On a cold winter day on January 4th, 1894, one of the penultimate nails in the coffin of the long peace since the Congress of Vienna was hammered in; the Franco-Russian Dual Alliance came into being. Bismarck’s worst nightmare of having a two front conflict had become a possible reality. Twenty years later it was a reality that left Europe in tatters.
That very alliance seems to be on the verge of reforming thanks to the actions of ISIS over the past month. ISIS has left Europe in tatters following the Friday 13th Paris attacks. Europe no longer feels the same when the cradle of its libertarian mentality – France – swears to rain down hell upon ISIS instead of freedom upon its victims – “France is at war”.
French President Francois Hollande has described Friday’s attacks in Paris as “an act of war” committed by Islamic State militants.
The Dual Alliance was unique in the sense that unlike other alliances of the late 19th century it was a defensive one, aimed directly at one nation; Germany. Other than the fear of an expansionist and hegemonic Germany, Imperial Russia and Republican France had no real common national interests in that period. France was isolated in Europe thanks to its expansionist past. Russia feared facing alone a war against both Germany and Austria-Hungary. With Germany as a common fear, the Republican French joined hands with the Czarist Russians.
Today, the new alliance is building on the same principle of common fear; the fear of the Islamic State. As in 1894, France and Russia could not have been any more different. France has continued its Republican traditions (baring the times when De Gaulle seemed to be a de facto dictator) while Russia has merely changed from Czarist to Putinist.
However the alliance is not aimed at an actual nation-state as in 1894. It is aimed at a violent non-state actor which tries to act like a state. France and Russia are not the superpowers they used to be in the previous edition. They can alter the balance of the situation but they can’t turn things on its head. Thus, both Hollande and Putin are approaching the United States.
Vladmir Putin was quick to state that the Russian vessels in the Mediterranean would be coordinating with France’s Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier led naval battle group. He even went to the extent of calling them French ‘allies’. I doubt ever since the Yalta conference (ignoring what ever Yeltsin might have uttered in his drunken stupors) France has been called a Russian ally.
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Putin has been lucky with the timing of events. Russia officially declared the flight A321 crash was caused by a bomb on Tuesday. France had carried out retaliatory bombings on Raqqa on Monday and Russia has used its cruise missile ship to launch attacks as well. The timing allowed Putin to rightfully call France his ally since their national interests now coincide.
I do not expect a formal declaration of an alliance to occur as in 1894. It will merely be an agreement for military coordination in fighting Islamic State in Syria. France might get access to intelligence coming through to Russia from the Assad forces. Russia in turn might get access to NATO derived intelligence from France. But for this to materialise, Hollande needs to concur with Obama and hence his meeting with him on the 24th, two days prior to meeting Putin.
Islamic State might have outdone it self by creating tragedies in two nuclear powers. Politicians are very adept at using such tragedies to create popular support for aggressive military action and increasing defense spending. George Bush did that post 9/11 and Putin used Chechen terror attacks in the past. Hollande has a weak popular support at home. Any success on the battlefield is his one shot at ending his days in office with a semblance of a legacy. Putin is going to be able to portray himself both at home and abroad as crusader for the innocent who has united world powers to end the Islamic State scourge. Even the otherwise non-militaristic Germany has promised reconnaissance and logistics support for France in Syria and Mali.
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This doesn’t mark the dramatic end of Islamic State as French and Russian planes pummel them with bombs. If annihilation from above worked, USA would have won in Vietnam. What needs to be done is to allow the global outroar over the Paris attacks and the flight A321 crash to be used to create a united global framework to bring peace to Syria. It is the hearts and minds of would be recruits of IS that must be won over by a global coalition. More bombs and more dead Arabs are not going to help with that cause. Surgical attacks on IS positions will benefit the Kurds and Iraqis fighting IS. But laying to waste cities will only drive even the moderates into the lap of IS.
Turkey downing the Russian Su-24 jet for apparent violation of Turkish airspace last week has affected the formation of cohesive and coherent Franco-Russian alliance against IS. It is now overshadowed by the doomsday like assertions worldwide of a near future NATO-Russian clash following the incident. That is exactly the Christmas present IS would love to receive.
If Russia decides to engage Turkey in a military confrontation over the downing of its plane by Ankara, it could trigger a major war between world powers, an American political analyst in Virginia says.
The possible emergence of a Franco-Russian alliance is the starting point of a possible global coalition. The talks in Geneva over Syria formed a good foundation but Turkey has put it in jeopardy. Turkey and Russia are vital actors in Syria. Now that they can’t seem to face each other until some memories fade, Geneva process will have to wait a while for more successful consensus.
News ID: 928680 Service: Politics “Vienna 3 talks (on Syria) will be held in the next two or three weeks and the meeting may be held in Vienna or Paris,” Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian said on Friday, adding, “Final venue of the talks is yet to be determined.”
The tragedies that affected France and Russia must be condoled. But importantly they have given the ability for politicians to accumulate some form of popular mandate to act against IS despite the economic downturn. And that in an era of “End of Power” (Moises Naim), is very important in the path to end the scourge of Islamic State and bring peace to Syria. But they must not be used as an excuse to rid civilians of their fundamental rights in the name of security, especially in France; the birthplace of modern liberalism, equality and freedom.