The war on terror launched by France after the deadly attacks Nov. 13 in Paris resembles the anti-terrorism campaign of the U.S. after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. It remains to be seen if France is going to repeat the mistakes of former U.S. President George Bush.
French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech during a meeting with French mayors in Paris, Wednesday Nov. 18, 2015. He says France is 'at war' against terrorism by the Islamic State group. Photo: AP
It has been a month since the Paris terrorist attacks. France has not yet fully recovered from the tragedy, and it will never be the same anyway. Regular citizens realized that even in the heart of Europe they cannot feel completely safe.
The French government is adjusting its security priorities. France is now ready to take up arms and launch a military campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS) in response to the terrorist attacks that were declared an act of war. All this is looking more and more like the aftermath of 9/11 in the U.S.
The War on Terror is a phrase coined by former U.S. President George W. Bush after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. 14 years later, “France is at war,” uttered François Hollande, the President of France, after Paris was targeted by terrorists on Nov. 13, 2015.
At the same time, we have to understand that the conditions under which the two Presidents made their statements could not be any more different. During the Enduring Freedom anti-terrorist campaign in Afghanistan, the concept of the War on Terror lost all its credibility. David Miliband, the former Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom (2007-2010), one of Washington's key allies in Afghanistan, back in 2009 made a strong statement that Britain was wrong in supporting the War on Terror.
"Historians will judge whether it has done more harm than good," Miliband said, adding that, in his opinion, the whole strategy had been dangerously counterproductive, helping otherwise disparate groups find common cause against the west. Soon the U.S. administration also distanced itself from the War on Terror.
Why is Paris bringing back the War on Terror?
Then why did the French authorities revive the concept a decade and a half later? Emotions and bathos aside, what is the pragmatic meaning behind the War on Terror? Clearly, Paris has a reason for bringing it back to life. It all makes perfect sense: the state of emergency could serve Paris the same way it served Washington: by untying its hands.
First, the country will be able to mobilize its resources for fighting a common foe. After Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. passed the unprecedented PATRIOT Act, which significantly limited basic freedoms for the sake of combating terrorism and strengthened the positions of law enforcement agencies and other power structures.
The French President promised to eradicate terrorism without compromising his country's freedom. However, when he addressed both Houses of Parliament in Versailles on Nov. 16, Hollande urged lawmakers to approve a three-month extension of the nation's state of emergency, pass new laws that would allow authorities to strip the citizenship from French-born terrorists and enact provisions that would make it easier to deport terrorist suspects.
Hollande also proposed adding 5,000 positions to the country's national paramilitary police force and said he would not propose cuts in the nation's defense spending until at least 2019.
All this looks like the “hawks” won a major victory as far as domestic affairs are concerned; consequently, the influence of law enforcement agencies and special services increased dramatically.
Second, the War on Terror, especially as a response to an attack, always provides a plethora of opportunities for self-defense. The day after 9/11, NATO announced that it interprets the terrorist acts against the U.S. as an attack on all 19 members of the Alliance.
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For the first time since its creation, NATO invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty that pertains to collective self-defense. The Article spells out that "an attack on one Ally shall be considered an attack on all Allies." The enactment of Article 5 supplied the foundation for allied military action as part of the War on Terror declared by Bush.
After Nov. 13 attacks, France did not publicly ask its NATO allies to invoke Article 5, according to Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary General of NATO.
Russia's permanent representative to NATO Alexander Grushko pointed out that there was a simple reason for France's decision not to ask for NATO support after the terrorist attacks in Paris: NATO has very limited resources when it comes to fighting terrorism.
However, France requested the assistance of EU partners. For the first time in its history, the Ministers of Defense agreed to invoke Article 42 (7) of the EU treaty that had been added to the agreement in the wake of the 2004 attack by Al-Qaeda terrorists on a train in Madrid.
Article 42 (7) stipulates, “If a member state is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other member states shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power.”
For now the real outcome of invoking the Article remains unclear, but there is no doubt that Paris strives to share its pain with its EU partners, solidify its position in the vanguard of the anti-terrorist coalition and, possibly, even take the lead.
Third, the state of emergency endows national law enforcement agencies with special privileges that go beyond the country's borders. The U.S. vividly demonstrated the mechanism during its campaign in Afghanistan. To begin with, Americans carefully crafted the image of a nation that is fighting terrorists and then capitalized on it, for example, by applying the “enemy combatant” status to Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters and thus supplying legal justification for the physical annihilation of not just terrorists, but also those who were only terrorist suspects.
When it comes to world politics, Hollande is not likely to succeed in assuming the position of the anti-terrorist coalition leader. That privilege remains with the U.S. President. It is important for Hollande to act independently and make his own moves as opposed to imitating someone else's failed tactic.
How Russia views the War on Terror
Russia never supported the War on Terror, not figuratively, but from its legal and practical standpoint. Since Bush first launched the War on Terror, Russian experts have been resolutely against labeling Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters as combatants.
The reason is simple - admitting that terrorists are combatants would legitimize them, granting them the same legal status as that of law enforcement and military officers that are fighting terrorism.
What remains to be seen now is how Russia responds to France’s new War on Terror, especially in the context of the growing complexity of the situation in Syria.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.