The decisions to assist Turkey and support Poland were the culmination of formal and informal consultations on a possible NATO role in Iraq, which began in 2002.
Iraq was suspected of possessing weapons of mass destruction. On 8 November 2002, the UN Security Council issued Resolution 1441 to offer Iraq a final chance to comply with its disarmament obligations that had been repeatedly stated in previous UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR).
In a special declaration issued at the Prague Summit on 21-22 November, NATO heads of state and government pledged support for the implementation of this resolution.
In December, the United States proposed six measures, which NATO could take in the event of a possible military campaign against Iraq, should its government fail to comply with UNSCR 1441. These ranged from the protection of US military assets in Europe from possible terrorist attacks to defensive assistance to Turkey in the event of a threat from Iraq.
Iraq’s leader, Saddam Hussein, refused to comply and therefore raised suspicions among Security Council members. This prompted some to support immediate military action and others to insist that the weapon inspectors be given more time to conduct their work. The division in the UN was also reflected at NATO since there was no consensus among Alliance members either as to whether military action should be taken against Iraq.
The request from Turkey
Invocation of Article 4
Early February 2003, the United States put forward to the North Atlantic Council a proposal to task the Alliance’s military authorities to begin planning deterrent and defensive measures in relation to a possible threat to Turkey. No consensus was reached on this since members disagreed on the need for and timing of such measures.
In the morning of 10 February 2003, Turkey formally invoked Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty, asking for consultations in the North Atlantic Council on defensive assistance from NATO in the event of a threat to its population or territory resulting from armed conflict in neighbouring Iraq.
The request by Turkey was debated over several days, but no agreement was reached. Whereas there was no disagreement among NATO countries about their commitment to defend Turkey, there was a disagreement on whether deterrent and defensive measures should be initiated and, if so, at what point? Three member countries - Belgium, France and Germany - felt that any early moves by NATO to deploy defensive measures to Turkey could influence the ongoing debate at the United Nations Security Council in regard to Iraq and the effort to find a peaceful solution to the crisis.
On 16 February, with the cohesion of the Alliance under strain in the face of continued disagreement among the member countries, Lord Robertson, the Secretary General of NATO acting in his capacity as Chairman, concluded that no further progress on this matter could be made within the Council.
On the same day, with the concurrence of all member countries, the matter was taken up by the Defence Planning Committee. Composed of all member countries but France, which did not participate in NATO's integrated military structure at the time, the Committee was able to reach agreement on the next steps. It decided that NATO military authorities should provide military advice on the feasibility, implications and timelines of three possible defensive measures to assist Turkey. The Committee then reviewed this advice and on 19 February it authorized the military authorities to implement, as a matter of urgency, defensive measures to assist Turkey under the name of Operation Display Deterrence.