After the brutal terrorist attacks that occurred on November 13 in Paris, France’s President Francois Hollande got actively involved in the creation of an international coalition against terrorism that would allow all major powers to work together within the framework of the United Nations. This decision was influenced to a certain degree by the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution regarding the fight against the Islamic State (ISIL), that was originally drafted by France. Therefore, the French president went on a diplomatic tour to convince the US (on 24 November) and Russia (on 26 November) that such a coalition was a real and timely possibility.
After running a series of small summits, Francois Hollande tried to launch a media campaign in France by forcing the government controlled media to get involved in covering his efforts. This resulted in a certain growth of his approval rating which had been falling rapidly in recent years. Eventually it reached the mark of 33%. Holland has also received formal signs of approval for his efforts by a number of Western leaders.
However, even at the very start of his mission, it became clear for the French leader that there’s no easy way of uniting countries with different positions on the prospect of a Syrian settlement and the role that the sitting legitimate government in Damascus should be playing in the fight against ISIL. Leaders of the United States, Russia, Germany and the UK, with whom Hollande was negotiating with in recent days, all agreed with the need to destroy ISIL. All of them, it seems, are prepared to commit to a peace agreement to put an end to the war in Syria, but as for the ways that these goals should be achieved, their positions tend to differ.
David Cameron, who met with Hollande in Paris on November 23, tried to make it clear that he is less worried about the fight against ISIL than he is concerned about the wave of illegal immigration. Nevertheless, he suggested that France could use a British military base in Cyprus, along with RAF’s capabilities to refuel French military aircraft in the air. In addition, Cameron stated that soon he might be able to send British military aircraft to Syria.
Barack Obama, who finds himself under increasing pressure from both Republicans and Democrats, dashed Hollande’s hopes that the US might become a more active player in the global coalition. The best Obama could put on the table was an increase in the number of air strikes and drone attacks in Syria, along with additional weapons supply operations to be carried out by the US military. At a press conference after the meeting, Obama made it crystal clear that he is not impressed with the plan that was brought forward by the French leader, which buried the future coalition even before it was assembled.
The meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin was, perhaps, the toughest challenge that Hollande had to face. It was made even more difficult by the claims that France’s president made back in October, when he underlined that “at the moment, Putin is not our ally, he is an ally of Bashar al-Assad.” Moreover, the recent downing of Russia’s SU-24 and the position that Turkey has been defending so far, while being a NATO member, therefore, following Washington’s orders, revealed the most unpleasant qualities of those allies-to-be that Paris wanted Moscow to cooperate with.
One hardly can describe the words of US State Department spokesman Mark Toner, who stated that the members of the Syrian “moderate opposition” that murdered the Russian pilot in cold blood while he was descending on a parachute, had the right to “self-defense.” It’s amazing how a senior American official can just ignore the simplest concepts of human dignity along with Article 42 of the UN Charter, that prohibits the execution of crew members of an aircraft in distress when they are parachuting down.
In gross violation of the memorandum between Russia and the United States on the safety of flights in Syria for the duration of the anti-terrorist operation, Washington has deliberately allowed or even demanded, as some Western and Turkish media sources hint, the shooting down of a Russian bomber. One can recall that Pentagon’s spokesman Peter Cook stated back in October that the memorandum between Russia and the US officially came into effect. However, less than a month later, Turkey, which is legally bound to observe this memorandum too, has treacherously shot down a Russian SU-24.
Under these circumstances what agreements could Moscow be discussing with Paris?
In addition, one cannot neglect the report that was published by Sunday Times a while ago, that stated that RAF pilots received clearance to bring down “unfriendly” Russian planes if they are to “to pose a threat to their lives” over the Middle East .
However, despite these circumstances, Putin confirmed that Moscow is interested in the creation of a global coalition against ISIL, which would operate within the framework of UN resolutions, but not within the web of Washington’s individual agreements with certain states that have no international status whatsoever. Therefore, Russia has offered France its assistance, particularly in the domain of intelligence sharing.
Germany has also stated that it’s willing to provide support to Francois Hollande, however, no specific steps have been made or voiced so far.
For now it is safe to say that Hollande’s attempts to create a “broad coalition” against ISIL have ultimately failed. This has been confirmed by Vladimir Putin’s statement, which he made after meeting the French president:
We believe that we would better create a single, united coalition as it would be easier, simpler and more efficient to coordinate our work that way. if our partners aren’t ready for that, OK, we are ready to work in a different format that is acceptable to our partners. We are ready to cooperate with the U.S.-led coalition.
In the meantime, as it has been noted by the Independent, the US-led coalition is falling apart rapidly. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States are now rarely involved in any actual operations, while being focused on the situation in Yemen, where they’ve faced harsh resistance from the Houthi forces, supported by Iran. The vast majority of Turkish air strikes are aimed at the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s positions to begin with, so they had little to do with the fight against ISIL.
As it has been noted by the former Pentagon adviser, David Kilcullen, ISIL is now actively preparing for a guerrilla war in Western Europe. It has already established safe houses, weapons caches, and terrorist cells that are prepared to launch new terrorist attacks. Kilcullen is convinced that we are witnessing a classic example of urban guerrilla warfare in the making. Kilcullen underlines that ISIL is being turned into “an organization with a strict structure of command, that follows the example of the Northern Ireland IRA or the Spanish ETA.
All this means that there’s an urgent need to establish a universal coalition against ISIL. And the sooner it will be assembled – the better, especially for those European citizens that cannot feel safe anymore in their home counties.
Vladimir Platov, expert specialized on the Middle East region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”