quarta-feira, 18 de novembro de 2015
Hollande’s emerging war strategy
Hollande’s emerging war strategy
French look to build a ‘grand coalition’ on Syria, but to do what isn’t clear.
By PIERRE BRIANÇON 11/18/15, 8:17 PM CET
PARIS — Though François Hollande hasn’t defined with any precision his “war” aims — much less begun to overcome the enormous diplomatic and military obstacles in the way of his stated ambition to build a “large coalition” against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) — the French president’s strategy is taking clearer shape less than a week after Friday’s terrorist attacks.
The first task outlined by him this week is to break France’s isolation.
Hollande sees his country as increasingly alone since the January attacks on Charlie Hebdo. France is ISIL’s main target, and the European country that takes the fight against it most seriously. It is also battling Islamic radicals in several African countries.
The French president said he would ask the United Nations’ Security Council to adopt a resolution on fighting terrorism. He also invoked the little-known Article 42.7 of the European Union treaty, under which a member country that is the victim of armed aggression can request “aid and assistance” from other EU countries.
European defense ministers swiftly and unanimously agreed to the French request. It is now up to Paris to decide what type of aid it wants — military, material, or other — and up to other governments to decide whether they want to accommodate France. But the EU has no standing army and France already has the bloc’s most powerful military.
Roping in the United Nations’ Security Council is a more ambitious goal. Hollande wants to build “a grand and unique coalition” for Syria, as he said in his speech to Parliament, instead of the mish-mash of conflicting strategic interests currently colliding in the region. To French diplomats, that means Vladimir Putin’s Russia has to be brought back into the fold of talks about the future of the country.
Putin has moved swiftly since Friday, agreeing that both countries would coordinate their military actions in Syria and instructing his generals that France had to be considered “an ally.”
But France and Russia have different goals on Syria. Putin is using his air force in support of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Hollande still wants the Syrian leader gone although he now says that the priority is ISIL.
The Kremlin said Tuesday that a bomb brought down a Russian civil airliner over the Sinai peninsula last month. “That gives Putin an opportunity to modify his stance without appearing to contradict himself,” says Bruno Tertrais, a senior research fellow at Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique in Paris..
“But what’s important is not that Putin is brought back from the wilderness,” he adds. “There were plenty of informal talks going on with Russia about what to do in the region.
Hollande wants to back him up against the wall: If he really wants a coalition, now is the time to join.”
The French president’s ability to rally the world’s great powers and France’s traditional Western allies beyond the expected statements of empathy will be key to the success of his anti-ISIL strategy.
“Syria has become the largest terrorist factory the world has ever known and the international community — as I experienced many times — is divided and incoherent,” he said in his speech to Parliament.
Can Hollande’s proposals make the international community united and coherent instead?
The governments France is asking for support had little choice but to show empathy, analysts said. But will they agree with the French president’s statement that his country is “at war” with terrorism in general and ISIL specifically?
Hollande is vague about what he means by “war.” A dozen French warplanes have staged bombing raids against ISIL, and the carrier Charles de Gaulle is sailing towards the eastern Mediterranean, but there is no sign that France wants to stage a ground invasion of the Syrian-Iraqi borderlands. U.S. President Barack Obama has also ruled out a land war against ISIL.
“Just because you say ‘war’ doesn’t mean you necessarily expect the outcome to be military,” Tertrais said. “‘War’ is a term used by any statesman when his country is attacked.”
A French diplomat said Hollande is unlikely to ask the Security Council to share his “war” rhetoric — tacitly acknowledging that the term is being used in the political sense.
Even from Hollande’s viewpoint, the concept has its limits: The French position remains that a ground offensive is precisely what ISIL seeks — a view shared by many analysts. It “would galvanize jihadi recruitment and violence all over the world,” Jean-Pierre Filiu, a professor of Middle East studies at Sciences Po, wrote in POLITICO.
It is also still unclear what kind a resolution France wants from the Security Council — a vaguely-termed declaration of sympathy, or legal backing for its airstrikes recognizing the country’s right of self-defense under the U.N. charter?
Plus ça change
Beyond the first reactions and shows of solidarity with Paris, the situation on the ground may not have changed much in a couple of weeks compared to what it was before the day of the terrorist attacks, analysts said.
“All the expressions of sympathy will decrease by the day, said Jeremy Shapiro, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former member of the U.S. State Department’s policy planning staff. “In quite a few capitals the feeling will be: ‘What’s so special about France?’”
Shapiro recalls that Spain in 2004, was hit by by what remains the worst Islamist attack in European history. Ten bombs packed with nails exploded in four trains, killing 191 people and injuring 1,800.
In Syria, airstrikes will continue because this is required by the political situation more than out of a hope that ISIL can be vanquished through traditional military means, said the French diplomat.
Olivier Roy, a French Islam scholar, recently wrote that “ISIS is its own worst enemy,” in spite of appearances: Its territorial expansion is coming to an end, and it has little support among the Muslims living in Europe. That, however, doesn’t mean it will go away quickly.
That’s why, even if everything goes according to Hollande’s plan in the next months, the French president and his American, Russian and European counterparts will be back to the original question of how to deal politically with the Syrian quagmire, said Pierre Conesa, a strategic affairs scholar and former French defense ministry official.
At some point, he says, the West may want to realize that “it’s not its war “and that “at the heart of the problem is Salafism as promoted and financed by Saudi Arabia.
That is clearly not on the immediate agenda of the French government. Foreign minister Laurent Fabius told Parliament Wednesday that France’s U.N. resolution draft would ask for measures against “the states financing terrorism.” A day after Hollande had lunch with Qatar prime minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa al-Thani, he quickly added he had no evidence Saudi Arabia or any Gulf states were doing so.