Does Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty Hold the Answer?

Aurel Sari, Associate Professor of Public International Law at the University of Exeter (United Kingdom)

More than 30 Turkish soldiers lost their lives in an air strike in northeastern Syria on Feb. 27. This represents the single largest combat loss sustained by Turkish troops since they intervened in the Syrian conflict four years ago.

[…] Although Turkey has struck Syrian government forces before, this latest incident demonstrates the very real risk of escalation that direct confrontation between Turkish and Syrian, and potentially Russian, forces presents. The geopolitical ramifications of such clashes are immense, not least due to Turkey’s membership in NATO. Indeed, speculation has been rife as to whether Turkey could request military assistance under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty and, if Ankara were to do so, how other allies should respond.

At least for now, such speculation is misplaced, for the simple reason that Article 5 is not applicable in the present circumstances.[…]

As a result, NATO was conceived as an organization with regional, rather than potentially universal, membership. As the Washington Paper of September 1948, the first detailed outline of what later became the North Atlantic Treaty, recognized: “a line must be drawn somewhere” when it came to the geographic scope of NATO and its activities. […]

Turkey’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty in 1952 necessitated a revision of Article 6. Turkey was not invited to join NATO as a founding member. At the time, the view prevailed that the country could not really be considered “as belonging to the Western European region.” Even as the strategic calculus swung in favor of admitting Turkey into NATO, these geographic reservations remained. The United States thus took the view that Article 6 in its original form covered only attacks on the “European area” of Turkey, but not attacks on Turkish territory that fell outside of Europe. Läs artikel