What Is NATO’s Article 5?

What Is NATO’s Article 5?

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Article 5 is the cornerstone of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and states that an attack on one member of NATO is an attack on all of its members. But despite its importance, NATO has only invoked Article 5 once in its history—in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

NATO and Article 5 were established in 1949 in the aftermath of World War II when communist movements supported by the Soviet Union posed a serious threat to democratically elected governments all over a devastated Europe. In 1948, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia overthrew that nation’s democratic government, while in Germany, Soviet authorities blockaded the Allied-controlled section of Berlin in an attempt to strengthen their position there.

The Berlin Airlift, when U.S. and British planes carried food, fuel and other vital supplies to the isolated citizens of West Berlin, marked an early victory for the West in the Cold War. And with the launch of the Marshall Plan, which provided economic aid to the war-ravaged countries of Europe, the United States had decisively abandoned its earlier policy of isolationism.

But at such a vulnerable time, it seemed clear that Europe required not just economic aid, but also military support, in order to counterbalance the power of the Soviet Union, prevent the revival of nationalist military movements (such as Nazism) and allow for political development along democratic lines.

VIDEO: The Formation of NATO

Tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union resulted in the formation of key alliances that would endure throughout the Cold War.

In April 1949, representatives from 12 nations—the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Luxembourg, Iceland, Italy and Portugal—gathered in Washington, D.C. to sign the North Atlantic Treaty.

“Men with courage and vision can still determine their own destiny,” President Harry S. Truman declared at the signing ceremony. “They can choose slavery or freedom—war or peace…If there is anything certain today, if there is anything inevitable in the future, it is the will of the people of the world for freedom and for peace.”

The treaty’s key provision was Article 5, which began: “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…” While this commitment to collective defense lay at the heart of NATO, it was left to the judgment of each member state to decide how exactly it would contribute.

On September 12, 2001, the day after the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and Pentagon, NATO invoked Article 5 for the first time in its history, committing its members to stand by the United States in its response to the attacks. In a four-paragraph resolution that passed unanimously, the organization reflected its understanding that the threats to global security had changed radically in the 52 years since the alliance was founded.

AUDIO: NATO Offers Aid to United States Following 9/11 Attacks

On October 2, 2001, NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson holds a press conference to discuss the events of September 11, and pledges support of the 18 NATO allies in the campaign against international terrorism.

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

In addition to participation 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 United States for seven months between 2001 and 2002, and Operation Active Endeavour, in which NATO naval forces were sent to perform counterterrorism activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. Operation Active Endeavour, which began in October 2001 and later expanded to the entire Mediterranean region, didn’t conclude until 2016.

Though Article 5 has only been officially invoked once, NATO has taken collective defensive measures in other situations, including deploying missiles on the border of Turkey and Syria in 2012. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the rise of ISIS in recent years led the organization to implement a huge increase in its collective defenses, including tripling the size of the NATO Response Force. In 2014, NATO member states agreed to try and spend 2 percent of their GDPs on defense, although most member states fail to meet this non-binding goal.

President Trump has been highly critical of NATO, calling it “obsolete” and criticizing other NATO members for not spending enough on defense. But he also affirmed U.S. commitment to Article 5 in June 2017, during a news conference with the president of Romania: “I’m committing the United States to Article 5, and certainly we are there to protect, and certainly that’s one of the reasons that I want people to make sure we have a very, very strong force by paying the kind of money necessary to have that force.”

Despite this commitment, Trump appeared to question U.S. responsibility to defend the newest of NATO’s 29 member states, under Article 5 during a Fox News interview in July 2018. In response to a question about whether US forces should respond if Montenegro were attacked, Trump said that the tiny nation’s “very aggressive people” might end up drawing NATO’s members into a war with Russia.

What is Article 5 of NATO’s Founding Treaty?

On 12 September 2001, NATO decided that, “if it is determined that the attack against the United States was directed from abroad, it shall be regarded as an action covered by Article 5 of the Washington Treaty”.

This was the first time in the Alliance's history that Article 5 was invoked.

Article 5 of the Washington 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.

NATO's Strategic Concept recognizes the risks to the Alliance posed by terrorism.

What Does Article 5 Mean?

Article 5 is at the basis of a fundamental principle of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It provides that if a NATO Ally is the victim of an armed attack, each and every other member of the Alliance will consider this act of violence as an armed attack against all members and will take the actions it deems necessary to assist the Ally attacked.

This is the principle of collective defense.

Article 5 and the Case of the Terrorist Attacks Against the United States

The United States has been the object of brutal terrorist attacks (9/11). It immediately consulted with the other members of the Alliance. The Alliance determined that the US had been the object of an armed attack. The Alliance therefore agreed that if it was determined that this attack was directed from abroad, it would be regarded as covered by Article 5. NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson, subsequently informed the Secretary-General of the United Nations of the Alliance's decision.

Article 5 has thus been invoked, but no determination has yet been made whether the attack against the United States was directed from abroad. If such a determination is made, each Ally will then consider what assistance it should provide. In practice, there will be consultations among the Allies. Any collective action by NATO will be decided by the North Atlantic Council. The United States can also carry out independent actions, consistent with its rights and obligations under the UN Charter.

