A Pounding in the Pacific

In a move that sent shock-waves around the Pacific Ocean, Australia is bound to become the third-largest operator of nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN’s). But let’s start from the beginning.

Australia has a lot of water surrounding it, and the distances are long. Most countries with that situation rely on nuclear-powered submarines for the simple reason that they offers longer endurance and higher speed. However, Australia doesn’t sport any kind of nuclear infrastructure to speak about (besides a single research reactor and remnants of old UK weapons tests), and nuclear power has generally been seen as not an option. As such, when the current Collins-class, mainly famous for being the largest submarines ever designed in Sweden and for suffering from a significant amount of teething troubles due to being the largest submarines ever designed in Sweden – the physical properties of water scale poorly – was to be replaced, the requirement was for a very large conventionally powered submarine. In the end, Sweden, Germany, and France were confirmed to be in the running for the contract. Sweden offered an enlarged version of their current state-of-the-art submarine, the A26, which was a design principle that worked poorly with the Collins. Germany offered the Type 216, which again was a paper product based on the existing Type 214 – but larger. The French concept was to take the new French SSN-class the Barracuda (or Suffren-class as it is also known after the first boat of the class), and convert it to conventional power. And fit a completely different combat management system in it.

The boat that Australia should have bought, the Japanese Sōryū-class. It has now been replaced with the even more capable Taigei-class, which is an iterative low-risk design. Source: Kaijō Jieitai JMSDF

The fact that none of the submarines proposed actually existed probably tells you all about how unique the Australian requirement is. The one country which is building submarines that would fit the requirement was Japan, and they are among the finest submarines on the market. Or rather, they would be if Japan was interested in exporting defence equipment. The Sōryū-class was by many regarded as the front-runner, but in the end it seems it didn’t make it to the final selection. In any case, it was the one submarine that likely would have made sense to the SEA 1000-programme as the Collins-replacement is officially designated.

The Shortfin Barracuda (an excellent name, by the way) ran into problems quite quickly. The Australian counterpart required a significant amount of work be made locally, and notable is that there is no submarine industry in the country. Undertaking submarine production is one of the most complex engineering tasks found, and this requirement added significantly to the price tag. At the same time, the conversion work from one mode of propulsion to a completely different one proved even harder than it looked, and in essence there wasn’t much left of the original Barracuda once the design started to finalise.

Here a number of people will probably yell “Buy German, they know submarines!”, but while the Type 2xx-boats out of TKMS by all accounts are very good, it should be noted that France for decades has been an international powerhouse when it comes to submarines for both the domestic and the export markets. The submarines include both SSNs and SSKs (and SSBNs for domestic use), and have a very good reputation. (they also lead the post-war tonnage war by 1,450 t – 0 t compared to the German boats, though I wouldn’t read too much into that particular statistic). The eventual issues did not stem from getting a French boat, but from getting a paper product.

If it’s stupid but works it isn’t stupid, but unfortunately for the Shortfin Barracuda the basic project was just stupid and didn’t work. Something had to be done, and the Australians deserve credit for avoiding the alluring trap of the sunken cost fallacy (British Army, take note). And here is where this week’s announcement enter the equation.

The triple pact announced between the US-UK-Australia is far from a submarine deal, but rather a comprehensive security package including a number of practical steps, announced arms deals, and general security cooperation on an increased level (and let’s remember that the parties involved already were extremely close under the Five Eyes agreement). However, while getting Tomahawks is nice, there’s no denying that the SSN is the part that grabbed the headlines.

I didn’t expect the French to be happy about the announcement, but the official reaction has been absolutely positively furious. Some have claimed that France is overreacting to a major deal lost, and that it is largely theatre for domestic political reasons. However, most people with insight into the inner workings of French politics seem to take them at their word in this case, and in my opinion the notion that the French are unhappy because of a failed project is a significant oversimplification.

The American decision, which leads to the exclusion of a European ally and partner like France from a crucial partnership with Australia at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, be it over our values or respect for a multilateralism based on the rule of law, signals a lack of consistency which France can only notice and regret.

