Pleading the Fifth: Adapting NATO's Article V. (Global Notebook)

Article excerpt

With the establishment of Eastern Europe's communist political structure, the countries of Western Europe formed NATO as a vehicle of collective security against the Soviet bloc.

NATO's primary mission was spelled out in Article V of its charter, which provides for collective defense against an attack on any of its members. Absent the threat of a Soviet attack, NATO's charter, which had bound Western nations together in a defensive pact, no longer fully incorporated the intricacies of the new political structure in the North Atlantic. By switching its primary focus from defense to peacekeeping without making the necessary structural changes, NATO seriously jeopardized its place and legitimacy in the post-Cold War world.

During the 1990s, NATO kept defense as its primary official mission and as the basis of its charter even though the threat of Soviet attacks was no longer the chief motive for cooperation. At the same time, the alliance used a series of minor declarations to shift its purpose to peacekeeping. As early as 1992, diplomats in the United Kingdom and France began to push for a change in NATO's charter to reflect its new role in the global power structure. Despite this pressure, no action resulted because powerful NATO members--particularly the United States--felt that the organization could maintain its new role as a peacekeeping force while continuing to rely on its old charter.

When problems arose in the Balkans in the middle and late 1990s, NATO troops served as the primary peacekeeping force. Even though participating countries heralded the missions in Bosnia and Kosovo as successes, NATO's peace-keeping efforts revealed some problems the alliance had with its new role. NATO lacked set rules for peacekeeping governance. When states such as Italy and France refused to send the number of troops that NATO requested, those with lead roles--the United States and the United Kingdom--had no diplomatic means of compelling them to participate. The success of NATO's peacekeeping operations in the Balkans had less to do with NATO's organizational strength than with the overwhelming military superiority of British and US troops. Nonetheless, this success helped NATO suppress political pressure to change its charter, keeping the organization's original incarnation intact; by 2000, the issue was almost dead since NATO appeared to have made the transition from a defensive organization to a peace keeping one without a major structural overhaul. The old charter could remain unchallenged, and NATO could continue to exist without resolving the conflict among the member states over its future role.

This delicate balance was shattered when the United States fell victim to the first major attack against a NATO country. Although NATO had become a peacekeeping organization, the member states were still obligated to support the United States under the remnants of NATO's old organizational structure. Article V, while intended as a collective security agreement against a Soviet attack, had a different modern application: it locked NATO members into a situation in which they were not prepared to engage militarily.

Members of NATO were legitimately outraged by the attacks against the United States, but for some, determining an appropriate response was difficult. Many NATO members circumvented this problem by immediately invoking Article V to show their support for the United States. …