As I write this article on November 15, unconfirmed reports indicate that missiles fired from east to west have passed Ukraine by 10 kilometers, struck near the Polish village of Przewodow and killed two Polish citizens. Polish radio blamed two “misplaced” Russian missiles. However, the Pentagon had yet to verify critical details, such as: Were they Russian missiles? Was Poland an accidental or intentional target?
Immediate diplomatic responses from belligerents: Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin denied that Russian missiles had hit Poland and called the reports a “deliberate provocation”. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said Russian missiles striking “the territory of our friendly country” Poland are a “significant escalation” of the war Putin launched in February.
Who to believe in the fog of war and diplomacy?
Relevant Context: Nine months of war have revealed Russian military incompetence at the tactical and operational levels. We have witnessed bewildering flaws in Russian weapons. Russian army close combat training standards are sub-elementary schools. It’s a safe bet that Jordan, Tanzania, Vietnam and half a dozen other developing countries that train their soldiers in sound, disciplined tactics are laughing.
Now consider five verifiable facts. No. 1: Poland is a NATO country. No. 2: As a member of NATO, Poland is protected by Article 5 of NATO, the commitment to collective defence. #3: Missiles are larger projectiles than rifle bullets.
More on fact #3 later.
Background to Fact #2: Brazenly called the Three Musketeers Clause, Article 5 of the NATO treaty exemplifies the tough diplomacy that won the Cold War. The French musketeers swore one for all and all for one.
The Musketeers were a fiction. Article 5 makes the commitment in the real world. NATO members agree “that an armed attack on one or more of them…shall be considered an attack on them all”. Each member then takes “such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain” NATO security if an enemy attacks a member’s territory or “forces, ships or aircraft” operating “in or over” NATO territory.
NATO invoked Article 5 after 9/11 when al-Qaeda attacked US territory. In April 2012, Syrian forces fired rifle bullets across the Turkey-Syria border and injured four people. The shooting constituted an armed violation of the Turkish border. Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan said “NATO has responsibilities regarding Turkey’s borders in accordance with Article 5”. With no loss of life, this incident was more or less treated as an accident.
In June 2012, following Syria‘s downing of a Turkish plane, Ankara called for a consultation on NATO’s Article 4.
Article 4 states that NATO allies “shall consult each other whenever, in the opinion of either of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security” of a NATO ally. NATO will be threatened. An Article 4 consultation sends grim diplomatic signals — that NATO is preparing for action.
As I write this article, Poland indicates that it will request an Article 4 consultation to deal with the missile strikes.
Back to Fact #3: Missiles are larger projectiles than rifle bullets, and the November 15 missiles killed two people.
Fact 4: Since 2014, when Russia invaded Ukraine, seized Crimea, and then invaded the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, the spillover of conflict has been more than a possibility; given Russia’s disregard for human life, military incompetence, and inferior weaponry, a spillover of conflict and slaughter was likely.
This produced a strategic effect: the neutral peoples of Finland and Sweden decided that they needed the protection of Article 5 of NATO. Call this verifiable fact number 5.
On March 18, 2014, Putin’s regime annexed Crimea. When he announced the annexation, Putin touted three centuries of Russian control of Crimea. Whatever the cover or explanation of the sphere of influence, Russia had engaged in armed territorial expansion.
The legacy of armed expansion by a European great power is mass slaughter across the continent and, in the 20th century, a world war.
Whether or not the missiles were intentionally aimed at Poland, they constitute a violation of Article 5.
That is why they are a true diplomatic test of the Biden administration’s vow to defend the territorial integrity of NATO against military attack.
Putin must be held accountable. But the world to make peace with a Russia led by Vladimir Putin is an illusion.
To learn more about Austin Bay and read articles from other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: 12019 on Pixabay