Chicago Journal of International Law


On January 15, 2003, the United States formally requested that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization ("NATO") begin planning to defend one of its members, Turkey, from any counterstrikes launched by Iraq in the event of a war with Iraq. France, Germany, and Belgium, concerned that such a move by NATO would send a message that war with Iraq was inevitable, resisted the request. In response, Turkey, the only member of NATO that shares a border with Iraq, pressed the issue by invoking Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty, 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." Despite Turkey's plea for collective defense, which is the purpose of NATO, France and the others continued to block any planning for almost a month. Because NATO operates under consensus decisionmaking, the votes of these three nations barred defensive preparation by NATO in support of Turkey. NATO finally resolved the issue by moving the decision into its Defense Planning Committee ("DPC"), thereby circumventing France's veto. With France excluded, Germany and Belgium compromised and agreed to support the measure. As a result, NATO committed to provide some assets for the defense of Turkey without the full consensus of its members. NATO's decision highlights a conflict between NATO's requirement of unanimity in decisionmaking and its obligation to provide collective defense. This development examines the decision and attempts to answer the following questions: Did NATO's decision without France's consent violate the North Atlantic Treaty? Did France violate the treaty by refusing to fulfill its obligation to defend a fellow NATO member? What does NATO's decision imply for the future of NATO?