The annexation of Crimea and the invasion of the Donbas region are symptomatic of the failure of NATO’s approach to Russia.

At the military level, similarly, Deni describes several initiatives that contributed to a partnership relationship with neighbouring Russia. Thus, in 1991, Russia was invited to join the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC), and in 1994, the Partnership for Peace. These economic efforts, while important, do not fall into the scope of NATO’s missions.

Military base at Perevalne during the 2014 Crimean crisis by Anton Holoborodk. (Wikimedia)

When seeking to assess whether the partnership strategy towards Russia worked, Deni’s conclusions are highly pessimistic. The annexation of Crimea and the invasion of the Donbas region are symptomatic of the failure of NATO’s approach to Russia. On these two occasions, Russia clearly violated many of the agreements and declaration signed with its “partner” NATO, including Article III of the 1975 Helsinki Declaration on the inviolability of frontiers, as well as Article IV on territorial integrity.

One may note the question raised by Deni as to whether the West is really at fault concerning such a failure. In an extensive literature on NATO and Russia, Deni brings an interesting perspective on this issue. According to Deni, Russia’s porous borders and its history—“Russia has experienced an invasion across the Northern European plain about once every thirty-three years on average”—have generated a widespread sense of insecurity within the population, promoting what Deni identifies as a zero-sum approach that prevents it from pursuing a partnership with another country.

Because of the cul-de-sac situation met by the NATO-Russia relationship, a new strategy is necessary according to Deni. Indefinitely recycling the same failing strategies will not help changing Russia. In the end, “Only the Russians can change Russia.”

Deni then explores the means available to NATO in order to implement the new strategy it needs. Territorial wars are expensive. Therefore, NATO would require many years of defense spending increases to return to a posture of strong territorial defense in the spirit of Article 5. Thus, studying NATO’s strategic refocusing to territorial defense and Article 5 implies assessing the organization’s financial strength and investments. Deni emphasizes what is probably the most discussed issue within NATO members: burden-sharing.

The longstanding US insistence on the need for European NATO members to get more involved financially—strongly reasserted by President Donald Trump—has led to some progress in trying to achieve the 2% target of GDP dedicated to defence spending. On June 8th, 2006, indeed, NATO members committed, during the Defence ministers meeting, to endeavour to meet the 2% goal. Although this was not a binding commitment, the target was renewed during the Wales Summit of 2014 and crystallizes many of the current discussions on burden-sharing within NATO. According to Deni, the 2% target does not cover the main challenges faced by NATO when pursuing its new strategy. Burden-sharing, for him, needs to be understood in context and requires taking into account the level of financial and investment cooperation between members. In this domain, as Deni indicates, initiatives like the Prague Summit of 2002, in which individual NATO members agreed—only politically—to the Prague Capabilities Commitments (PCC) intended to share the financial burden more equitably between the allies. Nevertheless, much effort still needs to be made. For Deni, the lack of financial involvement in NATO might be due to the fact that Russia, since the mid-2010s, is no longer perceived as the main threat by the allies. Thus, public opinion survey from the Pew Research center demonstrate that, in July 2015, as in 2016, the Islamic State is much more feared. Data from 2016 highlighted by Deni also shows that most Europeans do not favor hard military force to defeat Islamic extremism.

Deni demonstrated the need for a new NATO strategy towards Russia as well as the financial challenges facing the refocusing to Article 5. Lastly, the author explores the “how” question, i.e. what needs to be done in order to bring back collective defense.

Biden Describes NATO’s Article 5 As ‘Sacred Obligation’

Biden, speaking in Brussels upon arriving for a summit of NATO leaders on June 14, also said he wants Europe to know the United States is by its side.

“Article 5 is a sacred obligation,” Biden said, referring to the collective defense doctrine in NATO’s founding treaty. “I want all Europe to know that the United States is there.”

Biden’s attendance at the NATO summit is part of a European tour aimed at repairing relations and reassuring Washington’s transatlantic partners after four years of contentious relations under his predecessor, Donald Trump.

From Brussels, Biden is due to travel to Geneva for his first summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which will be held on June 16.

The U.S. president is also holding a private meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a time when relations between the two NATO members are particularly tense.

Having not met face to face since 2018 because of the coronavirus pandemic, leaders of the alliance’s member states have plenty of topics to deal with, including an ongoing pullout of troops from Afghanistan, relations with Russia and China, and defense spending.

Speaking to reporters on June 14 ahead of the summit, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said there is not a new Cold War with China. He also said China is neither an adversary nor enemy of NATO.

But Stoltenberg said NATO needs “to address together, as the alliance, the challenges that the rise of China poses to our security.”

Stoltenberg also said a final statement from the NATO summit would signal a new strategy toward Beijing.

“China is coming closer to us. We see them in cyberspace. We see China in Africa. But we also see China investing heavily in our own critical infrastructure,” he said.

During a four-year term that ended when Biden was inaugurated in January, former U.S. President Trump often denigrated NATO and even threatened once to pull out of the alliance.

