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Not to be left behind, NATO has now designated the cyber domain as a new frontline. Cyber attacks, the defence organisation contends, are now an area of operations that could demand a collective military response.

“We have decided that a cyber attack can trigger Article 5, meaning a cyber attack can trigger collective defense,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said after top level talks in Brussels.

Article 5 is the essential binding mechanism of NATO, stating that a major attack on one member state of the defence pact demands a collective response from all 28 members.

In talks earlier this month, defence ministers also agreed to establish four reinforced battalions in Poland and the Baltics, as well as examine the possibility of creating a multinational brigade in Romania, all as part of NATO efforts to increase its presence in the Alliance’s eastern and southern zones due to fears of a more “assertive Russia.”

NATO is now working on what it calls the largest military reinforcement in Europe since the end of the Cold War, which includes more than doubling the size of its rapid response force. NATO asserts that this is all in response to moves made by Russia in recent years, including the intervention in Ukraine.

NATO shift to the cyber domain comes as a response to increased virtual attacks that have become a major concern for the Alliance. Both China and Russia have been frequently accused of carrying out such attacks. It is unclear, however, what level of attack would necessitate a collective response.

Not all cyber assaults will necessarily rise to the level of invoking Article 5, Stoltenberg said. The only time Article 5 has been invoked was after the 11 September attacks on the US.