In The Media

France will hit back at IS. Will its allies join a bigger fight?

by George Petrolekas

The Globe and Mail
November 14, 2015

There are tipping points in global affairs that can completely alter trajectories of countries, creating entirely new priorities in their wake. Friday night’s attacks in Paris, which defy any suitable adjective to describe them, are such an inflexion point.

French President François Hollande has called these attacks an “act of war”, as information emerging Saturday indicates that these were not just attacks of a radicalized lone wolf group inside France, but bear all the hallmarks of a planned and directed attack. Coming on the heels of the suspected bombing of a Russian airliner over the Sinai, and this week’s bombing in Beirut, the attack on Paris is, by all indication, a systemic attack by the Islamic State. So, now what?

With Mr. Hollande's promise to mercilessly pursue IS - and not just the conspirators - one can expect France to dramatically increase its contribution of fighter aircraft and special forces to the coalition in the immediate days ahead. As in Mali three years ago, France has demonstrated it can react quickly when it must.

France can do this alone, but to maintain an increased intensity Mr. Hollande will almost certainly use every diplomatic lever he has to pressure friends to stand with France. It isn’t quite like the earlier U.S. ‘if you aren’t with us, you are against us’, but in this hour of national shock France will look down on any dithering. France’s closest friends and geographic neighbours, many of whom have experienced their own issues with IS-inspired terror - the Belgians, the Dutch - will most certainly support this view and effort. Canada’s expected pullout from Iraq and Syria will certainly be questioned.

So, as the months progress, expect a more holistic response: France will use every means at its disposal to galvanize an international response; intelligence sharing; border controls - especially in frontline states; financial tracking; and coordinated special forces actions.

Any ambivalence about hitting IS in Syria has now disappeared and we can expect a highly intensified bombing campaign. It will be broader in scope - attacking economic targets, and IS lines of communication - with less concern about collateral damage that has so far limited the allied air campaign.

There will no doubt be discussions at NATO with respect to invoking Article 5, the clause that signifies that an attack against one is an attack against all. The precedent is Sept. 11, which led to the eventual invasion of Afghanistan. If NATO does not act as an alliance, a newly invigorated coalition is a certainty.

The attack on Paris will now become the catalyst for serious discussions about the establishment of a ground force to attack IS in its heartland. The objections to no western boots on the ground vanished Friday night, as did questions of “what would come after IS”, or the proverbial end state and exit strategies. What matters now, to the French at least, is that the very existence of IS leads to attacks, radicalization and the flow of fighters to the extremist group; extinguish that flame and the moths stop coming to it.

As a corollary, any discussion of President Bashar al-Assad as a point of contention in the wider Syrian issue has been taken off the table and, paradoxically, added credence to Russia’s views. IS is a terror state that must be viewed separately from other events in Syria. The initial statements by both Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin point to that idea.

At the start of the attacks, with sounds of bombs and gunfire in the background, Frenchmen at the Stade de France broke into a spontaneous singing of the Marseillaise. No one should underestimate Gallic pride, strength and conviction at this juncture. Aux armes, citoyens.

World leaders are discovering again that governing isn't all about what you wished to do, but what you end up being forced to do; not by choice, but of necessity.

George Petrolekas has served in Bosnia and Afghanistan and has been an adviser to senior NATO commanders.

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