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Oleg Burunov
Oleg Burunov
Oleg Burunov is a Moscow-based correspondent who has been working at Sputnik since 2015 and specialises in foreign affairs and defence.

What is NATO Treaty’s Article 5?

NATO Article 5 news

The US has said that use of the NATO Treaty’s Article 5 is not under discussion, after a recent incident in which Belarusian helicopters allegedly crossed the Polish border amid Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine. What is Article 5 and how does it pertain to Kiev’s push to join the alliance? Sputnik explores.

What Happened on the Poland-Belarus Border?

A Polish media outlet claimed earlier this week that two Belarusian helicopters purportedly crossed the border near the village of Bialowieza at a very low altitude, which made it difficult for radar systems to detect the ‘copters.

The Polish Foreign Ministry confirmed the airspace violation, calling it another “element in escalating the tension at the Polish-Belarusian border.” The Belarusian Ministry of Defense, in turn, argued that the accusations were “far-fetched” and invented by Warsaw to justify building up Polish forces on the border.

US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller, for his part, said that Washington “expects all countries to respect the sovereign air space of other countries, and we will continue to take NATO security very seriously.”

“I am not going to get ahead of any announcements that we or any other NATO country might make. There is a process. There is a process that is in place for NATO countries to invoke Article 5 [of the April 4, 1949, NATO Treaty]. We are not at that stage at this point,” he added.

What is Article 5 All About?

Article 5 stipulates that if a NATO ally falls victim to an armed attack, other NATO countries will consider this an armed attack against all members of the alliance and will take the actions they deem necessary to assist their ally.

“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area,” Article 5 reads.

According to the article, “Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the [UN] Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.”

Are Articles 5 and 6 Connected?

Actually, Article 5 is complemented by Article 6, which reads:

“For the purpose of Article 5, an armed attack on one or more of the Parties is deemed to include” an attack

on the territory of any of the Parties in Europe or North America, on the Algerian Departments of France 2, on the territory of Turkiye or on the Islands under the jurisdiction of any of the Parties in the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer;

on the forces, vessels, or aircraft of any of the Parties, when in or over these territories or any other area in Europe in which occupation forces of any of the Parties were stationed on the date when the Treaty entered into force or the Mediterranean Sea or the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer.”

How Often Has Article 5 Been Used?

Article 5 has been invoked only once in NATO history, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US, paving the way for the alliance’s largest-ever military operation in Afghanistan.
On September 12, 2001, the day after the attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, NATO invoked the article, committing its members to stand by the US in its retaliation, in line with a four-paragraph resolution that was passed unanimously.

On October 2, 2001, then-NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson pledged support of the 18 NATO allies in the US’ anti-terror campaign.

”The commitment to collective self-defense embodied in the Washington Treaty was entered into in circumstances very different from those that exist now. But it remains no less valid and no less essential today, in a world subject to the scourge of international terrorism,” Robertson said in a statement at the time.

Aside from taking part in the war in Afghanistan, NATO’s response to the 9/11 attacks under Article 5 included Operation Eagle Assist, in which NATO aircraft helped patrol the skies over the US for seven months between 2001 and 2002.

Another relevant move was the beginning of Operation Active Endeavour, which saw NATO naval forces being sent to conduct counterterrorism activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. The operation, which kicked off in October 2001 and was later expanded to the entire Mediterranean region, wrapped up in 2016.

NATO allies have also taken collective defense measures in other situations, including joining the US’ efforts to fight Daesh in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan as well as help keep the peace in the Balkans. This prompted the alliance to implement a significant increase in its collective defenses, including tripling the size of the NATO Response Force.

How is Article 5 Related to Ukraine’s NATO Bid?

A US media outlet recently pointed out that NATO’s “common defense pledge” in the form of Article 5 “stands in the way” of Kiev’s admission to NATO amid the ongoing Russian special military operation in Ukraine.

According to the outlet, Article 5’s “common defense guarantee is the reason previously neutral Finland and Sweden sought to join NATO and why Ukraine and other countries in Europe also want in.”

However, Ukraine, is currently in the middle of a conflict with Russia, and its admission to the bloc “would oblige all 31 [NATO] member countries to spring to its defense militarily, potentially igniting a wider war with a nuclear-armed country,” the outlet added, referring to a hypothetical scenario of Ukraine becoming a member of the alliance in the nearest future.

This was followed by Ukrainian authorities starting to discuss security guarantees with the US, which G7 countries pledged to Kiev after the NATO summit that took place in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius on July 11-12. They agreed that each and every G7 member would clinch a deal with Kiev to provide it with security guarantees and help it strengthen its armed forces.

Head of Ukraine’s presidential office Andrey Yermak, in turn, described security guarantees for Kiev as “specific long-term commitments”, or “clearly developed formats and support mechanisms.” He said that such guarantees “will remain in place until Ukraine obtains NATO membership.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has, meanwhile, warned that the G7’s plans are “potentially very dangerous” and could be regarded as an encroachment on Russia’s security, something that would prompt Moscow to respond in kind. Peskov stressed that the provision of “any security guarantees to Ukraine” means that the G7 countries “actually ignore the international principle of the indivisibility of security.”

Before launching the special operation, Russia tried to avoid a conflict with Ukraine by offering its own peace guarantees to NATO, amid an increase in Western countries’ military supplies to Kiev. Russian President Vladimir Putin said last year that the West had basically ignored the Kremlin’s proposals on regional security, adding that the US failed to satisfy three key proposals put forward by Russia.

“We did not see our three key demands adequately considered: stopping NATO’s expansion, refusing to use strike weapons systems near Russian borders, and returning the bloc’s military infrastructure in Europe to how it was in 1997,” Putin stressed at the time.

This came after Moscow received the West’s written response to the regional security-related proposals that Russia rolled out in December 2021. The proposals, in particular, included Moscow’s stance on ending the existing tensions with NATO, also underlining that the alliance should drop the idea of accepting Ukraine in its ranks.

During the Vilnius summit, NATO leaders agreed on a package of three elements to bring Ukraine closer to the alliance. The first element includes creating an assistance program for Ukraine that will make transition to NATO standards possible. The second element is the establishment of the NATO-Ukraine Council, and the third one involves the cancellation of the membership action plan for Ukraine, which will shorten Kiev’s accession process. However, no official invitation was extended by the alliance to Ukraine, which many say will unlikely join NATO in the immediate future.

Earlier this year, President Putin noted that “it seems that Kiev’s Western allies had really decided to wage war with Russia till the last Ukrainian,” something that clearly indicates the West’s possible goal of seeing Ukraine in NATO.

Image credit: Art Guzman

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