Explained: Why NATO isn’t sending troops to Ukraine

Amid Russia’s war on Ukraine, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) has been rapidly deploying troops to member countries across eastern Europe but has clarified that it has no plans of sending them to Ukraine itself. Last week, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg announced that the alliance was launching its Rapid Response Force for the first time ever to bolster its defence against Russia.

The conflict could potentially escalate if NATO invokes Article 5, an agreement that ensures “collective defence”, which means that an attack on one ally will be considered an attack on all allies. This could happen if Russia shifts its target to some of Ukraine’s neighbours that are members of NATO.

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What is Article 5 and why is it needed?

To understand Article 5, it is important to understand the goals with which NATO was formed in the first place. In 1949, the founders of NATO—the US, Canada and several western European nations—created it as a mechanism to provide collective security against the rising threat posed by the Soviet Union.

Article 5 was a key part of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty, or Washington Treaty, and was meant to offer a collective defence against a potential invasion of western Europe. It states: “(NATO members) will assist the party or parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”

However, since then, it has only been invoked once, soon after the 9/11 attack in the United States. The day after al Qaeda terrorists carried out four coordinated attacks, deliberately crashing two planes into the World Trade Centre and another into the Pentagon, NATO allies got together to invoke the article and to implement a package of security measures in solidarity with the US.

The US is sending 3,800 troops as reinforcements for various NATO allies in Eastern Europe. (Stephen B. Morton /Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Why has Article 5 not been invoked this time?

The reason is simple: Ukraine is a partner of the Western defence alliance but not a NATO member. As a result, Article 5, or the Collective Defense Pledge, does not apply. Late last month, in a televised address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pleaded for Ukraine to be added as a full-fledged member of the alliance.

While NATO has said it will not be sending troops to Ukraine, it did invoke Article 4, which calls for a consultation of the alliance’s principal decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council. In its history, it has only been activated half a dozen times. But the fact that this time around eight member nations chose to invoke it was enough to demonstrate the seriousness of the situation at a global level.

After an extraordinary summit, NATO deployed its Response Force, comprising 40,000 troops from member countries, for the first time since it started.

What may prompt NATO to invoke Article 5?

NATO will invoke Article 5 only if Russia launches a full-blown attack on one of its allies. Some top US officials have warned of the impact of some of Russia’s cyberattacks being felt in NATO countries, NPR reported.

“When you launch cyberattacks, they don’t recognize geographic boundaries. Some of that cyberattack could actually start shutting down systems in eastern Poland,” US Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Mark Warner said in an interview with NPR.

But what is NATO’s problem with Russia?

Russia has long been opposed to Ukraine’s growing closeness with European institutions, particularly NATO. The former Soviet republic shares borders with Russia on one side, and the European Union on the other.

After Moscow launched its attack, the US and its allies were quick to respond, imposing sanctions on Russia’s central bank and sovereign wealth funds. US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen said in a statement, “The unprecedented action we are taking today will significantly limit Russia’s ability to use assets to finance its destabilizing activities, and target the funds Putin and his inner circle depend on to enable his invasion of Ukraine.”

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