As Parisians returned to work on Monday after spending the weekend taking in the scale of Friday’s attacks that scarred their city, French airplanes were flying over Syria, bombing the city of Raqqa, one of the strongholds of the Islamic State.
If the Paris attacks that have killed at least 129 people is France’s 9/11, then French President Francois Hollande is determined to wage his own war on terror in retaliation. And Germany, which normally shies from military action, will have to decide how far it is willing to go to support its closest neighbor and ally.
Chancellor Angela Merkel was one of the first leaders to issue a public statement of solidarity, saying: “We will lead this fight together with you against those who did such unimaginable things to you.” But Germany is not taking part in the air strikes, and Ms. Merkel must now decide how she plans to fulfill that promise.
Christian Mölling, a defense and security expert at the German Marshall Fund, a think tank in Berlin, told Handelsblatt Global Edition that it is unlikely Germany will overcome its reluctance to engage militarily without a United Nations mandate, but will probably support France in other ways.
In particular, Mr. Mölling suggested that Germany could take over some of France’s responsibilities in other U.N. missions overseas.
“The French military is incredibly overstretched at the moment: if Germany took on some of their responsibilities, it would give France more room to maneuver,” Mr. Mölling said.
Germany has said it will consider increasing its contribution to the U.N. mission north of Mali, in west Africa, for example. Earlier discussions had focused on sending intelligence officials, but Mr. Mölling suggested Germany may now consider sending troops.
“Germany is not in favor of a military response on this, and neither, to be honest, are the Americans. There is absolutely no appetite for operations on the ground.”
At the G20 summit in Turkey, which began Sunday and concludes Monday, it was clear there is an appetite to appear coordinated and united in the face of the IS aggression.
It is also clear that the terror attacks in Paris have realigned geo-politics. Less than two months ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin was vilified for launching air strikes in Syria as part of his wider support for Syrian President Bashar al Assad. The United States and Europe, who want to see Mr. Assad out of power, complained that the Russian attacks targeted IS but also legitimate opposition groups they were supporting.
But now the mood has changed. President Obama had a 35-minute discussion with Mr. Putin at the summit in Antalya on Sunday — the first time the two have spoken since Russia’s air strikes began. Ms. Merkel also held her own discussions with Mr. Putin on Sunday evening, discussing both Syria and Ukraine, though their focus was less on military action and more on how to achieve peace in Syria.
This thawing of relations with Russia may be why France has not yet decided to involve NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Under NATO rules, an attack on one member is considered an attack on all: The United States invoked NATO in the wake of 9/11 to mobilize military operations in Afghanistan.
In an interview over the weekend, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance would be willing to help France with intelligence and military assets. But Europe and the United States are not keen, at the moment, to openly antagonize Russia, which was, essentially, the ”enemy” NATO was created to confront.
Mr. Mölling pointed out that involving NATO would limit France.
“Using NATO would be a symbol appreciated by France as a sign of solidarity, but if you have a real NATO operation, then all those who are cautious about military action in the region, including the Germans, would have a say in what happens. Germany is not in favor of a military response on this, and neither, to be honest, are the Americans. There is absolutely no appetite for operations on the ground. Everyone would be reminded of Afghanistan and how long that has lasted,” Mr. Mölling said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged to work closely with the French government to find those who carried out and facilitated the attacks, but the most obvious way to cooperate is through sharing intelligence and coordinating efforts to locate and break up terror cells inside Europe. In the early hours of Monday, French authorities carried out raids in Toulouse, Grenoble, Jeumont and the Paris suburb of Bobigny. Similar raids are bound to follow in Germany and Belgium.
This is also an opportunity for Ms. Merkel to do one of the things she does best: broker talks between Europe and Russia, and possibly also in the Middle East. “Germany has a good reputation in the Arab world, mainly because we have done business with everyone and been clever enough not to link commercial interests to political deals. Also, Germany is not part of any active military operation in the region, unlike the French,” Mr. Mölling said.
Military action is unpopular in Germany, and the German government, already struggling with growing public concern over the refugee crisis, is unlikely to want to annoy its citizens further.
Anand Menon, a professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King’s College London, told Handelsblatt Global Edition that one of the most effective ways Germany can help France is by continuing to lead in the refugee crisis. The French government is deeply concerned that a large influx of refugees will lead directly to a spike in support for the right-wing Front National, which is already predicted to win seats in regional elections in December.
“Germany is essentially saying we understand the French have a political problem when it comes to migration, and we are carrying France’s share of the burden as we understand the problems they face,” Mr. Menon said. “I would then expect France to sympathize with Germany’s problems over military action.”
Video: France 24: French airstrikes on Islamic State group targets to continue.
Meera Selva is an editor at Handelsblatt Global Edition. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org