On a visit to Poland Thursday, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to defend members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during a press conference in Warsaw, where she met with Polish President Andrezj Duda.
The United States has bolstered its military presence in Poland and other ally countries bordering Russia and Ukraine since the start of the war. It sent 5,000 troops to Poland as Russia built up its army on the Ukrainian border in February and deployed hundreds more to European countries earlier this week. The alliance has been on high alert since Russian President Vladimir Putin undertook his military campaign against Ukraine, preparing to repel potential Russian aggression against NATO states.
“The United States’ commitment to Article 5 is ironclad,” Harris said. “The United States is prepared to defend every inch of NATO territory.”
Harris referenced the most integral provision in the alliance’s treaty, Article 5, which calls on member nations to come to the defense of any member nation who is attacked.
Here’s what to know about NATO’s Article 5.
What is NATO?
NATO is a transatlantic military alliance that was founded in 1949 by 12 North American and European nations. The post-World War II alliance formed as a bulwark to the Soviet Union, which had taken on satellite states in Eastern Europe and forming what was known as the Eastern Bloc. NATO’s stated purpose is to maintain security for its members.
NATO expanded over the years to 30 member states. It has expanded eastward in Europe, with many former Soviet republics joining the alliance.
Putin has long held that NATO’s eastward expansion is a threat to Russia’s security. In the run-up to his invasion of Ukraine, he demanded that Ukraine never join NATO.
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What is Article 5 of NATO?
NATO describes Article 5 as a “cornerstone of the Alliance.”
It lays out the organization’s basic promise of collective defense: An attack against one member state is an attack against all member states.
“If such an armed attack occurs, each of them,” Article 5 reads. “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.”
Article 5 calls for member states to take action “it deems necessary, including the use of armed force.” In other words, it authorizes military force, but doesn’t mandate it.
But Harris’ pronouncement Thursday about defending “every inch of NATO territory” and the increased American troop deployments in NATO countries make clear that the invocation of Article 5 in response to a Russian attack would likely trigger American military action. This would mean that two world military superpowers would be drawn into direct war against each other in what would the largest global conflict seen since the second World War.
Has Article 5 been invoked before?
Yes, NATO invoked Article 5 in 2001 in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.. It was the first and only time Article 5 has been invoked. The alliance coordinated efforts to assist the United States in securing its airspace after the attacks and assisted U.S. President George W. Bush’s subsequent global war on terror.
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