The pledge of 26 foreign ministers in Paris today to combat the self-declared Islamic State with “all means necessary” gives an important boost to the international efforts to dismantle the militant group that is imposing its will on large parts of Syria and Iraq.
“It shows a political will to tackle [the extremists] collectively,” says Yves Boyer, associate director of the French think tank Foundation for Strategic Research, which he says is crucial for legitimacy. “There is some feeling that the US should not be the full leader of what is going on, because of the failures of the US in this part of the world since 2001.”
The US says the coalition now includes 40 countries. But despite the expressions of unity, it remains unclear what nation is willing to shoulder which part of the burden, and what specific steps are under consideration.
The United States has been seeking such international backing since President Obama unveiled his plans to counter IS extremists, who have now beheaded three Westerners, including two American journalists and, most recently, a British aid worker.
Despite the political risks of following the US into the conflict, European governments have spoken urgently about the need to act against Islamic State militants, in no small part because many of the IS fighters are Europeans and, leaders say, represent a threat to European security.
In Paris today, French President François Hollande struck an aggressive tone at the outset, arguing that there was "no time to lose." Earlier French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said: "The cost of inaction would be to say to these butchers 'go ahead, you have a free pass.' We won't accept that.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron, in reacting to the beheading of aid worker David Haines, said the UK would “hunt down those responsible and bring them to justice no matter how long it takes.”
France said it began reconnaissance flights over Iraq today but did not say what it would do in Syria, even though IS's stronghold is there. In fact, the meeting today left out the critical and more politically sensitive issue of how to tackle IS in Syria without giving a boost to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Russia has also warned against conducting airstrikes in Syria without the backing of Mr. Assad.
Syria was not invited to the summit today. Neither was Iran, due to dissent by many Arab states. "We wanted a consensus among countries over Iran's attendance, but in the end it was more important to have certain Arab states than Iran," a French diplomat told Reuters.