Ex-NATO Chief Says Paris Attacks Qualify For Global Response, Should France Request It

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British Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. President Barack Obama greet the then-NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen (L) at the start of the NATO summit in Wales September 4, 2014. Rasmussen said that France would have justification for calling on its allies in the wake of the Paris attacks. Reuters/Andrew Winning

NATO's former Secretary General says that France would be justified in asking the alliance for a joint military offensive against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) in response to the Paris attacks last Friday—but doubts the country will make the request.

"Article 5" of the North Atlantic Treaty, the document that binds member states, says that "an attack against one ally is considered as an attack against all allies" and any country can invoke the article to begin "collective defense" against a common enemy. The only time any ally has previously invoked Article 5 of the agreement was in 2001 after the September 11 attacks in New York.

"Formally, I do believe that the attacks on Paris qualify for an invocation of Article 5," says Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who headed the alliance before stepping down in 2014. "It was an attack on an ally and we know who the attacker is."

Rasmussen became Prime Minister of Denmark, a member of NATO, two months after the attacks in New York and says: "This is very similar to the situation after 9/11. At the time there was even more doubt about who the attacker was. Nevertheless NATO decided unanimously to invoke Article 5. I have no doubt that the basis is there if France requests it. The formal conditions are there."

He adds: "NATO is a unique security organization that has an outstanding military command structure ready. We are used to working together. I have no doubt that a NATO operation would militarily be successful. The question remains whether France requests this against Islamic State and I do not think they will."

Omar Lamrani, a military analyst for global intelligence company Stratfor, says that speculation that France could call for NATO support has grown as French president François Hollande repeatedly refers to waging "war" on ISIS.

"After 9/11 there is a precedent for this," Lamrani says. "[But] it is not clear if France will do that yet as the French are still discussing among themselves how to respond,"

Lamrani says that there is no guarantee that a ground invasion would follow, even if France did ask for its allies intervention.

"Article 5's language does call for a joint response from all allies but the actions would be as each nation deems necessary," Lamrani says. "Just because an ally invokes the article doesn't mean other allies are obliged to send more armed forces. Article 5 only demands that they give aid to France. This could be everything from very much to very little."

Lamrani also argues that ISIS may gain a morale boost from a possible NATO invocation of Article 5. "In their minds this would give them legitimacy," he says. "They want to provoke a massive response and they may want a ground offensive as, at the moment, they are being punished from the air and are not able to respond."

He adds: "If NATO invoked Article 5, ISIS would be able to argue that this is a real war and not just a counter terrorism effort."

A NATO representative tells Newsweek that by Monday evening France had not invoked NATO Article 5 nor called for an emergency meeting. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity per NATO policy, adds: "We support the French authorities in their determination to deal with the terrorist threat. Allies continue to exchange information and assessments."

He also highlighted that Article 5 was not invoked during other attacks in Europe including the bus and tube bombings in London in 2005 and the 2004 train attacks in Madrid.