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NATO Article V and the United States’ Role in the Aftermath of the Paris Terror Attacks

Following the chaos and tragedy of the recent Paris terror attacks, geopolitical developments are sure to have massive implications in the fight against the Islamic State. French President François Hollande promptly declared the attack “an act of war”, and has coordinated with Russia to launch an extensive bombing campaign against ISIL targets in Syria. However, Hollande has yet to invoke Article V of the NATO charter, nor has indicated any plans to do so. There has been prolonged debate as to whether NATO should play military role in the fight against ISIL, and if so to what extent. Article V, a core tenant of the North Atlantic Treaty that created NATO in 1949, provides that an attack on one NATO member “shall be considered an attack against them all” and that each ally member “will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking . . . action as it deems necessary.” [1] If France does decide to invoke Article V, the question then becomes what role does the twenty-eight-member organization take in the battle against the Islamic State, and more specifically how will the United States’ role be required to change, if at all?

Although the collective defense principle is a vital tenant of NATO’s mission, Article V has only been invoked once in the organization’s sixty-year history; by the United States on September 12, 2001, following the September 11th Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks. [2] While France decides whether to enlist NATO assistance by means of Article V, it could also first invoke Article IV, which provides that “[t]he Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.” [3] Article IV has been invoked four times throughout NATO’s history, most recently by Turkey following ISIL terror attacks in Suroc on July 6, 2015. [4] The purpose of Article IV is for the North Atlantic Council to decide whether to invoke Article V, or in lieu of Article V what political, economic, and military strategies to implement. [5] If the North Atlantic Council should decide to invoke Article V, all NATO countries would be obligated to treat the Paris attack as if it had occurred on their own soil, and treat it as an act of war.

At first blush, France invoking Article V would appear to run contrary to President Obama’s current strategy regarding ISIL, as he most recently stated that committing a large number of ground troops in the Middle East would be a mistake. [6] However, because the language of Article V is purposefully vague as to allow countries to contribute as they see fit, France invoking Article V would most likely not drastically change the current US policy. During the original drafting of Article V, there was unanimous agreement on the principle of collective defense, but a fundamental disagreement on how to implement it. [7] The European signatories wanted to ensure that the United States would automatically come to their assistance should one of them come under attack by the Soviet Union or a Soviet-proxy, while the United States did not want to make such a compulsory military agreement. [8] The United States ultimately succeeded in the framing Article V as necessarily broad in order to provide military assistance and intelligence without committing active ground troops. Thus, with or without an Article V invocation, the Obama Administration’s position of increased intelligence sharing with the French and air strikes would most likely be unaltered.

Former NATO commander James Stavridis recently wrote in Foreign Policy that France should invoke Article V, and that NATO should take a leading role in the fight against ISIL. Among several military suggestions, Stavridis said NATO should take the leading role from the United States in organizing a comprehensive training mission including the Kurdish Peshmerga-Yazidi force operating in northern Iraq and the Iraqi security forces in Baghdad. [9] Stavridis also argued for an open coalition in which Arab partners could join the coalition, but would be subject to NATO chain of command. [10]

France’s reluctance to invoke NATO assistance presents novel problems moving forward. First, what does France’s cooperation with Vladimir Putin and the Russians, a traditional NATO adversary and current aggressor in Ukraine, signify about the sovereignty of NATO’s collective defense principle? This is especially disconcerting in light of the recent Russian intrusions into Turkish air space and actions in Ukraine that have prompted discussion of invoking NATO action against Russia. [11] Second, what is NATO’s broader role in the fight against the Islamic State?

The United States’ actions moving forwards could have large implications for these questions and the weight of an invocation of Article V. Florida Senator and Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio recently stated that France should invoke Article V, and that the United States should upscale its military operations in Syria in coordination with the French and NATO forces. [12] Former Florida governor and GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush stopped short of calling for an Article V invocation, he did say Article IV should be invoked so the North Atlantic Council could discuss an integrated strategy moving forward. [13] The question is sure to to be raised to presidential candidates from both parties in the coming weeks and months leading up to the election.

Current events have illustrated that the current geopolitical context in which NATO is operating under is murky and unclear. If Stavridis’ approach is taken, it could signify a resurgence of NATO as a primary fighting force in the global war on terror, much like it was in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks. However, under the current constraints and conditions, NATO’s role in the fight against the Islamic State and its broader geopolitical role in the 21st Century appears ambiguous.

1 North Atlantic Treaty art. 5, Apr. 4, 1949, 63 Stat. 2241, 34 U.N.T.S. 243.

2 Collective Defence, Article 5, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 16 Nov. 2015,

3 North Atlantic Treaty art. 4, Apr. 4, 1949, 63 Stat. 2241, 34 U.N.T.S. 243.

4 The Consultation Process and Article 4, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 28 July 2015,

5 Id.

6 President Barack Obama, Press Conference in Antalya, Turkey (16 Nov. 2015),

7 See Collective Defence, supra note 2.

8 See id.

9 James Stavridis, NATO’s Turn to Attack, Foreign Policy, 14 Nov. 2015,

10 Id.

11 Id.

12 Anna L. Sussman, Marco Rubio on Paris Attacks: “We should Invoke Article V”, W.S.J., 15 Nov. 2015,

13 Ilya Somin, Using Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty to Legalize the War with ISIS, Wash. Post, 15 Nov. 2015,


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