With recent events, there is much buzz about collective security. The heart and originating purpose of NATO was to stand as a bulwark against increasing Soviet aggression in 1949. This is only part of the story, however. Soviet expansionism wasn’t the only animating factor in NATO’s creation; in the aftermath of the most devastating conflict the world has seen, there was an urgent need to see formerly warring Europeans united in a common entity, counterbalanced by their Canadian and American allies across the Atlantic. Less well known is the fact that this time also saw the first roots of the European Union sown with the creation of the Western Union the year before NATO came into existence.
With the Soviets having recently overthrown the democratically elected government of Czechoslovakia and then followed by blockading West Berlin, the need for military cooperation amongst the Western allies was made plain. The main article of the NATO treaty that gets all the press is Article 5, which states that an armed attack against any member shall be considered an attack against all, and that members will assist the nation that was attacked in order to restore and maintain the security of the alliance. What is not stipulated is what that assistance will be. It is up to each individual state to decide what form of assistance they will provide, and it isn’t necessarily military assistance.
The North Atlantic Council invoked Article 5 for the first and, so far, only time less than 24 hours after the attacks of September 11th, 2001. Operation Eagle Assist in the skies over Afghanistan and Operation Eagle Endeavour in the Persian Gulf were launched at the request of the United States in response to the attacks. Less well known, but conversely more used, is Article 4, which mandates consultations with allies over military matters when a member state’s security has been threatened. This may be seen as a precursor to further action or preparations, and was invoked by the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland in response to the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014. More interestingly, it has been invoked three times thus far by Turkey. The first time was in 2003 over the Iraq War, then in 2012 after one of their planes was shot down by Syria, and later that same year after border clashes with the Syrian armed forces, which was mostly duelling artillery fire.
In the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks of 13 November, French President Francois Hollande did not invoke NATO Article 5, but instead invoked the never-before-used EU Article 42.7. Article 42.7 is seemingly more robust than the NATO article, calling for “an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power” to any member that is the “victim of armed aggression.” Unlike the NATO article, however, there is no EU military infrastructure to call upon, so the actual measures to follow this clause are unlikely to amount to much. Perhaps this is evidence of continuing French ambivalence toward NATO, where their influence is diluted by the United States. France withdrew her military forces from NATO command for this very reason in the 1960s, as well as leaving the country with the option of making a separate peace with the Warsaw Pact if hostilities did break out during the Cold War.
Turkish-Russian relations are unlikely to escalate very far despite the Russian fighter being shot down. Tangling with NATO is not likely something Russia wants to get into despite the recent resurgence of Russian belligerence. There are significant ties between the two countries, Russia is steadily running out of trading partners, and the rock bottom price of oil is biting into her economy. Russia is Turkey’s number two trading partner, and Turkey is the number one destination for Russian tourists. There are as many ways for the countries to inflict harm on their own economies as there are on each other if they let tensions boil over.
Another moderating factor is France. Despite the whole Napoleon winter camping trip to Moscow in 1812, France and Russia have been allies as much as enemies throughout their modern history. Their spheres of influence have rarely overlapped, and they have seen each other as potential counterbalances for power in the European continent. With this history in mind, it shouldn’t be too surprising to see France reaching out to Russia in building a grand coalition to defeat ISIS in Syria. It is likely French diplomats are doing what they can to tamp down tensions and get on with the real and more urgent fight in Iraq and Syria.
The collective response to the Paris attacks will likely be more muted than those of the attacks of 9/11, at least on the surface. The attackers came from within, and France will need to secure Europe’s borders from weapons smugglers and counter the electronic media empire of ISIS as much as they will need to smash the safe havens in Syria and Iraq. It will be a long war, but France has a great deal of experience and they will be focused.
Turkey has a great deal of experience as well, but it’s in fighting the West’s best allies in the region—the Kurds. It is extremely complicated for Turkey, located as they are at the crossroads between European and Eastern powers, so their responses are likely to be muted and carefully calculated as they traditionally have been. Considering this, their best and most valuable contribution is likely to be in securing their borders to shut down the oil- and militant-smuggling rat lines.
No one knows for sure how things will play out now, but there appears to be enough deterrence built in to prevent tensions with Russia to amount to much more than tough talk. France is determined, and once roused, follows through, as we’ve seen in Mali. While Syria is much more complicated, they are keen to see greater Russian involvement. And of course, we can never forget: The enemy gets a vote, too.