The North Atlantic Treaty of 1949 and its Relevance in 2017

Friday, 22 September 2017


Eugene Kogan **

It should be remembered and emphasised that NATO and its founding principles are not just Article 5. Moreover, it is not only the benchmark that two percent of the GDP should be allocated for the needs of the Alliance, as the US Presidents and Secretaries of Defense have consistently said to the rest of the NATO allies. On the contrary, Article 3 of the North Atlantic Treaty (also known as the Washington Treaty) clearly states that “the Parties, separately and jointly, by means of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid, will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.”

The analysis below highlights the relevant articles and discusses their relevance in 2017.

US President Harry S. Truman signed the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington DC on 4 April 1949. Photo: NATO

Reading the 14 North Atlantic Treaty Articles makes it possible to detect the atmosphere of solidarity of the like-minded partners in 1949 with the emphasis on the issue of sharing values within the North Atlantic area. At that time, the founding fathers prepared another Treaty, which did not mention the points concerning the shared values, as it was difficult to foresee what may happen in the future. For instance, the Treaty did not cover the expulsion of a member state for the alliance, not any penalties for misbehaviour of whichever member of the alliance regarding the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.

We need to remember that the founding principles were considered sacrosanct and the adversary, the Soviet Union, was clearly concretised.

The Treaty can only be terminated by the member state itself “after [it] has been in force for twenty years” (Article 13). However, the Treaty remains ambiguous as to if and when the Party to the Treaty decides to leave the military structure voluntarily while remaining a part of the political structure of

NATO, for example, like France in 1966 and Greece in 1974. In other words, the Party to the Treaty has just partly terminated its membership and kept a right to rejoin the Alliance any time later on. And that is exactly what happened when Greece and later France rejoined the Alliance.

In addition to that, the Treaty omits information about a NATO country blocking the participation of the other members of the Alliance. This article was not envisaged at that time, since the main focus was on the cohesion and unity of the Alliance members. The recent case of Germany moving its military contingent out of Turkey – a member of the Alliance – to Jordan – a non-NATO member state – as a result of the Turkish government refusal to grant a right to the members of the German Parliamentary Defence Committee visiting the Incirlik Air Base, underlines the dilemma of the Alliance in the 21st century.

The non-Alliance members’ participation was not foreseen back in 1949. And the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme was only established in 1994. Due to its conflict with first Israel and recently Austria, Turkey blocked the participation of both countries – as non-NATO states – in NATO activities. Speaking of Isreal, Turkey lifted the blockade right after the relations between the two countries improved. However, concerning Austria, the NATO members, excluding Turkey, decided to maintain co-operating individually. Thus, the way out of this political impasse was found. As a result, Turkey found itself isolated by the members of the alliance to its own detriment. Whether or not Turkey will block the participation of a non-NATO member state in the alliance activities again does remain to be seen.

Cyber Attacks – Affecting Peace and Security in the 21st Century

The well-known Article 5 states: “The Parties agreed that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all,” which is why it should also include the 21st century novelties such as cyber attacks that threaten both critical military and civilian infrastructure as well as the hybrid threats that incorporate a wide range of civilian tools. As a result, cyber attacks and hybrid threats should also be included in Article 6. In addition to that, Article 6 should at the same time exclude the following passage: “the Algerian Departments of France”, since Algeria has become an independent and sovereign state in the meantime.

US President Donald Trump in conversation with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Photo: NATO

On the other hand, the founding fathers foresaw some potentially unfolding realities back in 1949 and, as a result, inserted Article 10 into the Treaty: “The Parties may, by unanimous agreement,invitany other European State in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area to accede to this Treaty.” Thus, what did happen from 1999 onward, namely NATO’s eastward as well as southeast expansion, was laid down back in the Washington Treaty of 1949. However, what is most surprising is why the NATO allies did not update the Treaty articles in 2007 during the first ever cyber attack on Estonia, a member of the alliance. Even though Article 12 says that “after the Treaty has been in force for ten years, or at any time thereafter, the Parties shall, if any of them so requests, consult together for the purpose of reviewing the Treaty, having regard for the factors then affecting peace and security in the North Atlantic area.” Articles 4 and 12 have a commonality, namely “consulting together” and “in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence and security of any of the Parties is threatened.” Peace and security in the North Atlantic area was affected because of the 21st century novelty: cyber attacks. For this reason both articles can be fully integrated by emphasising this hazard.

NATO as a Consensus

Another important detail pointed out by Chris Donnelly is that NATO is a consensus rather than an organisation based on compromises. By evolving a system which limits the actions of the Alliance to only those issues on which consensus can be achieved, and aligning national interests in these areas, there is no essential loss of sovereignty and no threat to Allies’ national interests. But running a consensus process is difficult as well as laborious and consumes a lot of time, resources and political effort. There is no doubt that a consensus-built structure has its strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand, on 31 May 2017 German newspaper Die Welt reported that several NATO countries led by Germany, France, The Netherlands and Denmark were not in favour of holding the NATO 2018 summit in Istanbul. In consequence, when NATO member states are united against their own member they are able to express their dissatisfaction and voluntarily ask that member to reconsider its decision. This wa the second time Turkey was embroiled in NATO’s internal dispute. Back in January 2013, Turkey launched the long-range airdefence programme known as T-LORA MIDS. At that time, Turkey decided to look for solutions in China and Russia. Although Turkey selected China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation for the system in September 2013, it cancelled the deal in November 2015 as a result of disagreement with its NATO allies. Turkey´s allies made it clear that Turkey can purchase the system, but the system will not be integrated within the NATO air-defence system.

On the other hand, when NATO states lack consensus regarding a potential NATO candidate country such as Georgia, the unity and cohesion of the alliance comes under duress and highlights the weakness of the alliance. Thus, at this point NATO leaders need to think how to strengthen the consensus mechanism.

Besides, it is suggested that a new article on the right for expulsion as well as penalties for misbehaviour should be included. No member of the Alliance should block the proposed article, even though some members may consider such an article as infringing their rights.

An additional critical point was recently raised by Linas Linkevičius, Lithuania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. He called for reform and a much faster decision-making process by NATO and its military command. Even though “a speeding-up of the decisionmaking process within NATO is a complicated matter, we have to do more, faster since crises do not wait. Political supervision is important but NATO’s military authorities should be given more authority, more power to take action.” The short notice should be clearly defined by the leaders of the Alliance.

Faced with a more demanding security environment, NATO has taken steps to strengthen the Alliance. Photo: NATO

As a final point, the North Atlantic Treaty today is as relevant as it was in 1949. However, with the 70th anniversary of NATO rapidly approaching, the presented update of the Treaty is urgently required. There is no doubt that the founding fathers foresaw certain developments back in 1949, however, other changes that occurred since 2007 onward were difficult to anticipate.

Even though the current Russia is no longer the former Soviet Union, Russia remains the adversary today as the Soviet Union was in 1949.

* The article was published in „The European Security & Defence magazine“, September 2017.

** Dr. Eugene Kogan holds a BA and MA in History from Tel Aviv University. In 1990 he received his PhD in History from Warwick University in the United Kingdom. Dr. Kogan is a noted expert in the field of defence technologies. Dr Kogan is a prolific writer and has presented an extensive series of papers on key security issues. He currently resides in Tbilisi and works as defence and security expert.

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