If the first duty of the state is to look after the safety of its citizens then the Fifth Republic has some hard decisions to make.
Dozens of its citizens have just been murdered, possibly by an entity which pretends it is itself a state. If so –what response will help ensure the future safety of French people? Going after the perpetrators, or withdrawing from the fray?
The French government is not doing the latter. It has a good idea with whom it is dealing and knows that retreat in the face of this enemy is unlikely to stop its advance. The more likely scenario is of increased military activity against Islamic State, and not just by France.
Paris has already exercised on in a range of options which was expected given that the government described Friday night’s attacks as ‘an act of war’. It has already hit the Islamic State HQ in Raqqa, Syria, and more of this can be expected. The Americans had so far held back from attacking Raqqa due to the risk of civilian casualties. The French aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle should leave for the Gulf on Wednesday and arrive in December. It can provide the extra fire power to hit Islamic State. To date the French air strikes have overwhelmingly been in Iraq, although it looks now as if that is changing.
President Hollande also has the option of sending in Special Forces to oversee what will probably be an increase in air strikes. What is less likely is a significant influx of ground forces.
The political debate is changing because of Paris. Already former President Sarkozy (who may stand again) is calling for an alliance of Russia, France, the USA and the UK to work together to combat IS. This resurrection of the WW2 alliance against fascism is a ‘big ask’, but if you take the view that the Paris attacks are a game changer then some form of co-operation cannot be ruled out.
The debate in America is also changing in the light of the attacks in Paris, Beirut, and the downing of the Russian passenger plane over the Sinai. Already the senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Diane Feinstein, has said that President Obama’s strategy of limited air strikes and minimal Special Forces support “are not sufficient to protect our country and our allies” adding “The fight is quickly spreading outside Iraq and Syria, and that’s why we must take the battle to them,”.
In the UK the debate about deeper involvement will also be re-ignited by the atrocity in Paris. Even before the attacks the UK’s Chief of Defence Staff, Sir Nick Houghton, said that “… we are letting our allies down by not being a full player.” In less reported remarks he also said There is also an opportunity for political convergence between America, ourselves, the West and Putin,”. This now ties in with former President Sarkozy’s latest remarks.