by Austin Bay
November 16, 2022
As I write this column on Nov. 15, reports are unconfirmed that missiles fired from east to west overshot Ukraine by 10 kilometers, struck near the Polish village of Przewodow and killed two Polish citizens. Polish radio blamed two "stray" Russian missiles. However, the Pentagon had yet to verify critical details, such as: Were they Russian missiles? Was Poland an accidental or intentional target?
The belligerents' immediate diplomatic responses: Russian President Vladimir Putin's Kremlin denied Russian missiles hit Poland and called reports "a deliberate provocation." Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared that Russian missiles striking "the territory of our friendly country" Poland is a "significant escalation" of the war Putin launched in February.
Who to believe in the fog of war and diplomacy?
Relevant background: Nine months of war has exposed Russian military incompetence at the tactical and operational levels. We've witnessed boggling defects in Russian weapons. The Russian military's close-combat training standards are sub-elementary school. Fair bet Jordan, Tanzania, Vietnam and a half-dozen other developing nations who drill their soldiers in sound and disciplined tactics are sneering.
Now consider five verifiable facts. No. 1: Poland is a NATO nation. No. 2: As a NATO member, Poland is protected by NATO's Article 5, the commitment to collective defense. No. 3: Missiles are larger projectiles than rifle bullets.
More on Fact No. 3 later.
Fact No. 2 background: Cheekily called the Three Musketeers Clause, the NATO treaty's Article 5 exemplifies the hard diplomacy that won the Cold War. The French musketeers swore one for all and all for one.
The musketeers were fiction. Article 5 makes the commitment in the real world. NATO members agree "an armed attack against one or more of them ... shall be considered an attack against them all." Each member then takes "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, vessels or aircraft" operating "in or over" NATO territory.
NATO invoked Article 5 after 9/11when al-Qaida attacked U.S. territory. In April 2012 Syrian forces fired rifle bullets across the Turkey-Syria border and wounded four people. The shots were an armed violation of Turkey's border. Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that "NATO has responsibilities to do with Turkey's borders, according to Article 5." With no lives lost, that incident was, more or less, treated as inadvertent.
In June 2012, following Syria's downing of a Turkish jet, Ankara called for a NATO Article 4 consultation.
Article 4 says NATO allies will "consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence, or security" of any NATO ally is threatened. An Article 4 consultation sends grim diplomatic signals -- that NATO's preparing for action.
As I write this column Poland indicates it will seek an Article 4 consultation to address the missile strikes.
Back to Fact No. 3: Missiles are larger projectiles than rifle bullets, and Nov. 15's missiles killed two people.
Now Fact No. 4: Since 2014 when Russia invaded Ukraine, seized Crimea then invaded eastern Ukraine's Donbas region, spillover conflict has been more than a possibility; given Russia's disregard for human life, its military incompetence and its inferior weapons, spillover conflict and slaughter has been a likelihood.
That produced a strategic effect: The people of neutral Finland and Sweden decided they needed NATO Article 5 protection. Call that verifiable Fact No. 5.
On March 18, 2014, Putin's regime annexed Crimea. When he announced the annexation, Putin touted Crimea's three centuries of Russian control. Whatever the cover story or sphere of influence explanation, Russia had committed armed territorial expansion.
The legacy of armed expansion by a major European power is mass slaughter across the Continent and, in the 20th century, global war.
Whether or not the missiles were intentionally aimed at Poland, they constitute an Article 5 violation.
That's why they constitute a very real diplomatic test of the Biden administration's vow to defend NATO's territorial integrity against military attack.
Putin must be held accountable. But the world must conclude peace with a Vladimir Putin-led Russia is a delusion.