France won’t invoke NATO’s Article 5. The reason is Russia.
by Amanda Connolly (feat. David Perry)
November 17, 2015
Shortly after a series of deadly attacks in Paris by ISIS-linked extremists killed more than 120 people Friday night, political observers in Canada and abroad began arguing that France could and should invoke NATO’s Article 5 — the rarely-used ‘collective defence’ clause — to mobilize NATO nations against the militants in Iraq and Syria.
But according to some of Canada’s leading defence and security experts, France isn’t likely to use Article 5 against ISIS — and that if it did, it might jeopardize its chances of bringing Russian forces to bear against a mutual enemy.
“I would think if the French were going to go down that road they would have done it in the speech (Monday),” said Dave Perry, senior analyst at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, referring to French President François Hollande’s recent speech to the national legislature.
“Some of the language from the president seemed to be suggesting they’re going to engage in a more coordinated and active fashion with Russia and they would potentially be avoiding any kind of Russian sensitivities by not calling on NATO formally and rather sticking with a more ad hoc coalition to which the Russians would be potentially more amenable.”
The question of how closely to coordinate and cooperate with Russia — a long-time ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — has been a thorny one for Western politicians, particularly since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched airstrikes in Syria early last month.
The West and Russia have disagreed in the past over exactly what to do with Assad, whose brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protestors in 2011 spawned the civil war that has been raging for four years now — and has allowed ISIS a safe haven in which to grow and operate.
But that’s begun to change in recent weeks, with both the West and Russia indicating in peace talks a willingness to negotiate a democratic solution that includes a gradual transition of power and democratic elections.
Now, after the Paris attacks and the downing of a Russian passenger jet over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, for which ISIS claimed responsibility, there’s more talk about just how closely the West and Russia could work together to counter their mutual enemy. Calling in NATO wouldn’t aid that.
“I cannot come up with one good reason for France to invoke Article 5,” said Adam Chapnick, deputy director of education and assistant professor of defence studies at the Royal Military College of Canada. “It couldn’t do anything good for Russia and it couldn’t do anything good for NATO.”
Under Article 5, NATO members are obliged to respond to designated armed attacks against one of their members — but in whatever way they choose.
In other words, invoking Article 5 couldn’t force Canada to keep its fighter jets in the mission, or make any other NATO member contribute beyond what they’re already contributing to the mission.
Pulling the mission under a formal NATO banner would run the risk of exposing disagreements among member states on how to deal with ISIS — which Chapnick says would not be in the alliance’s interest — or of alienating Russia at a time when the West needs its help.
“If at some point Russia was looking for a reason not to engage or a reason to provoke the West, this could be it,” he says of any move to pull the mission under NATO.
Chapnick said such a move also could frustrate future efforts to involve countries like China — which is also grappling with Islamist extremism and recruiting efforts by the Islamic State throughout Central Asia.
Perry said that if President Hollande had intended to invoke Article 5, he would have done so during his speech in a special congress of French policymakers at Versailles on Monday.
Instead, he promised to speak with U.S. President Barack Obama and Putin in the coming days to ask them to consider a “wide and single coalition.”
“It seemed to me he was leaving open a pretty significant exploration of potential opportunities to collaborate in some way with Russia in Syria,” Perry said. “I certainly think that there’s a window that’s opened to engage against an enemy in ISIS which has shown to be a threat to both Russia and the other members of the coalition.”
Such an effort would require coalition partners to coordinate on matters beyond airstrikes, such as surveillance and the exchange of intelligence.
“Pretending that we can only share information with the Swedes or the Finns isn’t going to help anybody,” said Ray Boisvert, former assistant director of intelligence for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
Boisvert said that as things stand now, the West has very little scope for intelligence gathering on the ground in ISIS territory because “capabilities have been thwarted” in the wake of ex-CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations about surveillance operations.
Boisvert said that a broader military push against the militants requires better coordination between forces on the ground and intelligence-gathering — and that means working with the Russians.
“I find as distasteful as it is — because Putin’s agenda is very, very nefarious and has a lot to do with domestic politics and strategic plays. But nevertheless, you’ve got to get engaged with even those you don’t really care for when it comes to a much bigger concern that we all share,” he said. “I think Russia will have to be part of the discussions or they become part of the liabilities.”