But Biden is coming off a Group of Seven (G7) summit where he proclaimed that the United States “is back” and is reconnecting with its allies. Little drama and a lot of agreement is expected during the talks in the Belgian capital.

Russia is also one of the top items on the agenda of the NATO summit.

Since taking office in January, Biden has challenged Moscow over its role in Ukraine’s conflict, the Kremlin’s alleged meddling in the elections of other countries, and cyberattacks emanating from Russia.

But Biden has also said the United States wants a “stable, predictable” relationship that allows Moscow and Washington to work together on common issues like strategic stability, arms control, and climate change.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on arrival at the NATO summit on June 14 that Biden will take some “tough messages” to Putin this week.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on June 14 that challenges posed by Russia are among the topics being discussed by NATO leaders. She highlighted the need to respond to disinformation campaigns by the Russian state.

Merkel said leaders would also discuss ways to work with Georgia and Ukraine, two countries seeking closer ties with NATO as a bulwark against the threat posed by Russia on their borders and within their territory.

Ukraine is pressing for negotiations on joining NATO, citing Russia’s ongoing support for separatists in eastern Ukraine and its occupation of Crimea. NATO had promised in 2008 that there was a pathway for Ukraine to achieve membership in the alliance.

The Kremlin has warned NATO several times against admitting Ukraine.

Jamie Shea, the president of the Center for War Studies, was a NATO official for almost four decades before he left the organization in 2018.

Shea says that while there is a lot of important business for leaders to address on June 14, the key task for Biden is to simply reassert Washington’s commitment to the defense of NATO.

Specifically, he said NATO allies want Biden to do what Trump “always signally refused to do, which was to commit publicly to the Article 5 collective defense guarantee.”

Biden has already reversed a Trump decision to pull U.S. troops out of long-time ally Germany, while pressure remains for European allies to pay more towards their own security.

Having strengthened its capability to carry out its core mission of defending Europe following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, NATO’s new strategy outline will aim to be more ambitious.

Biden’s meeting with Erdogan comes as relations between the United States and Turkey have deteriorated in recent years.

Contentious issues include Ankara’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 weapons system, democratic backsliding in Turkey, and U.S. support for Kurdish-led forces in Syria that Ankara considers linked Kurdish militants who’ve fought a nearly four-decade war against the Turkish state.

Copyright (c)2021 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

The NATO Medal was first established in 1996 to recognize individuals who had served in the Implementation Force (IFOR) as part of Operation Joint Endeavor in Former Yugoslavia. A new ribbon was established in 1999 for participants in Operation Allied Force in Kosovo. As NATO operations became more common, different ribbons were established for each operation.

In early 2003 NATO settled on only three ribbon styles - one for the NATO Meritorious Service Medal, one for Article 5 operations, and one for non-Article 5 operations. Participation in specific operations is distinguished by bars worn on the ribbons with the name of the operation. This change affects those who began a tour of duty after 2 December 2002. As a result, an individual who began his or her tour of duty in one of the Balkan NATO operational areas after 2 December 2002 will qualify only for the Non-Article 5 medal for the Balkans.

United States Armed Forces regulations do not permit the wearing of operation bars on the NATO Medal ribbon. Instead, the recipient wears the ribbon without a bar attached to it. In the event that a US service member is entitled to more than one NATO medal, they wear the ribbon of the first NATO medal they received and the appropriate number of bronze service stars to indicate the number of NATO medals they have been awarded. For example - a service member who served in Former Yugoslavia, Kosovo and ISAF in Afghanistan would wear the Former Yugoslavia ribbon with two bronze service stars.

In contrast, the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom permit a service member to wear all the NATO medals they are entitled to, provided that the operation the NATO Medal is awarded for is not recognized by another medal awarded by the United Kingdom.

There are currently fourteen versions of the NATO Medal in existence, for service in the former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, two for service during Article 5 operations (Eagle Assist, Active Endeavour), and eight for Non-Article 5 NATO operations (International Security Assistance Force Afghanistan (ISAF), Resolute Support, Balkans, NATO Training Mission-Iraq (NTM-I), Africa, AMIS, OUP-Libya, and Pakistan). In addition, there are corresponding clasps for operations such as ISAF, Kosovo, the former Yugoslavia, NTM-I, and clasps designating Article 5, and Non-Article 5 designations. There is also a NATO Meritorious Service Medal, with a "Meritorious Service" clasp as well. However, U.S. military personnel do not wear the clasps on the NATO Medals, since the U.S. has its own devices that are used instead.

The NATO Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) was first awarded in 2003 to commend NATO staff whose personal initiative and dedication went beyond their duty to make a difference both to their colleagues, and to NATO as an organisation. The Medal is the personal award of the Secretary General of NATO, who signs each citation. Fewer than 50 medals are awarded each year and it remains the only significant award for individual personal effort for NATO staff this Medal can be awarded to military and civilian staff alike. When assessing nominations for the award, there are several criteria taken into consideration: the performance of acts of courage in difficult or dangerous circumstances showing exceptional leadership or personal example making an outstanding individual contribution to a NATO sponsored programme or activity or enduring particular hardship or deprivation in the interest of NATO. The NATO Meritorious Service Medal is now authorized for wear on U.S., Canadian and British military uniforms. [8]

For Canadian and U.S. military members, the NATO MSM is considered a foreign personal decoration and would be placed in the order of receipt within that category, followed by foreign unit awards, then non-U.S. service and campaign awards (such as the standard NATO Medal). This arrangement may lead to some U.S. military personnel with the NATO MSM separated by the United Nations Medal from the standard NATO Medal. As it is a personal foreign decoration, the NATO MSM is the only NATO medal that can be worn concurrently with the standard NATO Medal.

