that required various countries to declare war and defend other nations, this assassination spiraled into the proximate cause of the War to end all Wars.
Following the assassination, the Austro-Hungarian Empire issued the July Ultimatum to Serbia, when Serbia declined to accept the ultimatum in whole, Serbia mobilized its Army. In response to a conflict between Serbian Reservists and Austro-Hungarian Soldiers on the Danube which ended when Austro-Hungarian troops fired into the air and scared off the Serbian soldiers, Austro-Hungary declared war against Serbia and partially mobilized its Army. Due to the Secret Treaty of 1892, which stated that if any members of the Triple Alliance (Germany, Italy, and Austro-Hungary) mobilized their Armies, the signors agreed to mobilize their armies, like the current NATO Treaty. Once the Austro-Hungarian Empire mobilized, the Russian Army Mobilized, which lead to full mobilization of German and Austro-Hungarian forces. Which led to full mobilization of French and British forces in addition to Russian forces, leading to World War I.
Although this all occurred in 1914, it sounds eerily like what could unfold today if Russia retaliates against Turkey for the assassination of Andrei Karlov. If Turkey is attacked and invokes Article 5 of the NATO Charter one of two things must occur. Either the 28 Member States (including the United States) will come to Turkey’s defense, or they will not and NATO will effectively become irrelevant. The largest NATO country is obviously the United States, and with incoming President Trump’s positive opinion of Russia and Vladimir Putin, and his stated dislike of NATO, will he choose to stay out of the conflict and abandon NATO having far reaching consequences for other US defense treaties, or will he stand with NATO and against Putin? As a Soldier and Veteran, I hope and pray that a peaceful solution is found rather than history repeating itself. Only time will tell.