Islamic State’s show of force brings to light Europe’s vulnerability. It cannot remain in denial and must react.
After Paris and Copenhagen, Brussels has been the target of a mass terror attack carried out by Islamic State. The modus operandi shows how the nature and intensity of terrorism has changed. The fact that these were simultaneous attacks, in busy and under-protected public places in European capitals, is evidence of an extremely high degree of stategic planning and operational coordination. The timing – at a moment when governments and police were congratulating themselves on the capture of Salah Abdeslam – shows the reactivity of Islamic State and underlines our vulnerability. The designated targets – Zaventem airport and the Maalbeek metro station, a few hundred meters from the seat of European institutions – meant that this was an attack not just on Belgium but on Europe, its democratic values and its principles of the free movement of goods and people.
The show of strength of Islamic State is part of its redeployment in North Africa and Europe – outside its usual theatre of operations – which is concomitant with its setbacks in Iraq and Syria. With four priorities. To compromise any slender economic recovery by putting exchange barriers back up (growth being affected by the suspension of the Schengen area) and establishing a climate of fear and uncertainty. To reinforce its hold on a section of young people by increasing the recruitment of jihadists (7,000 to 8,000 joined up in Syria, of whom a quarter have died and 1,500 have returned to Europe). To terrorize people and establish a climate of civil and religious war. To initiate within the European Union a dynamic of disintegration, triggered by the decomposition of the Schengen area.
We have a tragic situation before us. Europe, with its dreams of leaving history behind, does not want to be anyone’s enemy or see itself as such. Yet, with Islamic State, it finds itself confronted by an enemy that has declared total war on it, with the aim of destroying its values and its civilisation. Europe cannot continue to be in denial. It is gambling not only with the continuing process of integration but with its very survival. Unless it sacrifices its freedoms, it cannot remain to be a security vacuum whilst being encompassed by threats extending from the Baltic States to Morocco, whilst its territory and its citizens are being hit by deadly attacks, and whilst a section of its young people is being enlisted by its enemies.
This new situation calls for a compete reversal of strategy. For sixty years, Europe has been building itself up against war, on the basis of law and trade, and making security an adjustment variable. Today, absolute priority must be given to drawing up and deploying an operational strategy for European security. It is true that individual nations remain ultimately the only ones in charge of their own security, a perfect example of national sovereignty. But the attacks in Paris and Brussels prove that threats know no frontiers. Interaction and chain reactions are as powerful in the field of terrorism as in that of finance within the euro zone. The solidity of the whole is only as strong as its weakest links: Greece for its national debt and Belgium for its security – by way of its role as a sanctuary for Islamists and the weakness of state power.
What do we want to do? To protect our people, our essential infrastructures, our territory and the external border of the Union whilst stabilizing its periphery. What do we have we do? In each country, to create an authority in charge of the fight against Islamism that brings together the police, the judiciary and the army, and coordinates them. To take back control of our external borders by reinforcing national forces with a body of European coastguards and border guards (Frontex receives a grant of 145 million euros compared to 32 billion dollars for the Homeland Department in the United States). To make the Schengen area secure by at long last activating data exchange, which at the moment is limited to data that transits by the United States. To put an end to the anarchic reception of refugees, who are today being infiltrated by several hundred jihadists, by creating a European Commission, by unifying the right to asylum, and by sending back any unregistered applicants for asylum. To engage in a codevelopment policy with North Africa, notably with Tunisia. To rearm within the NATO norms, which allow for at least 2% of GDP to be given over to defense efforts.
Those who wish to destroy Europe for the values that it embodies underline by default its identity and its common destiny. We have to find the courage to defend our democracies by providing security for our people and not just producing norms. Let us revive the heroism of reason in order to fight radical Islamism, without hatred but without respite, until it is eradicated.
This column was simultaneously published in seven European neswpapers