By: Karolos Gadis, former Greek Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina
and Deputy-Ambassador in Ankara and Washington D.C.
Introduction. There are few academic texts and analysis on the North Atlantic Treaty, Washington 1949, and even fewer on article 5 defining NATO’s “collective defense”.
Obviously, in reason.
Article 5 has a clear structure and a clear formulation: “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against all…..”.
Nowhere in article 5, nor in the whole text of Washington Treaty, is any limitation that an “armed attack” must come from outside NATO area, for the “attacked member” to invoke article 5. Nevertheless, in this point, the divergence between maximalists and minimalists starts.
Some older NATO statements and published reports, minimize in a discrete way, article’s 5 activations, as “it is understood” that only when the “armed attack” comes outside the Treaty area, this can take place.
UK – Spain dispute over Gibraltar. In April 2017 Michael Howard, former Conservative Party Leader (2003-2005), after praising Margaret Thatcher’s military intervention in Falklands islands, 1982, stated that “I am absolutely certain that our current Prime Minister would show the same resolve in standing by the people of Gibraltar”.
In parallel, Defense Secretary Michael Fallon underscored that “the UK would go all the way to protect Gibraltar”, while Foreign Minister Boris Johnson stated with emphasis that “UK’s support to Gibraltar will remain implacable and rock-like”.
Not a single Tory Minister or a Member of the Parliament objected to Howard’s words nor disassociated themselves from his proposals.
In the same period former Royal Navy commander Rear-Admiral Chris Parry told the Telegraph that “We could cripple Spain in the medium term and I think the Americans would probably support us too”.
In this context of “open gates for war”, bellicose interviews and statements compete between them, not only in the UK but also in Spain, as VICE Spain English edition Portal title confirms:”No, Britain wouldn’t necessarily win a war with Spain”.
Furthermore, political analysts observe that “If the UK decides to declare a war against Spain, article 5 of North Atlantic Treaty would mandate it, to declare a war against itself!”, assuming that regardless the wit, the “other Allies” would stand by the state which receives an “armed attack”.
In order to counter-balance Theresa May’s demands after Brexit, the European Union on its negotiating position stipulates that “any agreement it reached with the UK will not apply to Gibraltar, without the agreement of Spain”
If for UK and Spain, both EU and NATO members, the European Union can act as a “firefighter”, it’s not the same case with Turkey, a NATO yes, but not an EU member!
U.S. – Turkey tension within NATO. At this moment Turkey’s relations with NATO are at the lowest point ever. Erdogan himself, does not dissimulate his detestation for the “West” in general, including NATO, EU, U.S., using statements such as “the international alliance under U.S. umbrella supports terrorists in Syria” or “After the warrant of arrest to my security men, I have to say that the United States is not a civilized country”, or such like.
In 2006, the book of Andrew Kohut and Bruce Stokes “America Against the World – How we are different and why we are disliked”, presented Turkey as a country having one of the higher degrees of anti-Americanism, 77% of Turkish people having a negative opinion. The most important: The authors observe that “a great percentage of Turkish people believe that “Americans rightly are killed in Iraq”, and this comes from a NATO ally!”.
According to Pew Research Center recent polls, 72% of Turkish people consider the U.S.A. as a “threat” to their national security, while the percentage was still 44% in 2013.
During last century, the United States has lavished upon Turkey an unprecedented amount of political and military support and gave in international level its sign of Friendship for Turkey, in such an extent, that in some cases they run the risk to be “misinterpreted” by its Allies. Turkey’s reply to this “special treatment” was to “close” Incirlik military base in the crucial moment of operation on Iraq, 2003, with a cost of thousands of lives of the Allies.
In an interview with CBS, 2016, Erdogan stated on the prospects of re-evaluation of Turkey ‘s relations with the United States and NATO: “We are not considering this right now. We are moving along with NATO as we have always done”.
In early September 2017, a NATO spokesman stated that “Turkey did not inform NATO on the S-400 missiles purchase”, adding that “It is puzzling from a NATO perspective that this ally wants to develop offensive missile capabilities. In present circumstances, no NATO member uses S-400 missiles. For NATO the essential is the possibility of common use of the weapon systems which will be purchased, by the Allies. With this system, Turkey will be in an advanced military position against all its neighboring countries, but S-400 are in a kind “incompatible” for co-operation with NATO weapon systems”.
