02 October 2019

One for all and all for one?

Sergiu Medar

US is committed, following its National Security Strategy, to join all NATO’s collective defence missions, according to Article 5 from the 1949 Washington Treaty, on North Atlantic’s Organization foundation. In order to anticipate allies’ participation to collective defence, the US Defence Department has asked the RAND Corporation a study about European NATO states’ support to a collective defence mission in case of a hypothetical Russian attack against Baltic state.

Image source: Mediafax

Applying the Article 4 and Article 5 of the Washington Treaty

In 2019, the US Defence Department has asked the political-military analyses company, RAND, a study wherein to analyze the availability of NATO states to accomplish their Article 5 obligation of the Washington Treaty, by which the North Atlantic Alliance was founded. Asking for such a study reveals that the US would want to know, in case of an attack by Russia on a Baltic state, how available the European states would be to support NATO’s status, which is subjected to a kinetical or non-kinetical attacks and what would their methods be.

Founded back in 1949, the North Atlantic Organization was created to ensure the collective defence of its members against a Soviet Union attack. After URSS’s collapse, NATO started to watch over the “issued borders” of the alliance (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo) or “out of area” (Afghanistan, Libya).

Russia’s foreign policy’s aggressiveness increase, continued by the brutal intervention and Crimea’s annexation, as well as the military actions in South Ukraine have pushed the NATO planners to think that it is necessary to come with some defence and deterrence plans in case if Russia would attack one of the NATO members states, especially the Baltic States.

From this point of view, the “Early planning” (contingency), besides the crisis response planning, is an important element for operations’ planning. Made by the allied military structures, the Contingency plans are dedicated to preparing Alliance’s reaction to combat a future risk against its security, whether it is an Article 5 or other type of article, in order to ease the Crisis Response Operations planning.

The collective defence is expressed by Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which mentions that each member state must know that an attack against a NATO member state is “an attack on all” Alliance’s states and that it must support the attacked state with those “actions that are necessary, including the use of armed forces”. From an insightful analysis of the text, one can notice that the participation with armed forces is not mandatory, meaning that in case of an armed attack, not all member states should participate to support the attacked states with fighting forces. The support offered following the art. 5 can be a political, economic or military one. The Article 5 is applied only if an objective on the territory of a NATO member state is attacked, then meaning that it is applied only on Europe and North America’s territory.

The attacked state calls on the application of article 5 through its North Atlantic Council representative. Getting the consensus of all NATO member states on situation’s evaluation is validating the activation of the Contingency plans or the creation of a coalition of willing. For both situations, the member states can be part of these actions with military participation.

Article five was, so far, invoked only in a single situation, by the US, when on 11 September 2001, there were executed two terrorist attacks against its territory. They got to NAC’s consensus and, therefore, the NATO AWACS airplanes (Airborne Early Warning and Control Systems), executed more than 360 missions on US’s sky. More than 830 aircrafts and personnel from 13 states were part of these missions.

It is noteworthy that article 4, however, foresees that NATO states will “consult when each of the states thinks its territorial integrity, political independency or security is threatened”.

Article 4 was invoked by Turkey when it felt threatened by the Syria conflict escalation. As a NATO response, US, Germany, Holland and Spain have dislocated Patriot batteries on Turkey’s territory. When in 2014 Russia attacked Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania have invoked the article 4 and, as consequence, NATO has executed air police mission flights, have dislocated the NATO Maritime Groups, no. 1 in the Baltic Sea and have placed the NATO Fight Group in Poland and its personnel in the Baltic States.

The RAND study, after analyzing the reaction of NATO states to a possible attack made by Russia on a NATO state, mentions that these states can participate, in case of calling on the article 5 and the approval in NAC of a NATO fightback in NAC, with a political, economic or military element, to the response against the aggressor. The political component involves supporting the NATO participation across NAC, the vote in the international groups favoring the attacked states and others. The economic component involves the delivery of nonrefundable military equipment or financial goods. The military component does not necessarily mean the fighting participation of military forces, but also their dislocation in the threatened country as a deterrence method.

The issue here is whether the NATO member states would want to be part of a collective defence mission or within a coalition of willing or not.

Are the NATO allies participating to collective defence?

