Even an accidental missile strike on NATO territory must not happen again, and if it does, NATO should take appropriate action.

NATO and Ukraine should of course do the forensics on the Nov. 15 missile strike on Poland and jointly make them public – something which has not yet happened. But the alliance Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had it right the first time: whether it was Russian or Ukrainian is immaterial. The only reason a missile hit Poland was because of Russia’s massive missile and air attacks against Ukraine.

Many aspects of NATO’s initial response were a textbook case in how it should act in a crisis. A deliberate attack on the territory of any ally should result in a swift alliance military response. Two Polish citizens had died. In the moment, many observers thought such a rejoinder might indeed be imminent.

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Yet such action could lead to unpredictable escalation. Before launching into military action, NATO allies took several prudent steps.

First, they took time to gather the facts. There was not a continuous and sustained attack on Poland, just a one-off explosion.

There was ample time to check the data and attempt to ascertain exactly what happened, without the need for immediate action. A deliberate and sustained assault would have been different.

Map: Center for European Policy Analysis Embed Download image Created with Datawrapper

Second, allies consulted among themselves — first in a multitude of bilateral formats, and then in a formal, emergency meeting of the North Atlantic Council, convened within 24 hours of the explosion.

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The Ukrainian military told Reuters in a written statement that the conscription rate had more than doubled in May and June compared to the previous two months, without providing the figures.

Third, the allies concluded collectively that the explosion did not constitute an intentional attack on NATO territory. Since it was unintended, it did not, therefore, merit joint military action under Article 5 of the NATO Treaty. Other types of responses, however, should still be up for discussion.

Fourth, all allies, including Poland and the United States, stood back while Secretary General Stoltenberg explained the NATO position publicly — emphasizing their unity and solidarity through the choice of spokesperson. They resisted the temptation to sensationalize or to promote national spin-doctoring to suit individual national interests. NATO hung together.

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This response showed clear alliance resolve while avoiding any unintended drift into a war that neither NATO nor Russia actually wanted. As far as it goes, this NATO response has been exemplary.

Reprinted with the author’s permission from CEPA. See the original here.   

 

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