If the missiles will be installed close to the Aegean Sea, then it will be clear that their potential use will not be “defensive” but “offensive”, since Greece never threatened Turkey’s territorial integrity.
Many analysts observe that Turkey could cover, at least to a very great extent, its defense needs within the already existing NATO systems. Turkey rejected this possibility, obviously, because it would be “obliged” to share the data of these systems with Israel!
In July 2017, the Turkish State News Agency Anadolu has divulged the locations of 10 U.S. military bases and outposts in northern Syria in a war zone, while the U.S. led an operation against the Islamic State! Yes, a NATO member working against another (leading) NATO member state!
In September 2017, the German military air-force in Incirlik air-base, moved in a new air base in Jordan (in Al Ashrak area, close to the borders with Syria), on a decision of the German government, after a protracted denial of Turkish government to allow Members of Bundestag to pay visit to the German troops.
In November 2017, after a mistake in a NATO exercise depicting Erdogan as “enemy”, Erdogan did not accept the “excuse” of NATO officials, and his chief Counselor Yalcin Topcu advanced publicly the idea that “Turkey must review its participation to NATO”.
In the light of the latter reference, Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund Washington think tank, underlined that “When our major European ally pulls its forces out of Incirlik because it couldn’t be guaranteed access, it should warn you what happened to Germany, could happen to us”.
It is an open secret that Turkey is among the five NATO countries to have U.S. nukes on its soil. Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists said that the U.S. keeps about 50 B-61 nuclear gravity bombs at Turkey’s Incirlik base, each with a maximum yield of 170 kilotons, or 10 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Many people in K Street and beyond, started thinking that “there are many arguments for pulling U.S. nuclear weapons out of Turkey before something goes wrong”.
Is the problem between U.S. and Turkey only “tension”?
Political analysts criticize Turkey’s operations in Afrin despite U.S. warning. Applying a quite opposite to the U.S. interests policy in Syria, Turkey does everything to back bellicose statements such as Nihat Ali Ozcan’s one (in February), analyst in the Ankara-based Economic Policy Research Foundation: “the risk of a friendly fire between Turkish and U.S. troops can’t be dismissed unless one of the sides back down”.
If this statement comes from an analyst, having an “academic and journalistic color”, Deputy Prime Minister’s Bekir Bozdag one, “Although my government wants to avoid confrontation, U.S. should warn its cooperatives in the field not to face off with Turkey!” is the political confirmation of an intra-NATO members confrontation in deployment, never seen before.
Therefore, we are witnesses of a clear development for an “armed attack” from a NATO member against another NATO member!
Turkey’s threats against Greece despite NATO Alliance. The most important in this context is to be crystal clear that this case is not a “dispute” between two NATO members, but a permanent live Turkish threat, a chronicle of an “armed attack” foretold!
In December 2017, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim focused on Suleiman Demirel’s statements, 1998, that “the grey points in the Aegean Sea include 132 islands or islets, in the sense that they have not been delimited by the Lausanne Treaty”.
On this basis, Foreign Minister Melvut Cavusoglu stated recently that “There is no alternative: Either diplomatic dialogue, either International Court, or military intervention (!), but we shall “take” the islands” (sic).
However, CHP President and major opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu statements, are even more worrying: “In 2019, when we shall be in power, I shall “take” 18 islands from Greece! In a past period, Greeks advanced also for Cyprus,“Come and take it”. Which was the reply of the unforgettable Ecevit? He went and he “took“ it”.
Erdogan as often as possible underlines that “Lausanne Treaty has to be changed”.
Lausanne Treaty stipulates, inter alia, that “Turkey hereby recognizes and accepts the frontiers of Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Romania, the Serb-Croat-Slovene State and the Czechoslovak State….”
It confirms “The renunciation by Turkey of all rights and titles over Egypt and over Soudan…”, as well as that “Turkey hereby recognizes the definite abolition of all rights and privileges whatsoever which she enjoyed in Libya…..”, in addition to the rights of Tunisian, Libyan and Moroccans nationals established in Turkey.
Last but not least, the Treaty stipulates that “Turkey hereby recognizes the annexation of Cyprus proclaimed by the British Government…..”. In fact, this formulation does not leave any margin of legal and political basis, for future rights of Turkey in Cyprus.
