NATO Secretary General condemns North Korea’s sixth nuclear test

In a statement on 3 September, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg condemned the sixth nuclear test conducted by North Korea.

“This is yet another flagrant violation of multiple UN Security Council Resolutions, including UNSCR 2321 adopted in November 2016”, Stoltenberg said. “NATO is concerned by Pyongyang’s destabilising pattern of behaviour, which poses a threat to regional and international security”.

“The regime must immediately cease all existing nuclear and ballistic missile activities in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner, and re-engage in dialogue with the international community”, he added. “I urge North Korea to respect its international obligations, and to abandon all threats and actions which contribute to tension and insecurity”.

In a separate statement, the Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) Lassina Zerbo said: “If confirmed as a nuclear test, this act would indicate that the DPRK's nuclear programme is advancing rapidly. It constitutes yet another breach of the universally accepted norm against nuclear testing; a norm that has been respected by all countries but one since 1996”. He added, “It also underlines yet again the urgent need for the international community to act on putting in place a legally binding ban on nuclear testing once and for all. I urge the DPRK to refrain from further nuclear testing and to join the 183 States Signatories who have signed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). I sincerely hope that this will serve as the final wake-up call to the international community to outlaw all nuclear testing by bringing the CTBT into force”.

The CTBT bans all nuclear explosions, but will only enter into force once signed and ratified by the remaining eight nuclear technology holder countries: China, Egypt, the DPRK, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the United States.

NATO has issued several statements in recent years about the North Korean threat and has addressed the issue within its principal political decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council (NAC). In July, for example, the NAC condemned the “unprecedented launch of a ballistic missile of intercontinental range on 4 July” and was “ supportive of efforts underway at the United Nations to impose additional sanctions on the DPRK”. NATO has also discussed the issue with its four Asia-Pacific partners: Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

But amid growing talk of the possibility of open conflict between the United States and North Korea, what would NATO do in such a conflict? Were North Korean to attack Guam, for example, and Washington triggered NATO’s Article 5 clause in response, which requires all members to come to the aid of any attacked member, would NATO members be required to take military action against North Korea? This seems an unlikely, but not an impossible scenario.

The only time Article 5 has been invoked was after the September 11 attacks on the United States, which saw NATO member countries step up intelligence-sharing efforts and provide other NATO countries with access to ports and airfields, among other measures. According to a new briefing paper from the UK House of Commons Library, British troops—and by inference, those of other NATO member states—could be deployed to help the United States fight North Korea if it strikes Guam even though it is not obligated to under NATO rules:

“The consensus is that a North Korean attack on Guam would not trigger Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, under which members are obliged to come to each other’s defence if attacked. Article 5 applies only to North America, Europe and islands in the North Atlantic which are under the jurisdiction of member states. The UK was unable to invoke it in the case of the Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982. This does not mean that NATO allies would not assist the US in the event of an outbreak of hostilities with North Korea. In the event of an act of pre-emptive North Korean aggression, some of them (including the UK) would likely want to respond positively to a US request for assistance”.