As the quote above shows, while there is understandably some anger directed towards Australia for breaking the contract (and doing so a mere two weeks after “Both sides committed to deepen defence industry cooperation and enhance their capability edge in the region. Ministers underlined the importance of the Future Submarine program” during a joint 2+2 ministerial meeting between French and Australian foreign and defence ministers), the main villain in the French eyes seem to be the US who not only outmanoeuvred the French, but brought along the British and left the French out in the cold. Crucially, there seems to have been little to no warning given to the French, who even if they must have known that the Shortfin Barracuda was in trouble, most likely did not anticipate the US and UK unilaterally deciding to trash the long-held non-proliferation convention to not export reactor technology for use aboard SSNs. Interestingly, it does seem that the initiative – as well as the decision to keep the French in the dark – came from the Australians, making the French framing of this being a US diplomatic backstabbing of the higher order seem somewhat misplaced.

The bilateral US-French relation has been growing in importance in recent years, and France – unlike the British – is a serious player in the Indo-Pacific region due to French Polynesia and the military presence based out of that region. La Royale is also by a margin the world’s third most powerful navy (after the USN and the PLAN). All in all, on paper France would seem to be the obvious choice for the role of junior expeditionary partner if you want to create a three-party alliance (let’s stay away from referring to it as the tripartite pact) in the region, with Australia bringing the local basing options and the US bringing their global reach. However, real life international relations are usually more complex than just playing top trumps. There’s little doubt that the Five Eyes/Anglosphere/Commonwealth/Special Relationship-bonds played an important role in ensuring that UK suddenly appeared in what France apparently sees as a US-scheme – note the reference to the “American decision” in the quote above. The UK is also a country that keeps punching above its weight in international relations based on a combination of historical grandeur, soft power, and just enough military force to be credible.

Nations might only have interests and not friends, but France is sometimes too open with that notion. Diplomacy is after all made between people, and people like to feel valued.

What happens now? France has declared this to “only heighten the need to raise loud and clear the issue of European strategic autonomy. There is no other credible path for defending our interests and values around the world, including in the Indo-Pacific region”, but truth be told Paris could interpret the sun shining as a sign that the issue of European strategic autonomy needs to be raised. And while the Australians certainly share part in the blame, it is hard not to feel that France dropped the ball utterly and completely, having had one foot in the door of ensuring a long and deep strategic partnership with one of the key players in the region, only to have it utterly trashed by the inability of Naval Group to deliver on promises. The yard stated yesterday that they have “delivered on all its commitments“, but I do believe they are quite alone in their worldview on that point.

As said, the idea of converting an SSN to an SSK was rather hare-brained to begin with, so I don’t blame them for struggling to deliver. However, if it is supposed to be a strategic partnership between countries, I fail to see how the diplomats weren’t involved to a greater extent at an earlier stage and why a greater priority wasn’t assigned? It might certainly have been the Australian partners who struggled, but in that case Naval Group would have been the one who needed to step up and ensure the success, so that isn’t an explanation in my book either. Hindsight might be 20-20, but the only explanation is that it wasn’t evident in France exactly how fed up the Australian politicians were with the project falling behind. The Australians doing the sensible thing and openly discussing the issues with the French, before cancelling the order and buying turn-key Taigei-class boats from Japan probably wouldn’t have lead to the same kind of diplomatic outrage. As it currently stands, this will be a setback to diplomatic relations between France and the AUKUS, and not because of the arms deal – people nab those all the time – but due to the backstabbing creation of a strategic partnership which also includes tech transfers that goes against long-standing proliferation conventions.

The Astute-class is extremely good, but comes with a price-tag to match. Source: LA(Phot) J Massey/MOD

But it wouldn’t be an Australian submarine program without the customer getting bright ideas. Now follows an 18-month planning phase, and then at some point Australia will build ‘at least’ eight(!) SSNs in Adelaide. It’s difficult to explain exactly how expensive this is bound to end up being. The boats themselves are expensive, even if they would end up buying either the Austute- or Virginia-class straight unmodified from the shelf (and we all know odds are they will be modified), and it’s notable that neither the British nor the French plan for eight boats in their respective fleet. However, building nuclear-powered attack submarines is bound to be one of the few things that will be even more difficult and expensive than building large conventional ones.

There are of course the even more expensive option left, namely to get surplus vessels as a stop-gap and try to keep them operational.

Side-note: The big winner here is Saab Kockums, since the Collins seem bound to stay in service for quite a bit longer than originally intended, needing service and updates along the way.

An SSN makes perfect sense for Australia, but what is unclear to me is how on earth they have managed to drag the US into this diplomatic mess, when the whole thing could have been a rather straightforward rerouted arms deal and all partners involved share the fear of China as a rising threat. To manage to convert that into something that has the potential to lead to a ‘Freedom Fries 2.0’-moment is quite the diplomatic achievement.