To differentiate between the versions of the NATO Medal, a different ribbon pattern scheme is used for each of the decorations. The NATO Medal for Yugoslavia service consists of a blue ribbon with two thin white stripes on each side, very similar in appearance to the United Nations Medal. The NATO Medal for Kosovo service appears as a mixed blue and white stripped ribbon, with white stripes on the side as well as a wide white central stripe. The NATO Medal for North Macedonia service appears as a blue and white mixed ribbon with four white stripes. The Article 5 NATO Medal for Operation Eagle Assist has a blue background with a thin central golden stripe surrounded by white stripes. The Article 5 Medal for Operation Active Endeavour has a blue background with two thin golden colored stripes surrounded by white stripes. The Non-Article 5 Medal for the Balkans operations consists of a blue background with a central silver stripe surrounded by white stripes. The Non-Article 5 Medal for both ISAF and NTM-I operations consists of a blue background with two silver stripes surrounded by white stripes.

The NATO Meritorious Service Medal consists of a blue background with gold, silver and three narrow white stripes on each outer most portion of the ribbon, and the medallion color is changed from bronze in appearance to a silver medallion for this medal only. All medals except North Macedonia's NATO Medal have corresponding campaign clasps, however some militaries (such as the United States) prohibit the wearing of the medal with a clasp and instead authorize service stars for wear on any NATO Medal while wearing any US military uniform (although the various clasps may be accepted from NATO and retained by the service member as a memento). [9]

For the U.S. military, a bronze service star indicates additional awards of the service and mission-related NATO Medals. As of May 2013, only the NATO MSM ribbon bar (as a personal foreign decoration) and the basic NATO ribbon (as a non-US service and campaign medal) may be worn for U.S. services (at least this is true for the U.S. Army). [9] The basic NATO Medal ribbon bar worn will be the first NATO campaign medal awarded, with subsequent campaigns indicated with a bronze service star. Most military services besides the U.S. will allow multiple service and mission-related NATO medal decorations to be worn simultaneously as they are considered separate awards.

NATO medals authorized for wear include the NATO Medal for Former Yugoslavia, the NATO Medal for Kosovo Service, both of the Article 5 Medals, the Non-Article 5 medals for the Balkans and Afghanistan (ISAF), The NATO Meritorious Service Medal and the North Macedonia NATO Medal and the Non-Article 5 Medal for service in Iraq, under the NTM-I. [10]

The reverse of the medals state "IN SERVICE OF PEACE AND FREEDOM" in English and French, as well as the full name of NATO in English and French. The ribbon bar and suspension bar are both chiefly blue, specifically Reflex Blue on the Pantone Matching System.

Terminated operations and missions

Counter-piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the Horn of Africa

Responding to a request from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, NATO naval forces provided escorts to UN World Food Programme (WFP) vessels transiting through the dangerous waters in the Gulf of Aden, where growing piracy threatened to undermine international humanitarian efforts in Africa. The NATO-led Operation Allied Provider was conducted from October to December 2008 and involved counter-piracy activities off the coast of Somalia.

Concurrently, in response to an urgent request from the African Union (AU), these same NATO naval forces escorted a vessel chartered by the AU carrying equipment for the Burundi contingent deployed to the AU Mission in Somalia.

From March to August 2009, NATO ran Operation Allied Protector, a counter-piracy operation, to improve the safety of commercial maritime routes and international navigation off the Horn of Africa. The force conducted surveillance tasks and provided protection to deter and suppress piracy and armed robbery, which are threatening sea lines of communication and economic interests.

Building on previous counter-piracy missions conducted by NATO, Operation Ocean Shield focused on at-sea counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa. Approved on 17 August 2009 by the North Atlantic Council, this operation contributed to international efforts to combat piracy in the area. It also offered, to regional states that requested it, assistance in developing their own capacity to combat piracy activities. There were no successful piracy attacks from May 2012 onwards, but even though Somalia-based piracy was suppressed, it had not been eliminated. During the periods without surface ships, maritime patrol aircraft continued to fly sorties, and links to situational awareness systems and counter-piracy partners remained in place. In this effort, the NATO Shipping Centre played a key role. Ocean Shield was terminated on 15 December 2016 after having achieved its objectives.

Operation Active Endeavour

Operation Active Endeavour (OAE) was initiated in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to deter, defend, disrupt and protect against terrorist activity in the Mediterranean. It helped to secure one of the busiest trade routes in the world and was among eight initiatives launched by the Alliance in 2001, in solidarity with the United States. It was an Article 5 operation, i.e., a collective defence operation that, initially only involved NATO member countries until it started accepting non-NATO countries' participation in 2004.

