On 24 February 2022 Russia launched a major military assault on Ukraine. This followed months of Russian build-up of military forces in Russia along the borders with Ukraine, and in Belarus.

Consultations under Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty

The North Atlantic Council (NAC), NATO’s principle decision-making body, met on 24 February 2022. Several countries requested the consultations under Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty. These were Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

Article 4 allows parties to consult when they feel threatened. It says:

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.

Article 4 is rarely used and this is only the seventh time it has been invoked. Previously, Turkey invoked article 4 on five occasions, in relation to events in Syria and Iraq, and Poland invoked it in 2014 in relation to events in Ukraine.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on the morning of 24 February he is calling for an urgent meeting of all NATO leaders as soon as possible.

North Atlantic Council outcome

After meeting, the North Atlantic Council issued a statement condemning both Russia for the attack and Belarus for “enabling this attack”. It called on Russia to “immediately cease its military action and withdraw all its forces from in and around Ukraine.” Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary General, reinforced these points in a press conference. The main points were:

  • NATO leaders will hold a virtual summit on Friday 25 February
  • NAC has activated defence plans at the request of SACEUR, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), the top military official in NATO. This allows SACEUR to move units, which could include elements of the NATO Response Force
  • NATO is committed to the principle of collective defence and Article 5: that an attack on one is an attack on all
  • NATO deployed troops and forces across its eastern part over last few weeks, with 100 planes on high alert policing NATO airspace and 120 allied ships at sea
  • Expects further deployments to the eastern part of NATO over the next few days and weeks, but did not provide any details
  • There are no plans to send NATO troops to Ukraine.

Article 5 and collective defence

Stoltenberg referred to Article 5 several times in his press conference. This states that an armed attack against one shall be considered an attack against them all. He said this in the context of seeking to deter any Russian action against any NATO allies.

NATO has 30 members. Norway, Estonia and Latvia directly border Russia, while Lithuania and Poland border the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland all have direct borders with Ukraine. Poland, Lithuania and Latvia all border Belarus, from where it appears the Russian military has launched attacks into Ukraine.

Article 5 does not necessarily commit an ally to a military response. Rather, that they will assist the party or parties attacked “such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”

Response to Russian build-up of military forces

NATO has been bolstering its military presence along its eastern flank ever since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. This included establishing multinational battlegroups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. 

Following Russia’s build-up of military forces in 2021 and early 2022, NATO and NATO allies took further steps to increase its military presence in allies in the east. This is documented in Commons Library briefing NATO: Reinforcing its eastern flank.

NATO leaders summit 

NATO held an emergency virtual Heads of State and Government on 25 February 2022. Leaders said they are now making “significant additional defensive deployments of forces to the eastern part of the Alliance.”

Jens Stoltenberg also confirmed that elements of the Response Force will be deployed – “the first time in a collective defence context.” However, he then clarified “I am not saying we are deploying the whole force”.

What is NATO?

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was formed in 1949 with the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington. The treaty created an alliance of ten European and two North American states – the UK, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and the United States. It was formed to ensure their collective security and preservation and intended to counter the perceived threat from the then Soviet Union. It now has 30 members. Further information can be found in Commons Library paper What is NATO?.

Further reading

All our Commons Library publications relevant to the current crisis are collated on our Ukraine crisis webpage.

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