But in conclusion, several things can be true at the same time:

  • SSNs are the obvious operational choice for Australia,
  • Building them themselves will be horrendously expensive and likely lead to poor quality of workmanship on at least the first few vessels, something that might prove deadly if it ever comes to combat as the silence which submarines rely on require skilled workers,
  • The Shortfin Barracuda program was a disaster in the making, and while both parties certainly share part of the blame, cutting the losses was a wise move by the Australians,
  • While the French are sad that they’ve lost the deal, there is reason to start with a look in the mirror before criticising that part,
  • At the same time, the completely opaque launching of the AUKUS and having that include nuclear tech-transfer is what seemingly draw the most ire in Paris, and here they certainly are justified,
  • While not counter to the letter of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the way in which this is done does see the US and the UK unilaterally break old non-proliferation standards, something that tend to have the ability to come back to bite you later.

The Art of Dissuasion

When the French ambassador to Finland, Mrs. Cukierman, starts to talk about nuclear weapons in what ostensibly is a sales pitch for the Dassault Rafale as Finland’s next fighter, and is followed up by a company representative also getting into the fact that Rafale is nuclear-capable, you would be forgiven to think that someone from a competing eurocanard-maker has sabotaged their talking points. Finland and France both being longtime members of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). However, we are in fact again seeing something I have brought up numerous times on the blog: Rafale is something of an outlier when it comes to the HX-competition, both when it comes to the bid itself but also when it comes to marketing.

And once you accept that and get over the first shock of (figuratively) encountering the Air-Sol Moyenne Portée-Amélioré in Kaivopuisto – there turn out to be some good arguments in the French message this time as well.

The Rafale solo during the Kaivari 21 air show showing the stunning new special livery celebrating the space domain as well as the more traditional ones. Source: Own picture

Books have been written on France and its nuclear weapons, but in short France has a countervalue strategy, i.e. they will hurt you so much that it isn’t worth it. This did include the French curiosity of a ‘pre-strategic’ strike with an air-launched weapon taking place when vital French interest were threatened as a final warning to the enemy to stand down or face the full wrath of the French nuclear arsenal, but it is a subject of some debate whether this is still the plan. Still, even today the French place a high value on the airborne component of their nuclear weapons and have refused any political attempts at going SSBN-only like their British counterparts (also note that what is clear is that while the French see a use for low-yield weapons, these are not tactical weapons in French doctrine but simply smaller strategic ones). The point is, France places an extremely high importance on its independent nuclear deterrent, the Force de dissuasion, and for it to work as a deterrent everyone – friend and foe alike – needs to be absolutely sure that if the President gives the order, the result really will be fire and brimstone on the intended target. And the Rafale is chosen to be the bringer of that destruction.

In other words, it is a French vital strategic interest that the Rafale is reliable enough that it is mission ready 24-7-365. Cancelling a QRA scramble because of maintenance issues is embarrassing, cancelling a nuclear strike can mean the destruction of your country. Paris trust the Rafale to be ready if the call ever was to come, and practices the complete mission several times a year under the codename “Poker”. That is something else compared to promises of certain levels of availability by 2025.

The second point is equally important, and that is that the French trust the fighter to get through to its target regardless of when and where it sits. Granted the ASMP-A gives a certain matter of stand-off range (likely in the range of 300-500 km), but as you don’t get to chose your countervalue targets (rather, they can be expected to be found deep behind enemy lines and be rather well-defended) it doesn’t matter whether there is a so called ‘A2/AD-bubble’ in your way – you need to be able to punch through it. And here as well, Paris is confident that the Rafale can fight its way through anything thrown in its way. The SCAF and ASN4G may be on the horizon, but the Rafale will most likely still spend decades with the nuclear strike mission (note that the earlier Mirage 2000N was completely retired only back in 2018). All SCAF systems are to be in place around 2040, though that is both an ambitious timeline and likely more of an IOC than a FOC.

Now, the Finnish Defence Forces are decidedly conventional, but they still need to be sure of the same two things as their French counterpart: that their fighters are available and serviceable when called upon, and that they will be able to survive in hostile conditions both today and tomorrow, out to 2060. And there are few better guarantees that something will remain up-to-date than a major power seeing it as a vital national interest.

