Is France at War?

President Hollande asked lawmakers for more measures to tackle ISIS. What he didn’t ask for: authorization for a declaration of war.

Philippe Wojazer / AP

“France is at war,” President Francois Hollande said Monday, addressing a rare joint session of France’s parliament just days after multiple attacks in Paris killed 129 people and wounded more than 300 others. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks and Hollande has vowed a “merciless” response.

Terrorism will not destroy the Republic,” he said Monday, “because it is the Republic that will destroy terrorism.”

Indeed, French airstrikes have struck Raqqa, the Syrian city that serves as the Islamic State’s de facto capital. Warplanes targeted more than a dozen suspected ISIS sites in about 30 airstrikes.

In his speech Monday, Hollande called for an urgent UN Security Council meeting on a joint response to terrorism; a three-month extension of the country’s state of emergency, which was imposed Friday even as the attacks were unfolding; a constitutional amendment so the country won’t have to resort to a state of emergency in response to terrorism; the power to strip the French citizenship of dual nationals convicted of terrorism; more effective border controls for the European Union; and increased funding for the military, police, and security forces.

What he didn’t ask for was authorization of a declaration of war, which parliament must provide under Article 35 of the French Constitution. In theory, Hollande needs only to inform parliament of a decision to intervene abroad within three days of such an intervention.

Hollande hasn’t been shy about using French forces overseas: He sent troops to Mali in 2013 to crush an al-Qaeda affiliate. But Hollande is unlikely to go it alone militarily against the Islamic State.

For months now, France has been involved in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and then Syria as part of a U.S.-led coalition—in fact, the Islamic State attributed its attacks to France’s participation in the campaign. And France has other diplomatic and military means at its disposal for a multilateral effort against the Islamic State. One of these is Article 5 of NATO’s charter—which says an attack on one member is an attack on all—the invocation of which would impel the alliance’s other members, including the U.S., to launch a joint military response. France has not taken that approach yet—though at least one American presidential candidate, Marco Rubio, has urged it to. France could also invoke Article 4 of the NATO treaty, which calls for military consultations among the alliance’s members. Hollande hasn’t done that, either.

What he says he will do is meet with U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the coming days to form a “unified coalition” against the Islamic State. Russia is also involved in the Syrian Civil War, but is fighting on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s side against the Islamic State as well as other rebel groups, some of which are backed by the West.

As one Kremlin advisor put it over the weekend after a meeting between Obama and Putin: The two leaders share “strategic goals regarding the fight against Islamic State … they still differ as far as tactics are concerned.”

Hollande is probably hoping he can bridge some of those differences over tactics.