There's More to NATO Than Article Five

Lithuanian and Portuguese forces are teamed up with U.S. Marines with the Black Sea Rotational Force for Exercise Saber Strike. Flickr/U.S. Department of Defense

The rest of the treaty is just as important.

This can be a particularly dangerous state of affairs moving forward, when the willingness of NATO members to stand by their Article 5 commitment is being questioned and debates over whether members are “free riding” become more rancorous. Point 34 of the communiqué of the recently concluded Warsaw summit proclaims that the corner has been turned, that most NATO states have stopped further declines in their defense budgets, and that, collectively, the alliance now spends more on defense in 2016 than in 2009 (masking the fact that the modest increase comes after years of major cuts). This is why former national security advisor (and former NATO commander) Gen. Jim Jones and former undersecretary of state Nicholas Burns called upon the legislatures of every NATO member-state to write the 2 percent commitment into binding domestic legislation, to transform the Wales pledge into a legal commitment. So far, this has not happened.

If Article 3 suggests an obligation of all NATO states in terms of capabilities and resources that they bring to the alliance as a condition of membership, Article 8 also places caveats on the foreign policies of its members in terms of when they can call on the alliance for help. This little-cited provision in the Washington Treaty commits every member “not to enter into any international engagement in conflict with this Treaty.” Commitments or agreements made by NATO member states, therefore, that involve them in security matters that lie outside the purview of the NATO guarantees of collective self-defense in the North Atlantic zone (since Article 6 explicitly excludes the territories of NATO members outside this region from Article 5 guarantees) can impact the applicability of the Article 5 guarantees. This question was addressed when Turkey, a NATO member, signed the Baghdad Pact in 1955 to become a member of CENTO. In carrying out its obligations under CENTO, Turkey could not expect that other NATO members would automatically come to its aid. (Echoes of this were sounded in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War when Turkey asked for consultations under Article 4 of the Washington Treaty. Some NATO members took the position that if Turkey were attacked by Iraq after supporting the U.S. invasion and allowing its territory to be used as a jumping-off point for U.S. forces, it could not expect automatic support under Article 5.)

In short, Article 8 was designed to prevent individual NATO member-states from offering actual or implied security guarantees to other, non-NATO members and therefore expecting that NATO as a whole would be bound to honor those guarantees.

In this election campaign, there has been talk about revising the Washington Treaty. But given the almost excessive focus on Article 5, perhaps, before going back to the drawing board, the allies ought to have a frank conversation about the rest of the treaty.

Nikolas K. Gvosdev, a contributing editor at the National Interest, is the incoming Jerome E. Levy Chair of Economic Geography and National Security at the U.S. Naval War College. He is also a nonresidential senior fellow in the Eurasia Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. The views expressed are his own.

Image: Lithuanian and Portuguese forces are teamed up with U.S. Marines with the Black Sea Rotational Force for Exercise Saber Strike. Flickr/U.S. Department of Defense