British Prime Minister Theresa May might regret using such strong language in her statement on the Skripal poisoned spy case last night. Saying that there had been the ‘unlawful use of force’ on British soil and that a response would be imminent has led to a lot of people invoking Article 5 of the NATO treaty – something mentioned in British newspapers today. Lord Ricketts, a former UK national security adviser, is one of many to say that this ‘unlawful’ act warrants the use of NATO. For its part, NATO has released a statement saying ‘the UK is a highly valued ally and this incident is of grave concern to NATO’.
May did not say ‘armed attack’ – the condition to invoke Article Five – but ‘unlawful use of force’, which is different. It’s all hot air, though – and will be seen as such by the Kremlin. But hey, never mind that, when instead we Brits can all shake our fists at Russia and say it has messed with the wrong country. Uncle Sam has our back (and perhaps Donald Trump will try to prove he isn’t a Russian patsy by menacing Putin for us.)
Everybody needs to calm down. No sane person can think that to call up NATO’s collective military might is a sensible response to a murky crime in Salisbury. It would make a mockery of the alliance on which civilised society depends. Yes, we can all pretend to talk knowledgeably about Novichok nerve gas agents. However, we should still be asking questions about the Skripal case rather than deciding how Britain can punish Russia. For instance, if these poisons are so awesomely lethal — reportedly 5-8 times more toxic than the hitherto more famous VX nerve agent — how come the victims aren’t actually dead?
Re-upping sanctions against Russia is now the most likely course of action, but the speed with which people have begun talking about NATO responses suggests a desperation for something more. If Britain appeals for Article 5 in response to this case, it would suggest we have lost the plot. And NATO would undermine itself if it takes Britain seriously.