With France in open war with the Islamic State after the November 13th attacks in Paris that left 129 people dead, its commitments and ability to credibly fulfill them is coming under increased pressure.
France currently has three major military operations, both foreign and domestic.
The three operations include Operation Sentinel, Chammal and Barkhane. Sentinel is a domestic security operation to protect vital infrastructure, potential civilian targets and military installations in place since the January attacks on Charlie Hebdo.
Chammal is the current bombing campaign of Raqqa in Syria and other IS targets. Barkhane is a 3500 strong troop deployment along the southwestern edge of the Sahara to combat transnational terrorist networks. In addition to this, France has a contingent in Central African Republic and the Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier has been deployed to the eastern Mediterranean.
These is a serious commitment of resources and one that raises questions of how long France can hold the line on its own. It goes without saying that both France and her allies see the deployments as necessary to their security in light of recent events in Europe.
The Middle East
France was part of the bombing campaign against IS before the Paris attacks. This puts in perspective a september poll , which indicated that the majority of the french population favoured troops on the ground in Syria. Something that is likely to put pressure on president Hollande after the latest attacks.
With the dispatching of the Charles De Gaulle, France has doubled down on its commitment to eliminate IS. The retributive bombings of Raqqa and the ongoing bombing campaign is of course happening along side US and Russian efforts, which are far more extensive.
France has deep operational knowledge of its former colonies as well as security commitments.
Current operations in the Sahel region along the southern edge of the Sahara are, as recent attacks in Mali highlight, crucial to combating elements of Al-Qaeda. France spearheaded the international intervention in Mali in 2013 to repel Tuareg and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb (AQIM) forces to prevent the fall of the government in Bamoko.
French involvement in Africa has been of strategic importance to the US-Africa strategy under Obama, as France has used its ties to francophone African nations to create stability and intervene where necessary. As Mali, along with the Sahel region, is of continuous concern to both France, NATO allies and the US France cannot afford to neglect Mali, especially after it experienced its own mass casualty attack, carried out by an Al-Qaeda affiliate group.
Mali continues to be one of the poorest economies in the world, near the bottom of the UN’s Human Development Index at 182/186. French led international involvement to stem a rising security threat has done little to stimulate the landlocked country’s economy.
Further, the illicit trade and smuggling networks that bisect northern Mali continue to be a problem with armed groups financing themselves through the cocaine pipeline to Europe. Lastly, the attack on a high profile luxury Hotel in Bamoko that attracts foreign business clientele and journalists is likely to put a dent in investor confidence with their personal security at risk.
France had, until this year, announced substantial military budget cuts in a fledging economy. Despite this, it is now planning to spend upwards of 3.8 billion€ and freeze half of the proposed 30,000 redundancies.
While France is right to react to attacks on its soil with resolve, it does raise the question of whether it is up to the task of multiple international commitments and whether its economy can handle the increased pressure and added defense spending.
With a series of new threats emerging, France is being stretched thinly and its credibility abroad may take a hit if it is forced to prioritize its engagements more judiciously.