The terrorist attacks of November 13th:

Are we at war?


The semantic debate surrounding the use of the word “war” is occupying the media, politicians, professional commentators as well as adepts of the internet and the social networks. The answer is quite simple: “Yes”! It is nevertheless important to explain what kind of war we refer to.


Why refer to a collective “We”? As was the case after the 9/11 attacks in the USA, the events in Paris are a characterised aggression against a NATO member; consequently, as specified in Chapter VII of the treaty, it constitutes an attack against all its members and implies a coordinated response of all countries concerned.


Accepting this has several major advantages: it allows one to transcend, for the time being, the deep disagreements that are pulling the EU apart in a number of closely related issues: those concerning immigration and refugee policies, the resumption of negotiations on Turkish membership, reforming the Schengen agreements and policing the Union’s external borders as well as “Brexit” to mention just a few.


It is not the first time that NATO serves as a shield and offers a credible response to a challenge along the lines posed by the Islamic State: the latter has both a “national” dimension, where its barbarism affects directly the populations it has conquered, and an “international” one, by which it aims at destabilizing internally entire societies, in particular those including a substantial Muslim minority. It carries out its “war” in the name of a perverse and fascist ideology which manipulates and misrepresents their religion and aims at opposing religious and/or ethnic groups one against the other.


A similar situation (the “cold war”) prevailed after WWII when the Soviet Union attempted, in addition to the occupation of their satellite countries, to destabilize western European democracies through the intermediary of totally beholden national communist parties, supported by significant segments of the local intelligentsias. It is only after a lengthy period of sustained efforts, with the emergence of renewed prosperity, the progressive return of liberties and the liberalization of information that the danger finally receded; a similar process will be needed if one is to integrate/assimilate successfully the various communities that have settled in our countries and thus remove internally generated threats.


Initiating a “military” response carried out by NATO, in close cooperation with Russia, Iran and the government of Bechar al Assad, would permit the assembling under the most favourable conditions of the necessary means to eradicate physically the alliance’s main enemy: the Islamic State. This - apparently counter intuitive –coalition is fully justified as was the case when the allies overcame their differences in their common aim of defeating national-socialism and fascism during WWII.


If the possibility of a military victory is not in doubt, as demonstrated by the two campaigns lead by the Americans in Iraq, it is rather the management of the subsequent peace, imposed from outside, which deserves careful consideration and should take fully into account of the painful lessons of the recent past. It should provide a unique opportunity to address the fundamental problems that have transformed the Middle-East into a powder keg of which local populations are the main victims.


The issues needing resolution include the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the religious wars opposing Shiite and Sunnite Muslims together with their consequences on Christian or other minority religions, as well as those stemming from the arbitrary territorial borders imposed by the great powers during the XXth century among which the scattering of the Kurdish population across several countries constitutes the most emblematic example.


Peace will not be imposed against the will of populations but rather by offering citizens real hope for an economic, social and cultural future that corresponds to their legitimate aspirations. Such a program implies the mobilisation of huge resources. Local contributions, based on the enormous mineral wealth of the region should play a major role but western countries should also participate significantly because it is in their own interest. The first peace dividend will be to contain the refugee problem, allowing a great number of displaced people to return home to undertake the reconstruction of their devasted homelands; furthermore, the blackmail carried out by Turkey on this issue will vanish (which does not exclude EU support). In addition, the emergency resources (for the military, the police and the judiciary) which are being deployed as a matter of extreme urgency because of the prevailing terrorist threats, will be progressively returned to more normal levels. Finally, conditions for a resumption of economic growth will brighten, initiating a virtuous circle fostering development and helping to meet the global challenges of climate change, demography, healthcare, etc.


In conclusion, the terrible events of these recent days should create a salutary choc which should lead to the re-evaluation of a number of vital questions outside of the petty framework in which narrow political interests have confined them over several decades. It should be an opportunity for a thorough overhaul of the entire EU project, the need for which should become clear to the great majority of its citizens. Thus old and new nationalist claims (including Brexit) should be buried once and for all; a revamped European governance, taking subsidiarity fully into account, should devolve the exercise of the fundamental attributes of sovereignty to the European level, recognizing that retaining them at national level is, in today’s world, mere posturing devoid of any real substance.


Brussels, November 16th 2015



Paul N. Goldschmidt

Director, European Commission (ret.); Member of the Steering Committee of the Thomas More Institute.


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