by Anne-Marie Le Gloannec
Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques (Sciences Po)
October 13, 2014
When Russia’s creeping invasion and swift annexation of Crimea was followed by a Russian-propelled ‘hybrid’ war in eastern Ukraine, somein the Atlantic community thought that the Kremlin’s actions would reinvigorate NATO by refocusing it on the mutual defence commitment enshrined in article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. A few months into the Ukraine crisis, however, uncertainty surrounds the future of the Alliance: how would it react if Russia were to pursue the kind of insidious subversion it has spurred in Ukraine in one or more of the Baltic states, which are all NATO allies? Would NATO go to war to defend Riga or Tallinn?Further south, in the Middle East, the Alliance could find itself engulfed in a war against the Islamic State (IS), if the latter were to attack Turkey.
Article 5 was conceived to deter and defeat a conventional military invasion – although there was, of course, contingency planning to fight the Spetsnaz, the Soviet special forces. But article 5 was certainly not crafted as an instrument to hamper or stop subversion in Eastern Europe or extreme violence in the Middle East, which are both destroying countries from within. Beyond the issue of whether Washington, Europe and Turkey have been adequately responding to the crises, there is growing concern about whether Article 5 is suited for the 21st century.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the chaos the Kremlin has sown by various means in eastern Ukraine, be it through infiltration of special forces, deployment of troops, delivery of weapons and massive disinformation, brought the allies closer together. Within the European Union, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been instrumental in this effort. She has kept the door open to dialogue, yet she has called for increasingly tougher sanctions, disillusioned as she isby Russian President Vladimir Putin’s repeatedly broken promises and lies. The difference between Eastern European countries, understandably the most concerned about Russia’s aggressive steps, and the bigger Western European states traditionally more inclined to seek a constructive relationship with Moscow, narrowed down and allowed for more robust sanctions targeting not only individuals but important parts of Russia’s technology and financial services markets. Some governments, particularly in Southern Europe, are not happy with these developments due to their strong economic relations with Russia, and there are concerns across the EU about the impact of the sanctions on Russia on the EU itself. Yet, on the whole, the Union has coalesced in its loss of faith in Vladimir Putin.
NATO, however, may not fare as well. Ukraine is not covered by article 5 and, as such, NATO does not have any commitment binding it to the defence of Ukraine. However, Russia is tearing apart agreements from both the Cold War and post-Cold War eras: the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, among others, forbade violations of borders, and the 1994 Budapest agreement bound Ukraine to relinquish its Soviet-era nuclear weapons to Russia in exchange for the latter’s pledge to respect its independence and territorial integrity. The Ukrainian scenario raises many concerns in the Baltic states, where representatives of the Russian minorities, supported by the Russian Foreign ministry’s special representative for human rights, are denouncing their alleged plight and draw comparisons with the measures taken in “defence of Russian minorities” in eastern Ukraine. At the NATO summit in Wales in September 2014, the Allies agreed to set up a rapid reaction force, which is not however stationed in Poland, as Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski had requested. Six hundred troops have been deployed to Poland and the Baltic states for NATO exercises till the end of the year. During the Cold War, American and other troops were deployed along the entire border to face a massive invasion by the Red Army. What about some “chaos” coming from “within” the Baltic states, some hybrid ferments below the war-line? Would the allies be willing to risk a war for an invasion without a name, for “induced” subversion? The question is very much open to debate,in spite of US President Barack Obama’s and Vice-President Joe Biden’s visits to Poland and the Baltic states. It is all the more so as Western troops are overstretched.
The same question regarding the actual meaning of article 5 concerns Turkey. Would attacks from ISon Turkey trigger Article 5? The Turkish Parliament has voted to allow military intervention in Iraq and then in Syria, although President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shunned taking any action so far – for many good and bad reasons: because of the hostages, liberated now; because of an immensely ambiguous policy, letting jihadists slip through Turkey’s borders, yet calling them a fearsome enemy; because of possible retaliation on the part of Syrian President Bashar Assad; and because of the looming spectre of an independent Kurdistan spawning Iraq, Syria and… Turkey. For all these reasons, the Turkish government finds itself in a conundrum that hampers action. Yet, it may fear havoc, from IS, from Assad, and from Kurdish pro-independence forces in Syria and Turkey.
American, Dutch and German military assets are present in Turkey under the NATO umbrella. It is nevertheless worth pondering the usefulness of article 5. Not only much has changed since the heyday of the Cold War when Turkey was the Western forefront in the Eastern Mediterranean, and relations between Ankara and Washington have deteriorated. But also, primarily, neither the American administration, nor the Turkish government seem anxious to put boots on a mined ground. It is hence to be feared that, in both Eastern Europe and Middle East,article 5 will not be of much help and that the chaos which is engulfing these regions, in different ways, will spread and reach the West, directly or indirectly.