French fighters and an accompanying A330 MRTT which flew the non-stop 12 hour mission deploying to Tahiti earlier this year. Source: C. Vernat/AAE Facebook

As has been discussed on the blog earlier, the Rafale itself is a rather good for Finland. While the homeland oriented nature of the FDF means it isn’t going to fly to Tahiti any time soon, the ability to load up with extra fuel for extended endurance during air policing missions is nice. Using extreme low-level operations and advanced electronic warfare to operate within range of Russian sensors and weapons is also a nice feature which slots well into the kind of Goldilocks-transformation the FDF likes: building upon current Finnish CONOPS with evolutionary rather than revolutionary upgrades. The French national security policy is also rather well aligned with the Finnish one in the main point that security needs to rest on sovereign capability, which then is backed up through multiple levels of partnerships and capabilities allowing common operations. The fact that this is the only ITAR-free offer is also worth noting, as even US companies struggle with the US export control bureaucracy enough that they see it as a selling point (see Boeing’s ATS). In the same way as BAES, the message of full freedom to operate the aircraft and all supporting systems is a key part of the offer, and even if Finland currently has a US-based model that apparently works well, it is hard to overstate the peace of mind the promised “immediate full autonomy” would bring in the post-Trump era.

But what exactly is in the BAFO? Dassault, never one to be overly talkative, takes the line of not commenting on numbers. This is less of worry in my personal view than BAES not doing the same, precisely because Dassault (as opposed to BAES) has overall taken a rather more closed policy when it comes to communications. Still, it would be nice to hear a ‘6x’ number as confirmation.

Instead, the official line is that the offer cover:

Replacing the capability in full now offered by 64 Hornets and adding new capabilities.

For weaponry, you won’t see a statement, but it is made clear that the graphics shown to the assembled media is no accident but tailored to accompany the HX media events. As such, quite a bit can be concluded.

Part of slide shown to Finnish media and showing expected operational loads based on the weapons offered in the BAFO. Picture source: Dassault Aviation

The first thing that pop out is that the French expect their love of external drop tanks to carry on to Finland in case of a win. While the Finnish Hornets regularly are seen with drop tank configurations typical of USN usage, I still believe the full three-can configuration to be somewhat overkill for Finnish everyday flights. In any case, that’s hardly the interesting detail here.

Top-centre is the full air-to-air load. Notable is that Dassault has unlocked two additional slots for the Meteor compared to the current AAE-configuration, bringing a total of four very-long range Meteors, two medium-range MICA IR with imaging infrared seekers, and two medium-range MICA EM with active radar seekers. The load is smaller than those sported by some of the competition (such as Eurofighter with six Meteor and two ASRAAM or Gripen with seven Meteor and two IRIS-T), but is still on the high end of what can be expected from an operational wartime load and will burn through missiles stocks at an impressive rate once you start flying at a high tempo. The additional Meteor-stations have long been identified and preliminary testing has been done, but up until now France has decided against investing in the final certification work.

An interesting option is the top-left one, which is an anti-ship loadout sporting a single AM39 Exocet radar-seeking antiship missile as well as the two Meteor and two plus two MICA for self-defence. From the original more careful wordings given during the early stages of HX it now seems evident that the Finnish Air Force is seriously considering kinetic anti-ship weaponry for the HX-platform. The current Exocet is a long way from the original weapon that wreaked havoc in the Falklands and in the Gulf during the 80’s, but the basic design is still the one the FDF prefers when it comes to killing ships: big, slow, with an active radar seeker and a serious warhead. The antiship weapon on offer is unlikely to be a deciding factor, but the Finnish Navy will most likely be nodding approvingly if they end up receiving air-launched Exocet support.

250 kg AASM being installed on a Rafale during operations in the Middle East. Picture courtesy of © Dassault Aviation – A. Paringaux

Bottom-left and -centre are more traditional air-to-ground modes with the French AASM ‘Hammer’ series of guided missiles (the baseline bomb is fitted with a rocket propulsion unit as well as guidance kit). The particular versions of this modular weapon family shown in the presentation is obviously somewhat difficult to deduce, but safe to say is that the left one shows three 1,000 kg weapons (to be introduced on the F4-standard) while the middle one shows the operationally used with six 250 kg weapons. Both loads also feature two MICA IR and two Meteor for self-defence.

