To me the Treaty we signed to help establish NATO is a model international agreement. It is short, straight forward, and preserves our freedom for independent action. Any party may leave the Treaty Agreement one year after giving notice. When NATO is considering taking action each member state can determine how and whether it wishes to participate and what level of participation it offers.
During the Referendum campaign pro Remain spokespeople often asked people like me how we could live with the supranational commitments under NATO but not under the EU. I replied that NATO does not seek to lock us in to decisions and issues against our will. It does not have legal authority over us, our budgets, law codes and decisions. It is a very different kind of international collaboration from that of the strict legal requirements of the EU.
The opening statement of the NATO declaration is a pledge to promote peace and diplomatic solutions to problems. It states that each state agrees to “refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the UN”. It also says such independent NATO actions will cease once the UN is in charge.
The central pillar of the alliance which most latch on to is the tenet that “an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack upon them all”. (Article 5) It is collective defence security through strength in numbers. It goes on to say, however, that a member state if challenged by an attack upon another member shall “take such action as it deems necessary” which may include military action. It does not lay down that every member state has to go to war immediately, nor does it presume to say which forces a member state has to supply to the common cause.
Mr Corbyn is therefore entitled as someone who wishes to be Prime Minister both to call to leave NATO or to rule out certain types of military action whilst staying in NATO. Both courses of action would be legal under the Treaty. The issue is does he undermine our safety by so doing? Collective defence through a voluntary agreement like the NATO one rests on any potential enemy believing there is a credible threat of military response if they attack a NATO country. It weakens the UK’s defence and our collective defence if potential aggressors to parts of NATO come to believe that the UK, NATO’s second largest military contributor to the alliance, is not willing to go to the military aid of another member state should need arise. For the defence alliance to work properly any aggressor has to think that in extreme circumstances the UK and other NATO members will use force to resist aggression.