OAE hailed merchant vessels and boarded suspect ships, intervened to rescue civilians on stricken oil rigs and sinking ships and, generally, helped to improve perceptions of security. NATO ships also systematically carried out preparatory route surveys in "choke" points, as well as in important passages and harbours throughout the Mediterranean.

2010 was a turning point for OAE, when it shifted from a platform-based to a network-based operation, using a combination of on-call units and surge operations instead of deployed forces. In addition to tracking and controlling suspect vessels, it helped to build a picture of maritime activity in the Mediterranean by conducting routine information approaches to various vessels.

Active Endeavour was succeeded by Operation Sea Guardian in November 2016.

International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan

Established under the request of the Afghan authorities and a UN mandate in 2001, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was led by NATO from August 2003 to December 2014.

Its mission was to develop new Afghan security forces and enable Afghan authorities to provide effective security across the country in order to create an environment conducive to the functioning of democratic institutions and the establishment of the rule of law, with the aim to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists.

ISAF also contributed to reconstruction and development in Afghanistan. This was done primarily through multinational Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) – led by individual ISAF troop-contributing countries – securing areas in which reconstruction work could be conducted by national and international actors. PRTs also helped the Afghan authorities progressively strengthen the institutions required to fully establish good governance and the rule of law, as well as to promote human rights. The principal role of the PRTs in this respect was to build capacity, support the growth of governance structures and promote an environment in which governance can improve.

ISAF was one of the largest international crisis management operations ever, bringing together contributions from up to 51 different countries. By end 2014, the process of transitioning full security responsibility from ISAF troops to the Afghan army and police forces was completed and the ISAF mission came to a close. On 1 January 2015, a new NATO-led, non-combat mission, Resolute Support, to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces and institutions was launched.

NATO and Iraq

NATO conducted a relatively small but important support operation in Iraq from 2004 to 2011 that consisted of training, mentoring and assisting the Iraqi Security Forces. At the Istanbul Summit in June 2004, the Allies rose above their differences and agreed to be part of the international effort to help Iraq establish effective and accountable security forces. The outcome was the creation of the NATO Training Mission in Iraq (NTM-I). The NTM-I delivered its training, advice and mentoring support in a number of different settings. All NATO member countries contributed to the training effort either in or outside of Iraq, through financial contributions or donations of equipment. In parallel and reinforcing this initiative, NATO also worked with the Iraqi government on a structured cooperation framework to develop the Alliance's long-term relationship with Iraq.

NATO and Libya

Following the popular uprising against the Gadhafi regime in Benghazi, Libya, in February 2011, the UN Security Council adopted Resolutions 1970 and 1973 in support of the Libyan people, "condemning the gross and systematic violation of human rights". The resolutions introduced active measures including a no-fly zone, an arms embargo and the authorisation for member countries, acting as appropriate through regional organisations, to take "all necessary measures" to protect Libyan civilians.

Initially, NATO enforced the no-fly zone and then, on 31 March 2011, NATO took over sole command and control of all military operations for Libya. The NATO-led Operation Unified Protector had three distinct components:

  • the enforcement of an arms embargo on the high seas of the Mediterranean to prevent the transfer of arms, related material and mercenaries to Libya
  • the enforcement of a no-fly-zone in order to prevent any aircraft from bombing civilian targets and
  • air and naval strikes against those military forces involved in attacks or threats to attack Libyan civilians and civilian-populated areas.

The UN mandate was carried out to the letter and the operation was terminated on 31 October 2011 after having fulfilled its objectives.

Assisting the African Union in Darfur, Sudan

The African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) aimed to end violence and improve the humanitarian situation in a region that has been suffering from conflict since 2003. From June 2005 to 31 December 2007, NATO provided air transport for some 37,000 AMIS personnel, as well as trained and mentored over 250 AMIS officials. While NATO's support to this mission ended when AMIS was succeeded by the UN-AU Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), the Alliance immediately expressed its readiness to consider any request for support to the new peacekeeping mission.

Pakistan earthquake relief assistance

Just before the onset of the harsh Himalayan winter, a devastating earthquake hit Pakistan on 8 October 2005, killing an estimated 53,000 people, injuring 75,000 and making at least four million homeless. On 11 October, in response to a request from Pakistan, NATO assisted in the urgent relief effort, airlifting close to 3,500 tons of supplies and deploying engineers, medical units and specialist equipment. This was one of NATO's largest humanitarian relief initiatives, which came to an end on 1 February 2006.

Over time, the Alliance has helped to coordinate assistance to other countries hit by natural disasters, including Turkey, Ukraine and Portugal. It does this through its Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre.

Hurricane Katrina

After Hurricane Katrina struck the south of the United States on 29 August 2005, causing many fatalities and widespread damage and flooding, the US government requested food, medical and logistics supplies and assistance in moving these supplies to stricken areas. On 9 September 2005, the North Atlantic Council approved a military plan to assist the United States, which consisted of helping to coordinate the movement of urgently needed material and supporting humanitarian relief operations. During the operation (9 September-2 October), nine member countries provided 189 tons of material to the United States.