The public support of NATO states’ participation to a military intervention to support another NATO threatened or aggressed state differs from country to country. In a poll made by the Pew International Foundation in 2017, it concluded that 60% of the Germans, 55% of the British and 54% of the Spanish are opposing their army’s participation to defend another NATO ally. The way the public opinion is supporting or not such a process also depends on the history and culture of that specific nation. There is a huge difference between how the Europeans and the Americans see this intervention. According to a poll made by the German Marshall Fund, from 2013, only 31% of the Europeans are supporting a participation to a military intervention to defend an ally, meanwhile in the US there is a 68% percentage. Where there is also an economic interest, the percentages change. Questioned, in 2014, if their country should intervene militarily in Iran to stop the nuclear program, 70% of the French, 67% of the Portuguese, 59% of the Spanish and 51% of the Germans said yes. The other European states are opposing such process.

The public support of the military participation in the NATO collective defence missions of an attacked NATO states depends on action’s purpose. In the US, the popular support is bigger when it comes to a nation which defends its territory, and it is smaller when they are trying to change the domestic policy of a certain state. The public support changes suddenly when the context of the action changes as well. Although currently, in case of a hypothetic Russian attack on a NATO state the participation is not that well regarded by the public eye, if the allied troops dislocated in Eastern Europe would be attacked by Russia, the military participation of the NATO troops would be strongly supported.

In each NATO state, the elites, through their position, can influence the public opinion in terms of the military participation to a NATO action. Germany’s participation to the International Security Assistance Force mission (ISAF) in Afghanistan, although it was not a NATO mission to be generated by Article 5, could have been possible, thanks to the intervention of the German elites to convince the public opinion on the necessity of military involvement.

Political elites can influence the military participation to NATO missions both positively and negatively. In Holland, for example, the political campaign of the Labor Party has increased people’s skepticism on the participation to NATO’s mission from Afghanistan and, hereof, Holland’s withdrawal from ISAF.

Governments’ decisions to be part of NATO’s military operations are strongly influenced by the electoral campaign. The states wherein the governmental party has the parliamentary majority are more willing to make pro NATO decisions than if they would not have this political advantage. Also, close to the electoral campaigns it is harder to get people’s consensus for the participation to NATO’s missions.

The decisions of the German chancellor, Gerhard Schroder to oppose the US entry in Iraq was a consequence of his party’s fragile position, the Social Democratic Party, in the opinion polls from the electoral campaign.

In Spain, the regime People Party, which supported the coalition led by US in Iraq and had to face a bomb terrorist attack on Spain’s territory, has lost the election favoring the Socialist Party, which developed an anti-war electoral campaign. Therefore, they decided to withdraw Spain from the Iraq coalition.

When there is a consensus between the political elites on state’s military participation in a NATO mission, then there is no need for a strong popular support. For example, European states’ participation to ISAF’s mission in Afghanistan did not have a convincing public support. However, many European states decided to join it. It is also important to keep this political consensus to support this participation even when there are human loses at stake.

The extreme right parties, as well as the extreme left ones, although minority, with their anti-NATO position, are creating a supplementary pressure on the European regime parties, in the decision making process to support Alliance’s missions. The Alternative for Germany party, which has 90 positions in Germany’s Parliament (12,6), is supporting the removal of any allied troops from the German territory. In France, the National Assembly party, led by Marine le Pen, is supporting France’s withdrawal from NATO. It is no coincidence that such actions are politically and financially supported by Russia.

Joining NATO’s missions with military forces depends also on the constitutional decision making process for the participation of the national army to such missions. For example, in France, the decision is all on the president, meanwhile in Germany it belongs to the parliament, which, with its current structures, we can hardly believe that it would act to NATO’s advantage.

The RAND study, which makes this analysis, is revealing that for the European states this collective defence objective is not automatically or instantly accomplished, but it needs a careful, yet quick process. The NATO states intervention is, however, quicker when the state that is about to interfere has its own troops on the territory of the threatened states and which become the targets of the possible attack.

Therefore, Romania and Poland’s strategic partnership with the US is becoming more important than ever. Repeatedly, through its representatives, but also directly, president Trump has stated that US would support Romania is ever attacked. US’s direct and outspoken involvement with military support for its allies is entering the American people culture and it was proved many times.

Translated by Andreea Soare