There is an indecent amount of huffing and puffing by NATO members as they posture and strut futilely in the face of Putin’s Ukrainian adventure. The latest NATO gathering in Wales has produced a new 3,000 rapid response force and a reiteration that an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all NATO members and will be met by all NATO members. That is the treaty obligation as laid down in articles 5 and 6 of the NATO Treaty
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 recognised 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.
Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security .
Article 6 (1)
For the purpose of Article 5, an armed attack on one or more of the Parties is deemed to include an armed 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 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.
Does anyone honestly believe that NATO would engage in armed conflict with a nuclear-armed Russian state? Can anyone imagine the USA risking nuclear war if Russia attacks European territory? Unless the answer to those questions is an unqualified yes then NATO is a dead letter as far as European security is concerned. For myself, even during the Cold War I never believed that the USA would risk nuclear war unless its own territory was attacked and that Russia (then in the guise of the Soviet Union) would, however belligerent their rhetoric , always pull back from provoking nuclear war, as happened over the Cuban missile crisis.
But let us suppose that the threat of nuclear war was ignored. Would NATO members, and most particularly the USA, be prepared to engage in a conventional war to, for example, eject Russia from the Ukraine and Crimea? That would also seem improbable, not least because most European NATO members lack the military capacity to join in such action and US action without meaningful support from European members would be very unlikely in the present political atmosphere in America.
How should the West deal with Russia? It should recognise that Russia has (1) its natural sphere of influence which includes the Ukraine and (2) reasonable fears of the Ukraine becoming a Western vassal state through membership of the EU and NATO. The senior conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh is one of the few MPs to recognise these facts, viz:
“My personal view is that we should balance any moves to the West, either to the EU or Nato, with convincing the Russians that we have no desire to take Ukraine out of Russia’s traditional orbit.
“The fact is that for all of its history, bar a couple of years in the 1920s, and since 1990, Ukraine has been part of Russia. It’s not just power politics, to the average Russian, the source of their country – the Kievan Rus’ – comes from Kiev in the middle of Ukraine.
“They consider that Ukraine is as much a part of the Russian soul as we consider Canterbury or Kent is part of our soul. So this isn’t some power grab by the Russians to take over the rest of Europe. I don’t approve of Putin sending in tanks, but whatever we say, this is the facts on the ground.”
“Putin is not going to give up, and therefore let’s try and accommodate and deal with him, and reassure him that we’re not trying to grab Ukraine.”
In addition to the Russian problem, NATO’s open-ended commitment for members to come to the assistance of any of the twenty eight current members (see below) is a standing danger . For example, suppose Turkey was attacked by Iran. The NATO member states would be obligated to fight Iran. Nor is it clear what would constitute an armed attack. Articles 5 and 6 do not stipulate an attack has to be from a nation state or alliance of states. Would an attack by ISIS on a NATO member qualify? There would seem to be nothing to disallow such an attack as qualifying under the NATO treaty obligations.
Then truth is NATO is worst than useless: it is a standing invitation to war. European nations need to attend to their own security. The simplest way of doing that is to scrap treaty obligations such as NATO’s and, at least in the case of the larger states, to build their defence around nuclear weapons and have conventional armed forces designed to defend national territories not forces to act in the interests of liberal internationalism.
Current NATO members
CZECH REPUBLIC (1999)
THE UNITED KINGDOM (1949)
THE UNITED STATES (1949)