Protecting public events

In response to a request by the Greek government, NATO provided assistance to the Olympic and Paralympic Games held in Athens with Operation Distinguished Games from 18 June until 29 September 2004. NATO provided intelligence support, provision of chemical, biological radiological and nuclear (CBRN) defence assets and AWACS radar aircraft. This was the first operation in which non-Article 4 or 5 NATO assistance was provided within the borders of a member country.

In the same vein, NATO responded to a request made by the Latvian government for assistance in assuring the security of the Riga Summit in November 2006. NATO provided technical security, CBRN response capabilities, air and sea policing, improvised explosive device (IED) detections, communications and information systems, and medical evacuation support.

Second Gulf Conflict

During the second Gulf Conflict, NATO deployed NATO AWACS radar aircraft and air defence batteries to enhance the defence of Turkey in an operation called Display Deterrence. This operation started on 20 February 2003 and lasted until 16 April 2003. The AWACS aircraft flew 100 missions with a total of 950 flying hours.

NATO in North Macedonia

Responding to a request from the Government in Skopje to help mitigate rising ethnic tension, NATO implemented three successive operations in the country (at the time, North Macedonia was a NATO partner it became a member in March 2020). The operations were conducted from August 2001 to March 2003.

First, Operation Essential Harvest disarmed ethnic Albanian groups operating throughout the country.

The follow-on Operation Amber Fox provided protection for international monitors overseeing the implementation of the peace plan.

Finally, Operation Allied Harmony was launched in December 2002 to provide advisory elements to assist the government in ensuring stability throughout the country.

These operations demonstrated the strong inter-institutional cooperation between NATO, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. In April 2002, NATO Headquarters Skopje was created to advise on military aspects of security sector reform it was downsized in 2012, becoming the NATO Liaison Office (NLO) Skopje, which in turn was formally closed one year after the country's accession to NATO, in March 2021.

NATO's first counter-terrorism operation

On 4 October 2001, once it had been determined that the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington DC had come from abroad, NATO agreed on a package of eight measures to support the United States. On the request of the United States, the Alliance launched its first-ever counter-terrorism operation – Operation Eagle Assist - from mid-October 2001 to mid-May 2002.

It consisted of seven NATO AWACS radar aircraft that helped patrol the skies over the United States in total 830 crew members from 13 NATO countries flew over 360 sorties. This was the first time that NATO military assets were deployed in support of an Article 5 operation.

NATO in Bosnia and Herzegovina

With the break-up of Yugoslavia, violent conflict started in Bosnia and Herzegovina in April 1992. The Alliance responded as early as summer 1992 when it enforced the UN arms embargo on weapons in the Adriatic Sea (in cooperation with the Western European Union from 1993) and enforced a no-fly-zone declared by the UN Security Council. It was during the monitoring of the no-fly-zone that NATO engaged in the first combat operations in its history by shooting down four Bosnian Serb fighter-bombers conducting a bombing mission on 28 February 1994.

In August 1995, to compel an end to Serb-led violence in the country, UN peacekeepers requested NATO airstrikes. Operation Deadeye began on 30 August against Bosnian Serb air forces, but failed to result in Bosnian Serb compliance with the UN's demands to withdraw. This led to Operation Deliberate Force, which targeted Bosnian Serb command and control installations and ammunition facilities. This NATO air campaign was a key factor in bringing the Serbs to the negotiating table and ending the war in Bosnia.

With the signing of the Dayton Peace Accord in December 1995, NATO immediately deployed a UN-mandated Implementation Force (IFOR) comprising some 60,000 troops. This operation (Operation Joint Endeavour) was followed in December 1996 by the deployment of a 32,000-strong Stabilisation Force (SFOR).

In light of the improved security situation, NATO brought its peace-support operation to a conclusion in December 2004 and the European Union deployed a new force called Operation Althea. The Alliance has maintained a military headquarters in the country to carry out a number of specific tasks related, in particular, to assisting the government in reforming its defence structures.

NATO, Article 5, and Cyberspace: An Overview of NATO’s Cyber Security Strategy

In June 2011, NATO adopted its first ever cyber defence policy. Its comprehensive nature, ranging from fortifying the networks of NATO members to research and training in cyber defence, meant that the application of the policy would be a time-consuming process.

Two years later, it is finally possible to analyse the effectiveness of the policy. Triggered by the cyberattacks on Estonia in 2007. Estonia, a NATO member since 2004, suffered cyber-attacks against various websites, including those belonging to banks, ministries, newspapers and the Estonian parliament. The attacks took place during a disagreement with Russia about the location of a Soviet-era grave marker. Despite no evidence of official Russian government involvement, the complexity and sophistication of the attacks were enough to compel the NATO defence ministers to meet in Brussels, and more importantly, to develop the Cooperative Cyber Defence Center of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia to further build NATO’s cyberspace research and training capabilities.

According to the NATO Policy on Cyber Defence, the organization aims to “focus on prevention, resilience and defence of critical cyber assets to NATO and Allies.” NATO’s defensive position in cyberspace, while a natural extension of its founding principles, also highlights the difficulty for international organizations of actually developing a viable cyberspace policy. Given the clandestine nature of most cyber operations, NATO’s institutional structure and mission statement prevents it from mounting anything other than defensive cyber operations. At first this may seem intuitive considering NATO is by definition a defensive treaty, but a look at post-Cold War NATO operations reveals a tendency towards offensive operations.