International Law Experts, including Turkish ones, coincide on the ascertainment that “An international peace treaty does not end unless it is foreseen an expiration date or a new war between the parties has been declared”.
The irony, in this case, is that the historic Greek leader at that time Eleftherios Venizelos developed a true and frank friendship with Kemal Ataturk, and has proposed him “for the distinguished honor of the Nobel Peace Prize”.
In this juncture, Erdogan’s will to create a “provoked conflict” in the Aegean, is a “common secret” in the media, especially after his daily verbal insults and threats against Greece and Greek people, as well as violations of territorial waters and airspace.
U.S. Ambassador in Athens Geoffrey Pyatt was crystal clear: “He is, in fact, afraid of an ‘accident’ or, a provoked conflict”.
Collective Defense and article 5 of Washington Treaty. When we say “collective” is necessary to include the active participation of all NATO members, in every case, in every phase, in all circumstances? Analysts’ majority reply negatively. I join them. It is obvious that any contrary approach is practically impossible and counter-productive.
Although the literal article’s 5 interpretation leads to a “one for all, all for one” application, it is to be noted that even in the lonely case when article 5 has been activated after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, in operation field were not “all”. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage’s words in NATO Council were “I didn’t come here to ask for anything”, while Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz’s speech was interpreted by many as “we’ll call you if we need you.”
Nevertheless, the whole assumption was that “this was not less than a “collective defense”.
Nowadays, NATO faces more than a purely and easily definable “external threat” as in Cold War period.
On this ground, many analysts advance that the Alliance is probably more important in the 21st century than in the previous one, facing, in addition to conventional war, multiple, complex threats such as terrorism, hybrid or cyber threats and much more.
In 1974, during the carnation revolution in Portugal, many articles in the Press, at that time, focused on the “eventuality” for NATO or the U.S. to intervene – in a NATO country – because of the overall situation in full tension.
Gibraltar is another live example, where two NATO countries do not exclude a war between them, despite all relevant diplomatic statements seeking for a “political solution”.
Turkish Officials’ statements, as above, do not exclude a “friendly confrontation”(!) with the U.S. army in Syria, Turkey, and the U.S. being both of them NATO members!
Nevertheless, the most flagrant case is a NATO’s member, Turkey’s behavior described as “my proposal is a threat” or “my reply is war and aggression” against another NATO member, Greece. Even if Greece could ignore NATO’s possibilities for a “collective defense”, and followed Turkey into a war, it is obvious that NATO’s dysfunctionality would be instrumental not only for Greece or Turkey but first and foremost for itself.
Therefore, nowadays, nobody could hide behind his finger, and nobody could plausibly advance that “in order for the collective defense to be activated, the threat or the aggression must come (only)from outside NATO area”.
Neither in legal terms interpretation nor in any political reasoning.
Have you seen someone watching his house to be burning and doing nothing because the fire does not come from outside but from inside?
When cyber attacks or hybrid warfare come from terrorists, organized crime elements or individual hackers inside NATO area, the Alliance rightly and legally reacts.
The same goes for any terrorist act. Zero tolerance for terrorism is self-evident.
In this framework, NATO has established Centers of Excellence in the Baltics, one for Cyber Warfare and another for Strategic Communications.
The International Court of Justice, in its Oil Platforms decision, 2003, stated that “an accumulation of minor events could be tantamount to an armed attack”.
To the same direction, I add a fragment from a recent (2016) NATO Report: “The question of small-scale aggressions – whether by cyber, sabotage, border incidents, etc – which would not qualify as armed attacks goes to the core of the general question of deterrence and more specifically of what could be called the “red line problem”, for which solutions exist”.
The same report gives also the answer as on NATO’s possibility to act for deterrence of aggression against non Alliance members: NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow stated in September 2014 about Ukraine, “I don’t see any red line that, if crossed, would lead to military engagement”. There is, therefore, a possibility to cross this red line.
Most recent analysis focus on “NATO’s global range and international role”. They put aside, however, NATO’s internal cohesion. The great deal for NATO is to overpass legal or legalistic approaches and, looking at the mirror, reply frankly to the question: Does it really wish to pay tribute to its international role and extend? Nobody up to now has reached such a success, without having succeeded to arrange first its “internal affairs”.