Let Cooler Heads Prevail Over Syria
A Russian warplane goes down near Turkey's border.
Sometimes the trite response is also the correct one. So the main thing to say about Turkey's downing of a Russian jet on Tuesday is simple: From here on, cooler heads must prevail.
Ideally, the incident can be a catalyst to rally world powers around a common strategy to end the war in Syria, and to reengage Russia's generals with those of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to ensure this kind of miscalculation doesn't happen again. French President Francois Hollande, who met today with U.S. President Barack Obama, should be clear on this point in his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin later this week.
Getting Putin on board for a coalition that includes Turkey won't be easy. In the meantime, there are more immediate and concrete steps to take to ensure that tensions don't escalate.
NATO's other 27 members should make it crystal clear to Turkey that they will not support the shooting down of Russian planes unless there is a clear intent to attack Turkey. And Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan must do everything he can to ensure that the Russian pilots, who ejected from their plane into rebel-held territory, are returned without condition to Russia. (At the moment, their fate remains unclear.) Putin, for his part, must tell his air force to give Turkey's borders a wide berth.
In the long term, all sides should be looking for ways to better communicate. It would be a good idea to reactivate the NATO-Russia Council, for example, which became defunct after Russia's annexation of Crimea. The council could be used to draw up a memorandum of understanding -- similar to one agreed upon by the U.S. and China -- to prevent military clashes and escalation.
Of course, getting agreement on a Syrian strategy among the various NATO members, on the one hand -- and, on the other, Russia -- will be … difficult. But it's not hard to see the outlines: The West, particularly the U.S., may have to give up its goal of a quick removal from power of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. And Putin will have to drop his opposition to safe zones for anti-Assad rebels. Everyone needs to realize that a post-Assad Syria is not only inevitable but also desirable, and that it may take a while to get there.
After Tuesday's brinkmanship, the risks of allowing the Syrian war to continue should be even clearer to the world's leaders. At the very least, they have to do better than shooting each other's jets out of the sky.
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