By contrast, the inherent ambiguities in cyberspace make it more difficult to bring international law to bear. This is further complicated by a differing set of norms that exist in cyberspace when compared to the physical world. As it stands, NATO remains in a defensive posture and pursues a form of strategic deterrence in cyberspace by developing information systems that are too expensive to attack. However, there is little recourse if an attack does indeed take place. For example, while Estonia called for aggressive NATO action against the perpetrators of the cyberattacks, the organization could do little more than investigate the event.

Legal Difficulties

NATO’s functions are ultimately impaired in cyberspace because of the difficulty in applying international law in cyberspace. The most salient question regarding NATO’s cyberspace strategy is naturally the question of Article 5, and whether the organization is capable of invoking it in response to a major cyberattack. While NATO confirmed that a cyberattack on a member state will always result in the activation of Article 4 of the treaty -a consultation with other members on how to respond – the organization has remained purposefully ambiguous on what threshold exists for the activation of Article 5.

The Article is primarily concerned with the idea of an armed attack, specifically that an attack on one member is considered an attack on all members of the organization. However, an “armed attack” is a specific legal concept, and counterintuitively, not all attacks that are armed, constitute an “armed attack.” To summarize, an “armed attack” as outlined in Article 51 of the UN Charter, which Article 5 of the NATO treaty relies upon, is considered to be a particularly vicious use of force. Unsurprisingly, there is general disagreement on what constitutes an armed attack. For example, on 12 October 2000, the USS Cole was bombed by Al-Qaeda while harboured and refuelling in the Yemeni port of Aden. The attack ultimately killed 17 sailors and further injured another 39. However, the United States did not consider this an armed attack as outlined by Article 51. Part of the explanation given, is that the USS Cole bombing constituted a frontier attack, and thus did not meet the threshold provided by Article 51. By extension, if we look at the 9/11 attacks, which were much larger both in term of scale and effects than the Cole bombing, and specifically targeted the US heartland, it becomes easier to see how the provisions in Article 51 are supposed to function.

Applying the principle of Article 51 to cyberspace is a little more difficult however, since most cyberattacks do not constitute an armed attack. The problem arises from the temporary consequences of most cyberattacks. Most attacks will temporarily disrupt a network or service, a problem that is easy enough to fix without lasting consequence. Even if cyberattacks that result in lasting physical damage are analyzed, there is still no consistent way to rank what could constitute an armed attack. For example, while the Stuxnet worm did destroy centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear facility, the Iranian government did not seek recourse through the UN. As a result, the kind of attacks that could cross the Article 51 threshold are dangerous indeed. They must either be a part of a wider attack on the target nation, which would undoubtedly result in the activation of Article 5, or the cyberattacks must severely undermine national security by directly targeting vital military or civilian systems, such as nuclear missile launch facilities or airports.

Returning to the issue of the Estonian attacks, it is clear why NATO could do little more than research the attacks and formulate future policy to accommodate aggressive cyberattacks rather than responding directly to them. The nature of cyberspace defies most applications of Article 5 and thus reduces NATO to a support element for the national systems of its member states. The difficulties of identifying attackers coupled with the often temporary nature of cyberattacks present a compelling reason for NATO’s adoption of its current strategy of cyber deterrence.

What Are NATO's Articles 4 And 5?

Following Syria's shooting down of a Turkish jet last week, Ankara on June 26 invoked Article 4 of the NATO founding treaty, which calls for consultations.

There had been some speculation that Ankara might ask NATO to invoke Article 5, which states that any armed attack against one member of the alliance is an attack against them all. But NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said this was not discussed.

What do NATO Articles 4 and 5 say?

Turkey on June 26 invoked Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which is the founding document of the NATO military alliance.

Under Article 4, any member state can convene a meeting of NATO members to "consult" when it feels its independence or security are threatened. In practice, it has rarely been used and sends a strong political symbol to the greater world that NATO is concerned about a particular situation.

Article 5 is known as the "one-for-all and all-for-one" article, the keystone of NATO as an organization. It states that an "armed attack" against one member is an attack against all and sets in motion the possibility of collective self-defense.

However, it only commits members to "assist the party or parties so attacked" and to take "such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force&hellip." It does not automatically result in military action.

How would a decision on invoking them be made? Must all NATO members agree or is it a majority or consensus situation?

In theory, Articles 4 and 5 can only be invoked at the request of a NATO member. However, Article 5 has only been invoked once -- immediately following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States.

And former NATO Assistant Secretary-General Edgar Buckley, who was head of planning and operations from 1999 until 2003, has written that the decision to invoke the article was made collectively by member states in Brussels, apparently without a request from any individual member.

Article 5 was not invoked in other cases when it theoretically might have -- such as the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, the 1968 Pueblo incident, or the 1982 Falklands War -- because it was not requested.

All major NATO decisions are made by consensus, so any invocation of Article 5 would require the consent of all 28 members.

