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The NATO website has an article about Collective defence - Article 5 which reads

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, 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.

Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.

For the purpose of Article 5, an armed attack on one or more of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack:

  • on the territory of any of the Parties in Europe or North America, on the Algerian Departments of France 2, on the territory of Turkey or on the Islands under the jurisdiction of any of the Parties in the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer;

According to Laws Regarding to Extraterritoriality (cited by Wikipedia)

There is a common misconception that Embassies and Consulates have extraterritoriality.

However this is qualified by

For the most part, this is not the case as extraterritoriality is not conferred upon an Embassy or Consulate, but in some situations extraterritoriality may be created by Treaty.

Are there any areas of Ukraine which are NATO member states extraterritorial areas?

Would an attack that impacts an extraterritorial area be considered the same as any attack with the same damages on the country's main territory and might trigger article 5?

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    Sorry, speculating on what would happen under hypothetical circumstances isn't something this site is set up to do. Welcome aboard, but please aim for more directly answerable questions that can refer to publicly known sources or statements by political leaders. Voting to close, no downvote. Mar 14 at 16:07
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica To those who already know about the NATO treaty, it could seem speculative. I expected it would be very clear-cut what would/would not constitute a breach of NATO's own treaty (i.e. the antithesis of speculative). It's quite surprising to learn that it is at all subjective, or that it doesn't go into sufficient detail to precisely lay out what would happen in plausible scenarios such as this. So I can see why you think it's speculative, but one can only know its speculative if you first know that the treaty (surprisingly) doesn't go into such specifics.
    – stevec
    Mar 15 at 14:12
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    @stevec it's speculative because it hasn't happened and because, no matter what the treaty says or doesn't say, treating it as a direct nuclear attack on NATO would be an extreme step. Precisely because of "nuclear". So it is highly speculative what NATO would do (for one thing China did not see the bombing of their Belgrade embassy as a casus belli). And that hypothetical nuclear attack would, in itself, regardless of the NATO embassy, trigger massively unpredictable reactions, worldwide. Article 5's exact contents don't have much to do with it. Mar 15 at 17:05
  • Haven't all diplomats in Ukraine withdrawn to their home countries? Hitting an empty embassy and hitting one full of diplomats sounds a bit different (accidentally or not)
    – Blueriver
    Mar 16 at 14:06
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    @Blueriver : I think most diplomatic representations have been reduced and moved from Kyiv to Lviv, but they haven't all left Ukraine.
    – Evargalo
    Mar 17 at 15:02

3 Answers 3

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The NATO charter is not a smart contract that executes automatically. Article 5 doesn't just "trigger" and automatically launch jets and missiles.

The first point of the article is giving legitimacy, in the eyes of every NATO member, to military action by any other member, performed under these conditions. The UN also considers such mutual defense treaties a suitable justification for war. Finally, it helps justify actions for the internal population.

The decisive factor is still the individual government's desire to take action. A formal justification is not necessary for war, and almost no wars since WWII were even declared. The act will be interpreted by each country in the way that best supports the course of action it chooses.

There are no enclaves of any other country within Ukraine. Embassies have inviolability privileges for legal purposes. That can be considered related to extraterritoriality, but even that's only the ability of a government to exercise authority beyond its normal boundaries. Actually transferring the territory to the diplomatic mission would be a significantly greater concession on the host's part.

A military action that harms a foreign diplomat in collateral damage may be used or not used as a justification for military or non-military action, at the sole discretion of the state taking that action. Going by the word of the law, it is not an attack on the state.

There is no duty for any state to take any specific action, or clear global rules of engagement. But the more significant the attack, and the more treaties cover the scenario, the easier it is to justify a military response.

This is by design. Earlier mutual defense treaties had stronger language, which may have contributed to escalations. Leaving the interpretation to each government is more realistic.

Short summary: Embassies are territory of the host, not the guest. They are only special in that the host may not enter without permission. An attack by A on B that hits an embassy of X is the same as any attack where a citizen of X is harmed abroad, outside of X territory.

