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Leaders of 3 NATO countries are going to Kyiv to meet the president of Ukraine. Parts of Kyiv are currently under missile and artillery attack from Russia.

If one or more leaders of a NATO country are killed or injured by an attack while outside of NATO (e.g. in Kyiv), is that considered an attack on NATO, and therefore a trigger Article 5?

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    There have been so many article five of the NATO treaties questions recently and every time the answer was that it depends on the circumstances and cannot be predicted. I strongly suspect also here the answer will be exactly the same again.
    – Trilarion
    Mar 15 at 13:48
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    Does this answer your question? Would a (nuclear) strike that hits an NATO member state embassy/extraterritoriality in Ukraine be considered a (nuclear) strike against NATO?. The accepted answer to this question answers your question as well, so I think that that your question is a duplicate. If you disagree, feel free to reply to this comment explaining why. Mar 15 at 13:58
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    There is certainly no automatism. That's why "such action as it deems necessary" is included. The only answer to this question is that nobody knows what will happen in such a case. And that's the same answer that was given to all the other similar questions.
    – Trilarion
    Mar 15 at 13:59
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    @Trilarion to be absolutely honest, that itself is extremely interesting. Given what's at stake, I would have expected the NATO treaty would make abundantly clear (especially to adversaries) precisely what would and what would not trigger Article 5. If there is some ambiguity, or some discretion, I think that's a valuable answer. The way I'd interpreted Biden's recent talks gives an impression that the situation is very black and white. But the ideas you convey suggest otherwise.
    – stevec
    Mar 15 at 14:04
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    There is no instance above NATO to even force NATO to abide by its own rules. It's an alliance built on trust. Take for example Estonia which is really close to Russia and really far away from the US. If Russia would invade Estonia (much, much more serious than your case here) it would certainly trigger article 5, but would NATO still defend small Estonia and risk total nuclear destruction for all? Nobody knows. Hopefully we will never have to answer that.
    – Trilarion
    Mar 15 at 14:16

2 Answers 2

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In theory, no. If occupying a British dependent territory outside the NATO area does not qualify, why should hitting a train count?

However, Article 5 will mean whatever the NATO governments want it to mean. It was invoked over the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, which was not an inter-state act of war in the traditional pattern. Yet NATO wanted to make a point and used Article 5 to respond. Like all deterrence, NATO depends on the faith in the political will of the member governments, as well as facts on the ground like tripwire forces and joint pre-planning.

The EU could publicly send three heads of government to Kiev and dare Russia to attack. Russia could attack them and dare NATO to respond.

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  • One could say that the Falkland islands were anyway outside of Europe/North America and therefore not covered by NATO.
    – Trilarion
    Mar 15 at 15:16
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    @Trilarion, have you read Article 6 of the NATO treaty? No "one could say" about it. The Falklands are not treaty area, and Kiev isn't, either.
    – o.m.
    Mar 15 at 15:25
  • @o.m. thanks for making the change. I upvoted.
    – wrod
    Mar 15 at 16:42
  • I don't think NATO restricts itself to Europe/North America. The following is an excerpt from the NATO website: May 9 at 16:15
  • NATO is a crisis management organisation that has the capacity to undertake a wide range of military operations and missions... It is engaged in operations and missions around the world, ... NATO leads operations in Kosovo and the Mediterranean.... In 2018, NATO initiated a training mission in Iraq, which aims at developing the capacity of Iraq’s security forces, its defence and security institutions, and its national defence academies... NATO is also supporting the African Union and conducting air policing missions on the request of its Allies... May 9 at 16:17
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It would be up to the country the leader of which would be killed. Certainly there is precedent for considering an assassination to be an act of war. The killing of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by non-state actors was treated as an act war and triggered World War I.

But there is a more recent example as well. President Clinton ordered bombing of Iraq in 1993 in response to Iraqi government's failed plot to assassinate former US President George H.W. Bush. From the article:

Madeleine Albright, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the U.N. Security Council that the attack “was designed to damage the terrorist infrastructure of the Iraqi regime, reduce its ability to promote terrorism, and deter further acts of aggression against the United States.

Which implicitly makes the claim that the failed plot was an act of aggression against the United States.

The case for treating the killing of a leader of a country by a state actor is more, rather than less, likely to be treated as an act of war. But it would be the choice of the country whose leader was killed.

Article 5 is triggered when a nation requests help due to having been attacked. An attacked nation doesn't have to request it. But if there is legitimate basis for treating an event as an act of war, the request cannot be denied.

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    World war 1 was over a hundred years ago, though. That was a very different time.
    – Philipp
    Mar 15 at 16:04
  • @Philipp which is why it would be a choice of the country whose leader was killed. But if they chose to treat it as an act of war, there would be little basis for denying the precedent.
    – wrod
    Mar 15 at 16:06
  • Of course the request can be denied. That would (probably) result, at the least, in the expulsion from NATO, of the non-complying country, and at worst, dissolution of NATO. But a sovereign country is just that.
    – CGCampbell
    Mar 15 at 16:21
  • "But if there is legitimate basis for treating an event as an act of war, the request cannot be denied." This statement seems to be almost empty. Who decides if there is a legitimate basis if not the helping countries themselves.
    – Trilarion
    Mar 15 at 16:22
  • @Trilarion that is a good question. But it's a different question. You can ask it in a separate question. I don't know the answer, btw. But I suspect that (for example) getting a nation leader's daughter drunk wouldn't count despite infuriating the said leader. It may very well be that the member nations are simply expected to exercise restraint and good judgement in this matter, but I simply don't know.
    – wrod
    Mar 15 at 16:28

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