It is often heard that NATO security guarantees might apply more to some members than others. Turkey is a longtime NATO member, but has always been on the periphery. Is there pressure for NATO to respond positively in this case in order to demonstrate that all NATO members are equal?

Definitely. NATO has been struggling for years to redefine itself in the post-Cold War era and to enlarge without diluting its security guarantees. The issue came up as recently as the Chicago NATO summit last month.

Turkey invoked Article 4 in 2003 during the Iraq War and NATO responded by improving security along Turkey's border with Iraq. But the decision was difficult, says NATO Watch Director Ian Davis, because some alliance members opposed military action in Iraq in the first place.

"There was some tension within NATO about what should be done -- and what actually happened at that stage, NATO did undertake a number of precautionary measures on behalf of Turkey. They deployed AWAC surveillance aircraft and they placed missile defenses on Turkish territory -- Patriot batteries," Davis says.

"But just for a couple of months in the early part of 2003, but even doing that was quite controversial within NATO. So I think that some of that would be obviously reflected in the meeting that they had at NATO this morning."

In the present case, NATO issued a statement following the June 26 consultations saying that "the security of the alliance is indivisible." "We stand together with Turkey in the spirit of strong solidarity," the statement concluded. It also emphasized the alliance is following the situation "on the southeastern border of NATO" with "great concern."

What is the relationship between Article 5 and the UN Charter?

Article 5 states that all actions taken by the alliance must be immediately reported to the UN Security Council and that "such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security."

Moreover, Article 7 of the North Atlantic Treaty says the treaty in no way affects the rights and obligations members undertook in signing the UN Charter or the "primary responsibility" of the security council for maintaining peace.

NATO expands meaning of Article 5 in its treaty to include threats from space

NATO leaders on Monday expanded the use of their all for one, one for all, mutual defence clause to include a collective response to attacks in space. Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty states that an attack on any one of the 30 allies will be considered an attack on them all. Until now, it’s only applied to more traditional military attacks on land, sea, or in the air, and more recently in cyberspace.

In a summit statement, the leaders said they “consider that attacks to, from, or within space” could be a challenge to NATO that threatens “national and Euro-Atlantic prosperity, security, and stability, and could be as harmful to modern societies as a conventional attack.”

Leaders pose during a family picture at the NATO headquarters where the 30-nation alliance hopes to reaffirm its unity and discuss increasingly tense relations with China and Russia, as the organization pulls its troops out after 18 years in Afghanistan, Monday June, 14, 2021. (Jacques Witt, Pool via AP)

“Such attacks could lead to the invocation of Article 5. A decision as to when such attacks would lead to the invocation of Article 5 would be taken by the North Atlantic Council on a case-by-case basis,” they said.

Around 2,000 satellites orbit the earth, over half operated by NATO countries, ensuring everything from mobile phone and banking services to weather forecasts. Military commanders rely on some of them to navigate, communicate, share intelligence and detect missile launches.

In December 2019, NATO leaders declared space to be the alliance’s “fifth domain” of operations, after land, sea, air and cyberspace. Many member countries are concerned about what they say is increasingly aggressive behavior in space by China and Russia.

Around 80 countries have satellites, and private companies are moving in, too. In the 1980s, just a fraction of NATO’s communications was via satellite. Today, it’s at least 40%. During the Cold War, NATO had more than 20 stations, but new technologies mean the world’s biggest security organization can double its coverage with a fifth of that number.

NATO’s collective defense clause has only been activated once, when the members rallied behind the United States following the 11 September 2001, attacks.

Former President Donald Trump raised deep concern among US allies, notably those bordering Russia like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, when he suggested that he might not rally to their side if they didn’t boost their defense budgets.

President Joe Biden has been trying to reassure them since taking office and has used the summit, his first at NATO, as a formal opportunity to underline America’s commitment to its European allies and Canada.

Biden said Monday that Article 5 is “a sacred obligation” among allies. “I just want all of Europe to know that the United States is there,” he said. “The United States is there.”

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A more sombre monument?

In this time of transition to a new geopolitical order, it is not difficult to imagine what another (presumably sombre) monument (in Berlin? Brussels? Or . ) would look like, showing the run-up, step by step, to the moment when suddenly everything changed.

19 June 2016: German Foreign Minister denounces NATO exercise in Eastern European member states as ‘a show of force’
15 January 2017: Prospective US President Trump calls NATO ‘obsolete’
25 May 2017: In front of NATO headquarters in Brussels, Trump decides not to confirm endorsement of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, the guarantee of mutual assistance
15 July 2018: Shortly before meeting with Russian President Putin, Trump calls the European Union an ‘enemy’
18 July 2018: A few days later, he casts doubt on whether the United States would be ready to provide military assistance to its small NATO-ally Montenegro in case of emergency – because it could lead to World War III
14 January 2019: The New York Times newspaper reports that Trump has discussed the possibility of the United States withdrawing from NATO with colleagues

This article is the English translation of Als de geloofwaardigheid weg is. De NAVO in tijden van Trump, published in the book Nulpunt 1945 (Zero Point 1945, Ons Erfdeel vzw, 2020).

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