French Tragedy: US, NATO a No Go in Anti-Jihadists Effort (I)
Andrei AKULOV | 23.11.2015 | WORLD / Americas, Europe

French Tragedy: US, NATO a No Go in Anti-Jihadists Effort (I)

French President Francois Hollande will travel to Washington on November 24 and to Moscow on November 26 to discuss the fight against Islamic State (IS) and situation in Syria.

The trips to meet US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin would be made in the context of action by the international community in the struggle against the Islamic State and the effort to handle the situation in Syria. The meetings are to be part of international efforts to combat Islamic State militants and resolve the situation in Syria.

The inclusion of Russia into the itinerary an international coalition shows a shift in Paris’s stance after the deadly terrorist attacks. The French leader spoke with Mr. Putin on November 17 to prepare his visit to Moscow and coordinate efforts against the Islamic State (IS). Hollande earlier called on the US and Russia, both of which lead a separate effort to eradicate IS, to join forces. Moscow said a broad coalition was needed to defeat the terrorists, but the US said it would only agree if Syrian President Bashar Assad steps down. «Bottom line is, I do not foresee a situation in which we can end the civil war in Syria while Assad remains in power», Barack Obama told reporters in Manila on the sidelines of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

On the night of terror in Paris, French President Francois Hollande declared that the attacks were «an act of war» executed and planned by the Islamic State. 

In the days following the attack, France enhanced its counterterrorism activities in Syria. French fighter jets are conducting more airstrikes against terrorist targets.

A French naval group led by Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier has moved to is leading to the Syrian coast to boost French forces already deployed to the region.

On November 18, Hollande called for the creation of a broad coalition, which would see the US, Russia and other stakeholders join efforts to destroy the terrorist group.

Should it be created, it would truly be a global collective defense against a common threat to all humanity.

NATO: more words than deeds

The Paris tragedy prompted many to say that the French President could then invoke Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which stipulates that an attack on one country should be treated as an attack against all NATO members. Such an invocation would call on the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom and others to assist in the effort to «restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.» It has not happened.

«This is clearly an act of war and an attack on one of our NATO allies, and we should invoke Article 5 of the NATO agreement, and bring everyone together to put together a coalition to confront this challenge», Republican Senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio said on ABC’s This Week.

Article 5 of the NATO charter - the collective defense provision - has been invoked only once in the NATO’s 66-year history: after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. Should the collective defense clause be invoked by France or any other member, and ratified by NATO’s governing body, the North Atlantic Council, it could prompt some European armies that have so far played little if any role in the anti-IS campaign to get directly involved. It could also push President Barack Obama, who has been reluctant to involve large numbers of US forces in the conflict, to step up American involvement - which now includes air strikes in both Iraq and Syria; roughly 3,500 U.S. troops training and advising Iraqi forces; and the newly announced deployment of roughly 50 special forces troops into Syria.

Invoking Article 5 would require a full consensus among all member states - and there are prevailing pressures pushing in multiple directions. A number of NATO countries, particularly newer members that joined after the Cold War, may not view the IS as the top threat to European security. A more robust NATO role in Syria or Iraq would also likely require cooperating with Russia. 

«That’s really where the rubber meets the road. I don’t think there is any more appetite [among NATO nations] to use military force than there was yesterday or the day before. I don’t see that changing by invoking Article 5. You could argue that invoking Article 5 may be a feel good measure that leaves people off the hook from doing more», said Ivo Daalder, who served as the US ambassador to NATO from 2009 to 2013.

He said a number of NATO countries, particularly newer members, that joined after the Cold War, may not view the IS as the top threat to European security and still see Russia as enemy number one. «Let’s not forget that there are many NATO allies who think the threats in the east are at least as large as the threats in the south and would be worried that too much attention to the south would divert attention from the east», said Daalder, who is now head of the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs.

«NATO is not going to solve this problem», said Rep. Steve Israel, a New York Democrat and member of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee. It needs to be modernized to deal with non-conventional threats that are operating in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere», He noted adding that «We need a new NATO to fight asymmetric terrorism», Israel added, to include «new allies to create a stronger intelligence capacity on the ground in Syria and Iraq».

«NATO is neither a member of the international coalition against ISIL nor does it have a mandate to play a coordinating or facilitating role in the fight», wrote Andreas Jacobs and Jean-Loup Samaan, research advisers at the NATO Defence College in Rome. 

Former NATO commander in Europe retired Admiral James Stavridis, currently dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University, believes that that disagreements among the NATO partners in the past have hampered its ability to act in unison and that it has struggled in recent years to identify its primary role in global security. 

Actually, Article 5 can be invoked only if it was determined that the attack was perpetrated by a foreign actor, and not an incidence of domestic terrorism. Many NATO member states have suffered from domestic terrorism over the years, but it does not fall under the collective defense provisions of the Treaty. In a way, it was domestic in the case of France. A NATO mission based on Article 5 would likely be dominated by the United States, particularly given that NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander (SACEUR) is an American. Some in France may see it as an encroachment on national sovereignty. But Paris cannot efficiently fight the IS alone. France has asked for European solidarity and wants the US and Russia to cooperate in the endeavor. 

Experts said that France is unlikely to officially call on NATO, because the United States may oppose such a move. A NATO presence in the region also could do more harm than good in building an international coalition. 

In his speech at G20 summit US President Barack Obama cautioned that it would be a mistake to have full-scale ground force operations against the Islamic State instead advocating for a measured approach that seeks to prevent repeating errors made in other recent US wars. 

Tags: NATO  France  ISIS   Syria  US  Hollande  Obama