France's President Francois Hollande called a conference in Paris on combating the so-called "Islamic State" ("IS") terrorist militia. Twenty-six countries sent representatives, but the president of beleaguered Iraq was the only head of state in attendance. The rest were foreign ministers. A few weeks ago, Hollande had spoken of a major summit meeting of heads of state and government, but that didn't happen - possibly because the coalition against the unscrupulous terrorist organization already exists. The Paris conference merely reinforced it.
The French president was essentially reenacting what the United States had already organized. US President Barack Obama obtained the support of the willing from the Western camp at the NATO summit meeting in Wales earlier this month. Hollande was among them, but the French leader, who's having a hard time politically at home, wanted another opportunity to shine.
In the last few days during his trip to the Middle East, US Secretary of State John Kerry managed to get 10 Arab states to align themselves with this relatively loose coalition. Of course, it can't do any harm to meet again in Paris, but no pledges of any real substance were made during this anti-"IS" conference. The UK and and France merely indicated that they might be prepared to participate in US airstrikes on "IS" positions. The Arab states repeated their willingness to do what should have happened long ago: stop the flow of money to the terrorist militia. The bloodthirsty Islamists have been financed in large part by donations and allowances from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Germany and other countries plan to supply arms to the Kurdish fighters opposing "IS," and train them to use the weapons. The coalition also intends to prevent "IS" from selling and exporting oil, which it is currently in a position to do.
Air attacks and better weaponry for the Kurds will not be enough to "destroy" the "IS" troops, as British Prime Minister David Cameron has demanded. The CIA estimates that there are some 30,000 terrorists who are not only operating in the desert but have also established themselves in cities and residential areas. It will not be possible to defeat these militias from the air without a willingness to accept countless civilian casualties. Ultimately, ground troops would be needed if the coalition actually wanted to disarm the "IS" terrorists.
But do they? The aims, as formulated in Paris, are more modest and less concrete. The "Islamic State" is to be "remove[d]…from the regions in which it has established itself in Iraq," it says in the joint declaration. But what about Syria, Turkey, Lebanon? This new coalition may be able to contain the spread of the brutal murdering gangs, but no more than that.
The conference participants want to act in line with international law, as opposed to what happened in Iraq war in 2003, when the United States and its allies proceeded without a UN mandate. But a UN mandate requires the agreement of China and Russia. Unfortunately, in light of current tension over Ukraine, it's hardly likely that Moscow will be persuaded to participate. Since time is of the essence, the US will not be able to wait long for Russia or the UN.It will have to bomb "IS" retreats in Syria even without a mandate. Combating terrorism, which could easily spill over from Iraq and Syria to Europe and the United States, should really be a communal task for the NATO military alliance, for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), or for the community of values that is the European Union.
But when things really get serious these international alliances are apparently not worth much. Neither NATO nor the EU have been able to agree on a uniform position. A few members traveled individually to Paris. Security services estimate that there are already around 2,000 trained "IS" sleeper agents in Europe waiting for the terrorist organization to approve their mission. The danger is therefore very real, especially in the big NATO and EU states: France, Britain and Germany. A Frenchman trained by IS already killed four people in Belgium back in May.
It is therefore high time for European countries to start working together, not to keep ducking the issue and, as in the past, assume the US will sort it out. It's also no time to hide behind the argument that, thanks to its invasion of Iraq in 2003, the US is responsible for the whole chaotic situation in Iraq and the rise of new terrorist militias. This may be true; but the rest of the world has also looked away since at least 2006, ever since it became clear that a bomb-planting, murderous Islamist terrorist organization was emerging in Iraq. It has changed its name repeatedly before finally becoming the threat we are confronted with today.
In recent years, "IS" and its forerunners have brutally murdered hundreds of civilians. Here in Europe, these deaths barely made the papers. Western politicians have only woken up since the spectacular siege of thousands of refugees in Iraq and the savage beheading of three Western hostages over the past few weeks.
The pressure is now so great that Obama has to take military action, against his express intention. The pressure is now so great that, for the first time ever, a modern German government is supplying arms to a conflict zone. The pressure is resulting in conferences like the one in Paris. The pressure must result in the "coalition of the willing" freeing us from the terrorist threat. The measures announced so far are not going to be enough.