The heavy-strike weaponry is shown in the lower-right corner, and unsurprisingly shows two SCALP (Storm Shadow) heavy cruise missiles as well as MICA IR and Meteor missiles. Nothing strange here, and this loadout as well is in operational use by the French Air Force.

The upper right is the most interesting one, as it shows an uniquely Finnish alternative which I believe hasn’t been discussed in any other deal. We have nothing less but four JSM missiles (as well as two MICA plus two Meteor). With the Exocet providing the heavy antiship missile and based on the material provided by Dassault back last year in Kauhava, it seems evident that this is the SEAD/DEAD weapon of choice for targets that are just a bit too dangerous for one to want to bring the AASM to the fight (although it would be a mean ship-killing one as well). How this fit the requirement of a standard aligned with the main user is unclear, and the hole in Rafale’s armament between the AASM and the SCALP is as far as I am aware of the only instance in HX where a contender has had to integrate a new capability to cover Finnish requirements (the Swedish political decision to buy whatever Finland does in case of a Gripen win obviously being something of an outlier). While there’s pros and cons of a signal-seeker compared to a more traditional weapon in the SEAD-role, the JSM isn’t necessarily a worse weapon in the role compared to something like the AARGM-ER, as while targeting becomes more complicated it will instead offer increased flexibility to affect other kinds of targets such as large TELs and C2/C3-nodes.

Parts of Libyan Palamaria SPGs that belonged to a group of six that were destroyed by Rafales on 19 March 2011. The Rafale started flying swing-role missions with the introduction of the F2 standard already back in 2006. Source: Bernd.Brincken via Wikimedia Commons

There has been some claims that the datalink used by the Rafale for the Meteor is suboptimal for the purpose as it is originally designed for use with the MICA. While Dassault isn’t commenting on that specifically, they did note that the Rafale has an advanced datalink for use both between aircraft as well as between weapons. This allows for, among other things, passive collaborative identification where fighters share data from passive sensors, and fuse the sensor data to provide identification and firing solutions. Another possibility is to hand over Meteor mid-course guidance to another Rafale, allowing e.g. a Rafale to close passively and fire the weapon, after which it turns away and a second Rafale with the radar active at stand-off range takes over the guidance of the missile. As major-general (ret.) Joel Rode was happy to point out, the important part isn’t so much to just carry the Meteor, but how you are able to integrate it into the aircraft’s subsystems and how you employ it. And here, Dassault is very happy with the work done. The upcoming MICA NG which will be online by the time the HX reaches full operational capability is also set to give a serious improvement to the short- and medium-range punch of the aircraft, with new seekers for both versions and a new double-pulse rocket motor which will not only give longer range but significantly improve manoeuvring towards the end of the engagement.

Backing up the passive capabilities, the SPECTRA and its associated systems have generally received high marks, and according to Dassault the system was described by Finnish officers taking part in an exercise of the MACE-series of NATO research and testing exercises for aircraft self protection systems and tactics in Slovakia as “The Reference” in terms of detection and jamming capability.

Speaking of the highly complex world of electronic warfare, Dassault is the only contender to offer a combination of single- and twin-seat fighters for general operational use. Perhaps the best description of the value of operational twin-seaters in HX was ironically enough provided by Saab back before the “alignment with the main user”-requirement stopped the inclusion of the 39F in their BAFO:

Often there are other drivers for and needs of a two-seat aircraft configuration that, in combination with the more traditional training-related benefits, makes it relevant to procure two-seat fighters. […] Gripen F with its two seats, naturally provides additional flexibility to handle very advanced missions where it may be advantageous to have an additional pilot or operator on-board. Examples are Electronic Warfare Officer, Mission Commander and/or a Weapon System Officer in the rear-seat.

Saab might have been unable to proceed, but as France uses a mixed Rafale B/C-fleet for operational missions, they are happy to run with it. As mentioned, the exact numbers aren’t provided, but Benjamin Gardette, HX campaign director, note that the Finnish Air Force mix of 57 single-seaters and 7 twin-seaters is good if you only want the latter as a conversion/training platform, but that if you want operational usage you probably want to increase the number of twin-seaters. To give a hint of the numbers that could be involved, my understanding is that currently two out of the five operational Rafale squadrons (not counting test and evaluation or OCU units, nor forward deployed ones) fly the twin-seater on complex strike missions, both conventional and nuclear. For a hypothetical 64 aircraft fleet, that would mean 26 twin-seaters. Saab was planning on offering 12 twin-seaters (18 % of the total fighter number), which is a number closer to what I would expect for Finland based on the current lack of WSO/EW-specialists in the fighter force as well as no need for the nuclear mission. Still, that is pure speculation on my part, and it would be interesting to see where the eventual number lands. It is also highly possible that the BAFO include options of adjusting the ratio either up or down from the figure suggested by Dassault.