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    UN Charter, article 51 specifically allows collective defense. Article 5 doesn't just gives legitimacy in the eyes of other NATO members, it provides legitimacy under UN rules.
    – MSalters
    Mar 15 at 15:35
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    "almost no wars since WWII were even declared" - discussed here.
    – J.G.
    Mar 15 at 21:33
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    This mostly skirts the question (would an attack on an embassy an "armed attack against one [...] of them" in the sense of Article 5). The only part of this question answering this is the statement "there are no enclaves of any other country within Ukraine". The rest of this answer, interesting as it may be, is not addressing the question at all. Mar 16 at 9:46
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    (+1) The first point is really important. You could add that what article 5 does is create a public commitment. Nothing is automatic but governments have to think twice about reneging on such a strong commitment because it would dissolve the whole alliance and make their promises worthless.
    – Relaxed
    Mar 16 at 10:32
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    +1 Pieces of paper don't make decisions. Pieces of paper don't take action. Sometimes I feel people forget that law is just a concept - that agreements are just ideas.
    – J...
    Mar 16 at 14:42
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Well, countries can make casus belli out of stuff that didn't happen before, and we don't have an exact precedent for what you ask, but generally speaking hitting something by accident or as "collateral damage" doesn't usually count as casus belli, even an embassy. The Chinese one in Belgrade comes to mind as an example. The US bombed it (with precision munitions), then apologized for mistaking it for an arms depot. And the US later paid some monetary compensation.

In the current situation, in which NATO is trying to avoid widening the conflict to other countries, they'll likely overlook edge cases, unless it's something that would cause a huge outcry back home. We have no idea how they'd react to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, but it seems pretty unlikely that Russia would resort to these against Ukraine, so you don't hear that scenario discussed much, in terms of what NATO would do then.

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  • The Chinese embassy in Belgrade is an excellent case, because its bombing could potentially have been deliberate (Highly classified F-117 debris were likely smuggled there to take to China, which the US could not allow). Thus if a potentially deliberate attack was not retaliated for, an accidental attack presents a far smaller justification for retaliation.
    – dotancohen
    Mar 17 at 8:27
  • @dotancohen Imagine an aircraft designer calling to the Chinese embassy. to tell the ambassador to collect parts of some F-117 airplane. So, the ambassador asks: "what's an F-117 ?". Now, which parts should this ambassador collect from the wreckage ? Imagine him returning to the embassy with a metal plate, and a couple of bolts and screws. At the same time NATO is bombing the area, so he's risking his life while he's outside. Isn't the real secret of a machine like an F-117 it's design rather than its individual parts. - Maybe they just bombed pretty much everything.
    – bvdb
    Mar 17 at 13:47
  • @bvdb There is much classified information on combat aircraft that are not marked for export, such as the F-22 and the F-117. Of particular interest on the F-117 specifically at the time is the radar-absorbing paint. Obtaining a sample of that would be a boon to any effort to build a low radar signature vehicle.
    – dotancohen
    Mar 17 at 13:58
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Also to add to the other answers here. First, as HK-51 says, it isn't automatic, if the US feels it can handle the situation itself no need to trigger article 5. Also an embassy is not normally the territory of the country whose embassy it is. As phoog says an accident is not a causi belli.

To add to all that, article 5 is defensive and not retaliatory.

It’s certainly not a commitment to use nukes. One could imagine for instance a suitable response might be to equip Kyiv with better air defense capabilities to protect embassies there.

No way Putin attacks Ukraien with nukes anyway - but all that would also apply to a conventional attack.

There was some concern about tactical nukes but it never seemed likely - because it would violate the partial test ban treaty. Right there China and India would likely no longer be able to be neutral as they see the partial test ban treaty as very important to uphold. That's the last thing Putin wants is for even India and China join in the sanctions and voting against Russia in the security council etc etc.

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