The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Zachary Hubbard

August 29, 2013

Zachary Hubbard | Syria fighting could determine NATO’s future

— Following the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, pundits began questioning the necessity of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Following World War II, the United States, Canada and several western European nations formed the alliance to counter the Russian-led Soviet Union’s rise to global superpower status. With the Soviets gone, even some member nations questioned whether the large, expensive alliance remained viable.

NATO has since spent more than 20 years trying to redefine itself, meanwhile growing from 16 to 28 members.

Growth was fueled by the addition of several former Soviet satellite states plus the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, which the Soviets occupied in 1940.

Fearful of a resurgent Russia, these former Soviet serfs flocked toward the perceived security of NATO.

NATO’s Cold War mission was to defend western Europe from invasion by Soviet ground forces, while maintaining control of the air and sea lanes connecting continental Europe with the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. Its ground defenses centered on fixed positions along the alliance’s eastern borders. These stretched from northern Norway to the Mediterranean Sea. The defenses’ southern anchor was Turkey.

Turkey’s position in the alliance was unique on several counts. It was the alliance’s only Muslim nation. Its geographic position on NATO’s southern flank dominated the eastern third of the Mediterranean Sea and controlled the Bosporus, the narrow entrance to the Black Sea, which was vital to the Soviet Navy.

Lastly, its borders shared with Iran, Iraq and Syria made Turkey NATO’s gateway to the Middle East.   

After the Cold War, NATO’s military command structure and mission changed significantly. During the early 1990s, the alliance began shifting its military strategy from heavy ground forces fighting from fixed defensive positions in central Europe to lighter, more mobile forces capable of quickly deploying to regional areas along and even outside of NATO’s defined political borders in so-called “out of area” operations.

The shift was driven by NATO’s need to maintain energy security and regional stability. The alliance began to court former Soviet republics in the oil- and gas-rich Caspian Sea basin, much to the chagrin of the Russians, who seek hegemony in the area.

NATO began conducting out-of-area operations in 1995, starting with a 10-year peace enforcement operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a former republic in the Yugo-slavia Federation. Inter-ethnic fighting there among Croats, Serbs and Bosniacs (Bosnian Muslims) was part of a larger civil war across most of Yugoslavia.

The Bosnia-Herzegovina situation threatened to destabilize all of Europe and had already inundated western Europe with thousands of mostly Muslim refugees.

NATO engaged in a brief war with Serbia in 1999 to help secure the independence of Kosovo. An independent Muslim nation today, Kosovo was formerly a semi-autonomous region of southern Serbia. Kosovo’s population consists of mainly ethnic Albanian Muslims.

In October 2001, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the United States invaded Afghanistan. In October 2003, NATO assumed control of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. While many NATO countries have participated in ISAF operations, the United States has provided the bulk of NATO forces, with the U.K., Germany, Italy, Canada, France and Turkey also playing key roles. 

With a decade spent in Bosnia-Herzegovina and another in Afghanistan, some NATO members have lost the national will to engage in continued, costly out-of-area operations. Unfortunately, the situation in Syria has raised the specter of yet another one.

Turkey remains vital to security on NATO’s southern flank. Unfortunately, it shares a 300-mile border with Syria, where factional fighting has already begun to spill over.

There have been terrorist bombings and other violence in Lebanon and Turkey that are directly attributable to the fighting in Syria. Turkey is awash with Syrian refugees.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees representative in Ankara recently indicated the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey could surpass a million by the end of this year.

For several years, the regime of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has struggled to maintain a balance between moderate, secular political forces and rising radical Islamist factions. Over the years, the NATO-backed Turkish military has insured stability in the country, but its hold is growing weaker as radical Islamist pressure from within the ranks rises. An internal shift to an Islamist-dominated regime would turn Turkey and NATO upside down.  

Recent allegations concerning the Syrian ruling regime’s use of chemical weapons against resistance forces has elevated concerns in NATO. France and Turkey are calling for action, although they have not specifically indicated what they would have the alliance do. 

Events in Turkey could send shockwaves throughout the alliance. The NATO charter states that an attack against one alliance member is considered an attack against all. If Syrian aggression spreads into Turkey on a scale larger than what has occurred thus far, NATO might be compelled to act or risk fracturing the alliance.

Were Turkey to become engulfed in a war, the fighting could spread across the region, including into the neighboring NATO nations of Bulgaria and Greece.

If NATO became engaged in a war on its southern flank, there is no predicting the reactions of Russia or of Iran and other Middle Eastern nations, but no good could possibly come of it.   

Former Johnstown resident Zachary Hubbard is a retired U.S. Army officer. He served as a senior NATO intelligence officer in Germany, Italy and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Zachary Hubbard
  • Zachary Hubbard NEW Zachary Hubbard | Some actions defy explanation

    Like a poorly delivered joke that leaves a comedian’s audience waiting for the punch line, there are scores of factors about American society that make me moan, “I don’t get it.” Sometimes it seems as if we Americans are losing our minds. I see evidence of this every day.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Zachary Hubbard NEW Zachary Hubbard | Obama should study Powell Doctrine

    During his tenure as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Colin Powell elaborated on eight questions he believed should be considered before committing U.S. military forces to war.

    June 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Zachary Hubbard NEW Zachary Hubbard | EPA taking jobs, hope from coal country

    I just returned from a visit to my birthplace in Harlan County, Kentucky, which lies in the southeast corner of the state.

    May 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Zachary Hubbard NEW Zachary Hubbard | Random thoughts on politics, our money

    Lately, the news has contained more baloney than usual. Let’s start with Ukraine, where I left off last time.

    April 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Zachary Hubbard NEW Zachary Hubbard | Obama's diplomacy pickle: Crimea crisis

    With all of the political pundits piling on about the current crisis in the Ukraine, I’m puzzled that I have yet to hear anyone seriously discuss Russia’s Near Abroad policy.

    March 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • Zachary Hubbard | Federal contracting system broken, out of control

    I’ve been feeling surly. It started several weeks ago when Congress passed legislation making large cuts in the annual cost-of-living pay adjustments for active and retired military personnel.

    February 24, 2014

  • Zachary Hubbard NEW Zachary Hubbard | It was so cold ...

    Late last night I got a phone call from a friend stationed at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. He told me that since early morning, the snow had been coming down steadily.

    January 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Zachary Hubbard NEW Zachary Hubbard | Throwing veterans under the bus

    Americans love honoring their military veterans. They cheer loudly for troops returning home from combat zones in far away countries; they hold veterans’ parades and decorate veterans’ graves; and they walk up to veterans and thank them for their service. Unfortunately, most of the honors end there.

    December 18, 2013 1 Photo

  • Zachary Hubbard NEW Zachary Hubbard | Republican Party is in need of a facelift

    Thirty-nine House Democrats facing re-election in 2014 recently jumped ship and sided with Republicans to vote for changes in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

    November 25, 2013 1 Photo

  • Zachary Hubbard NEW Zachary Hubbard | For military brats, Germany was a magical place

    A long chapter in U.S. history is closing. The once behemoth U.S. military forces in Germany are slowly withdrawing. In April, the last Army tanks were shipped home, marking the first time in almost
    70 years there were no American tanks on German soil. While most Americans would consider this a political development, for some of us, it’s quite personal.

    November 5, 2013 1 Photo


What is the biggest key to reducing gun violence in Johnstown?

Tackling the area's drug problem.
Controlling folks moving into city housing.
Monitoring folks in treatment centers and halfway houses.
Tougher sentencing by the court system.
More police on the streets.

     View Results
Order Photos

Photo Slideshow

House Ads