For the industrial participation side of things, Dassault believe that “up to” 5,000 jobs could be the outcome once calculating both the direct and indirect ones. The number is high, but roughly in line with the figures released by Saab and BAES. This isn’t really surprising, considering that all five industrial participation packages aim to cover roughly similar sums. A more interesting detail of potentially higher importance is that Dassault mention that they offer “Intellectual Property Rights free of use”. IPR-regulations is a highly specialised legal field, so I will avoid straying too far into it as I am bound to get something wrong. However, on a high level one can safely conclude that the free use of IPRs is a big deal, and likely one that is easier for the European contenders to offer compared to the US ones.

Designed to master the best known adversaries, and upcoming threats

There’s no denying that the choice of Rafale would constitute a major shift in bilateral cooperative patterns for FDF in general and the Finnish Air Force in particular, and that it would be a surprising outcome of HX. There’s also nagging questions about the cost and availability of quick refills of weapon stocks of the rather unique weapons offered with the aircraft, and France’s willingness to sell high-tech systems and platforms to anyone with money (including Russia) raises political concerns. Still, there’s much to be said for why the Rafale makes sense for Finland, including not only the performance of the platform itself but also how it slots into the Finnish concept of operations and the sovereignty it offers. The unique selling point of a combat-capable twin-seat fighter can also turn out to be quite the ace in their sleeve if it plays out well in the FDF wargames. The announcement of HX could well turn into a watershed moment in Finnish national security, but further increasing the attention the French armed forces give to developments around the Baltic Sea would hardly be a bad outcome in and of itself. Even as a conventional platform, there’s definitely a certain amount of dissuasion the canard born next to the Côte d’Argent would bring along to Finnish skies.

“C’est un acte de guerre” – #PrayforParis

France and specifically Paris have yet again been struck by a severe terror attack. I am using singular, as while shootings and explosions took place in several different locations, they were all clearly part of the same coordinated strike. As the picture of what has happened is slowly starting to emerge, this is a recollection of thoughts more than a deep analysis. My thoughts and prayers with those affected in different ways.

So far most things point to the perpetrators being Muslim extremists, especially as President Hollande has confirmed that ISIS is behind the attack. The whole discussion whether ISIS, Al Qaida, or some other group is behind this is not a straightforward one. To begin with, neither ISIS nor AQ has any strict membership criteria, so determining whether a person has joined or is affiliated with one of them is something of a sliding scale. This can range from lone people in front of their computers declaring allegiance to a certain movement, via people that have travelled to an active warzone like Syria and took part in fighting, all the way to those actually involved in the hierarchy, getting direct orders from higher ranks and in turn having subordinates.

Le Petit Cambodge, the location of one of the shootings. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Maya-Anaïs Yataghène

Due to the continuous intelligence operations ongoing against these kinds of networks, the last kind of membership is probably rather rare in European countries, as it creates too many opportunities for western intelligence agencies to monitor and eventually round-up whole networks of jihadists.

As such, many of the recent terrorists in Europe have been either so called ‘lone wolves’ or a handful of tightly knit people. This, however, is clearly something else, as indicated by the amount of coordination and ample supply of both weapons and explosives. The most obvious example of this kind of coordinated effort with both explosions and gunfire is the Mumbai attacks of 2008. In that case, there were some troubling claims made that the attackers would have received help from the Pakistani intelligence service, further highlighting the level of planning and coordination needed to pull of something like this.

The link to Syria and Hollande’s quote that the attack ”was prepared, organized and planned from outside” with help from inside France, shows the scope of the operation. To note is also the fact that he is able to both make this statement as well as to single out ISIS in less than 24 hours after the attack, which shows that French law enforcement and intelligence have a rather good picture of what has happened. The Germans connecting a recent terrorist-related arrest in Bavaria lends further credit to the work done by the different agencies combatting terrorism.

