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Given U.S.-France Ties, How Will NATO Respond To Paris Attacks?


President Obama was quick to denounce the attacks in Paris Friday. Speaking from the White House, he recalled the long history shared by France and the U.S.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: France is our oldest ally. The French people have stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States time and again. And we want to be very clear that we stand together with them in the fight against terrorism and extremism.

MARTIN: France and the United States are also founding members of NATO. Admiral James Stavridis is NATO's former Supreme Allied Commander. He is now dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University. He joins us now live. Welcome to the program.

JAMES STAVRIDIS: Hi, Rachel, how's it going this morning?

MARTIN: It goes well. Thanks for being with us, Admiral. As you know, the Paris attacks came just a few days after a bombing in Beirut, which ISIS also took responsibility for. ISIS is also believed to be behind the downing of this Russian airliner in Egypt a couple weeks ago. You say now's the time for NATO to come together and act. Why now?

STAVRIDIS: Because we have finally seen the real depth of this threat. The Islamic State is unlike anything we've seen before, particularly in terms of its level of brutality. And what has really changed in the last 30 days is its level of sophistication, its ability to reach out across so many borders and plan and conduct these operations more or less simultaneously. That is deeply concerning when coupled to their - the brutality of the organization. So I think this has to be treated as a real attack against the alliance and really an attack against the world.

MARTIN: You write about this on the website of Foreign Policy Magazine. And we should clarify that in order for NATO to act in a military way, they have to invoke Article 5 of the Alliance Treaty. You point out the only other time that has been invoked was after 9/11. You see this attack in a related way?

STAVRIDIS: I do, and I think the French very much do. Any nation of the 28 in NATO has the authority to request an Article 4 consultation, which leads to an Article 5 declaration. I think France will do that. And I think they have pretty good - pretty good, valid grounds for that, particularly if you put the death level and the injury level on a population-adjusted basis - population of France about one-sixth that of the United States - this really starts to resemble a 9/11 level event.

MARTIN: But the big question is what does a NATO response look like? This is a very different moment than the attack that was waged in Afghanistan against the Taliban and al-Qaida. This involves Syria.

STAVRIDIS: Indeed. I think a NATO response would be four or five things. It would start with an enhanced level of intelligence-sharing and special operations from the NATO nations going in and supporting the current campaign. Secondly, NATO would take over the bombing campaign. This would bring many more assets - aircraft ordinance, the airborne early warning aircraft - into the fight. Thirdly, I think NATO should take on the training mission, both for the Kurds in the north and the Iraqi security forces in the south. Rachel, this way the United States doesn't have to pull the entire load. We need the alliance to step up and be there with us. And by the way, this ought to be not just NATO. There are many Arab states - and indeed Russia at least has articulated a desire to conduct operations as part of this - so I see this as NATO as the core of, effectively, a global response against the Islamic State.

MARTIN: But very briefly, you mentioned the Gulf state, Saudi Arabia, has said that it will continue to back rebels who are fighting against Bashar al-Assad.

STAVRIDIS: Yeah, I think that situation in western Syria is going to have to be put on a diplomatic and political track. And, of course, that's what Secretary Kerry is doing today in Vienna, trying to work through that situation, the regime - the Assad regime. The Islamic State is a different problem set. And I think we can all agree, at this point, we need to go after them together.

MARTIN: James Stavridis is a former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. He's now at Tufts University. He joined us live. Thank you so much, Admiral.

STAVRIDIS: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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