Article 5 of the NATO Charter. One for all, and all without one?


Geert Vanden Wijngaert / AP

The antics of the “Gallic rooster” have prompted Germany to take a closer look at the NATO Charter’s fundamental provision on collective defense.

Berlin is in turmoil. The fuss started after President Emmanuel Macron threatened to send regular French troops to Ukraine. Not some «soldiers of fortune», but fighters of the NATO country, who will inevitably find themselves under the strikes of the Russian Armed Forces. It is declared that such a contingent, regardless of belonging to a flag or an alliance, will automatically become a legitimate target for Russia.

The Germans, it seems, do not want to go to war with Russia because of the ambitions of the «Gallic rooster». Therefore, at the parliamentary level, debates on the notorious Article 5 of the NATO Charter have been activated.

Let me remind you that this provision of the NATO treaty, adopted on April 4, 1949 in Washington, states that in order to protect the freedom, common heritage and civilization of their peoples, 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».

So what about the Germans? The Expert Council of the Bundestag concluded that the rule cannot be invoked in a situation involving the introduction of troops into Ukraine by one of the bloc’s countries and a subsequent Russian strike against them.

«If parts of the troops of a NATO member state, according to the order of collective self-defense (Article 51 of the UN Charter) take part in the current conflict in favor of Ukraine and in the course of hostilities <…> are attacked by the other party to the conflict, this will not be the basis for the application of Article 5 of the NATO treaty», — summarized the scientific department of the German parliament.

It is noted that a collective response would only be possible if the clash took place on the territory of the alliance countries. NATO, it is said, is a defense, not an offensive bloc. According to the Die Zeit newspaper, experts have concluded that France’s actions as part of an independent operation, not coordinated with the alliance command, would not automatically lead to the involvement of other allies in the conflict.

At the same time, the foreign ministers of the «Weimar Triangle» — Annalena Baerbock (Germany), Stephane Sejourne (France) and Radoslaw Sikorski (Poland) — reaffirmed a fundamental principle of the North Atlantic Alliance.

On the occasion of NATO’s 75th anniversary on April 3, they published a collective article in Politico magazine (an American publication, by the way) in which they wrote: «An attack on one of us is considered an attack on all of us. One for all and all for one. Together we will defend every inch of NATO territory and stand united against any future Russian aggression».

There is a lot of confusion around this very 5th article. In particular, a recent Polish story comes to mind. During his party’s failed election campaign to the Sejm, the gray cardinal, conservative Jaroslaw Kaczynski, dared to harshly criticize NATO. According to him, the liberal Donald Tusk, who served as prime minister from 2007 to September 2014, made an inexcusable mistake by allowing Brussels to include in the concept of defense of the alliance’s eastern flank a provision that in case of aggression from the east, a part of Polish territory could be temporarily ceded.

In fact, such a possibility is really being worked out by NATO strategists. In their opinion, it would be advisable to activate Article 5 on collective defense (in its broad interpretation!) only after the Polish army has withdrawn to the line along the Vistula River, which runs from south to north along the eastern border. One should probably take a closer look at whether the possible aggression is a temporary incident or a full-scale offensive after all…. Kaczyński then threatened that in the event of military action Poland would not retreat. It intends to “defend itself on its own” and will launch an attack on its own, without waiting for help from the alliance.

In fact, we are witnessing a cautious (so far!) transformation of Article 5, the attractiveness of which was the basis for the aspiration of Young Europeans, descendants of Vikings and other Baltic peoples to join the alliance. They hoped that they, the weak, would be collectively protected.

Illusions are crumbling. The Bundestag (at the political behest of Chancellor Scholz and his cabinet!) has already decided to examine the legality of the provisions of the NATO Charter. A precedent has been set about the very possibility of interpreting the bloc’s main document.

By the way, in the comments of the Western press on this occasion, attention is drawn not to the unconditional implementation of Article 5, but to that part of its wording, which suggests «the implementation of actions that each country considers necessary in the event of an attack on an ally». You don’t have to send your own soldiers into battle immediately. Indeed, it is possible to help with money, weapons. Or, at the worst, basic sympathy…