After attacks like this, if the terrorists have been active in the country for any serious length of time, they have usually been “under surveillance” or “known to the police”. That they still have been able to perform the attacks is not necessarily a sign of failure on behalf of the police or intelligence community, as is often claimed in certain mass media. The amount of radicalised young angry men quite certainly is outnumbering the actual terrorists by several orders of magnitude. It is simply impossible to have 100% control over the movements of them all.

Migration – The hot topic

The backlash (and counter-backlash) against the recent migration wave to Europe was as predictable as it is unhelpful. The number of simplifications and shortcuts made is staggering, but let’s note what in my opinion is the most glaring problems:

While the majority of immigrants are certainly not violent, denying that this influx of people from differing cultures will have an impact on their new home country is foolish. Some of this will be positive, some will be negative, and some things will simply be different. Pretending like there isn’t a story here just leaves the field open for populists to insert their narrative. Of course people fleeing different levels of atrocities and unsafe environments and then settling in a completely foreign culture will lead to a host of issues. Most, perhaps all, of these can be worked around, but only if we first acknowledge their existence.

Aux armes, citoyens

President Hollande also described this as “an act of war”, leading to speculation whether he will invoke NATO’s Article 5 and/or Article 222 of the Lisbon TreatyEdit: Sorry, I mixed up paragraph 222.7 of the TFEU with 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty. The quoted text is from the former and not the latter. The point is still valid though, as Hollande could have called upon either of the two treaties. The former includes the famous passage:

“…an armed attack against one [member,] each of them […] will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force”

While the latter reads:

“…if a Member State is the object of a terrorist attack […] The Union shall mobilise all the instruments at its disposal, including the military resources made available by the Member States.”

From a Finnish (and Swedish) viewpoint, it is worth noting that the latter is actually harsher, as it calls for “all instruments at its disposal”, and not just “such action as it deems necessary”. It is entirely possible for France to call upon the assistance of the Union, something which theoretically should have us mobilise all our resources to fight ISIS in order to “prevent the terrorist threat in the territory of” France. How such an enquiry would be answered is anybody’s guess, but it is safe to say that the request in itself would probably have an impact on the national security debate in Finland by once and for all killing the illusion of us still being neutral.

French troops during Opération Serval in Mali. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Idrissa Fall

The French military have a reputation in the Anglo-Saxon parts of the world of being weak “surrender monkeys”, an account which is based on the German assault in 1940 and the less than stellar performance of the French in that campaign. This reputation have always been more or less unfounded, and especially so now, more than three-quarters of a century later. Few if any countries gave the Germans a run for their money in the early stages of WWII, and in the years since the Armée de terre have played an active part in France’s foreign policy by taking part in a number of conflicts small and large. Taking place mainly in their former colonies in Africa, their deployments have been conducted in a fairly low-key manner, but the armed force are known for executing their missions with a resolve bordering on ruthlessness. Few people on the street in Finland today would e.g. know that France last year intervened with thousands of soldiers and turned the tide of the Malian Civil War (Opération Serval), or that France in 2004 completely wiped out the Ivorian Air Force after two of their bombers (by accident?) attacked French peacekeepers in the country. When François Hollande states that they will fight ISIS with all means possible, he seems to be talking about stepping up the level of operations somehow. France is continously using their air force, and their single carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, was already before the attacks on its way back to join the air strikes for a second tour. As such, it is entirely possible that France will send special forces or elite light infantry, such as the 2e REP of the foreign legion, to Iraq and eastern Syria to turn up the heat on ISIS, as well as to make a point of not giving in to the terrorist.

The European Dimension

Speaking of making points, it is hard not to see the targets as being highly symbolic for what ISIS detests, such as sports, western culture, and young people of both sexes intermingling freely. Finnish Minister of Finance Alexander Stubb contrasted these civilian targets to the political attack on Charlie Hebdo in January, but I am inclined to believe that in the eyes of the terrorists, these restaurants, the stadium, and the theatre were as political as the office of the satirical newspaper.

In addition, both France and Germany had high-ranking politicians at the football game targeted, the German Foreign Office eerily tweeting a picture of President Hollande and German Foreign Minister Steinmeier from the game before the attack, using the hashtag #FrancoGermanFriendship.

How a European Union already strained by the migrant crisis will react to this is yet unclear, but at least Poland and Slovakia has announced that this will affect their willingness to take in Muslim migrants negatively. In the same way, Russia is using the development to bolster their narrative of fighting ISIS together with Assad, despite the fact that their main focus have so far been more ‘moderate’ rebel groups.