This is an Article 4, not Article 5 NATO situation

With the report that Russian missiles crossed into Polish territory on Tuesday, and killed two people, social media is abuzz about NATO’s Article Five, which provides that “if a NATO ally is the victim of an armed attack, each and every other member of the alliance will consider this act of violence as an armed attack against all members and will take the actions it deems necessary to assist the ally attacked.”

But there is no reason for the U.S. and its allies to get into a shooting war with Russia over what was, as far as we know at this point, bad aim on the part of the Russians. There’s no need to blur the distinction between the increasingly typical Russian recklessness we’re seeing, and a deliberate attack against Poland and NATO.

If the U.S. wants to send metaphorical or literal warning shots to Russia, as an incentive to be more careful with its missiles, it can do so. (The U.S. can shut down the power in Russia anywhere it likes, or shut down Russian troll farms for a day or two — non-lethal methods of reminding the Russians that we have ways to enforce consequences for their actions.)

But no one in their right mind wants to start a full-scale war with Russia over two dead Polish citizens, as outrageous and unacceptable as that is.

Poland is much more likely to invoke Article Four, which states, “the 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.” This would be the diplomatic equivalent of a warning shot; since NATO was established in 1949, “Article 4 has been invoked seven times. 

This past February, Bulgaria, Czechia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia requested to hold consultations under Article 4 following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.” This would effectively say that this seemingly accidental strike into Poland wouldn’t bring kinetic or cyber retaliation . . . but the next one may very well bring a serious, unified NATO response.

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