In light of recent events is France now considered a hostile environment?
First of all we need to understand what would qualify as a hostile a country, region or environment and for whom? In the security industry this is done by in-depth research and analysis plus the use of certain mnemonic to assist in the process of breaking down the issues which need to be analysed.
So what are the factors that I would use to establish if a country is hostile or not?
First I would start with looking into the political situations. Is the government of the day stable and in full control of the country? For example some governments are not in full control of their nation such as Somalia where the government is only in control of the capital Mogadishu. As you start to move outside of the city the governments control starts to breakdown and it becomes tribal and lawless to a degree.
Is there political unrest; for example at times of election processes? Some nations can be dangerous as riots and demonstrations can occur. This has become a common trend across the world, in a range of nations in our present climate.
What’s the countries operational state; this can include corruption at all levels: for example to get a house built or in order to make a business deal; bribes may need to be paid to officials or to local groups to ensure building materials make it to you on time. Other things to consider might be what is the critical infrastructure like; power, water, and sanitation this are all factors to consider.
The security of the country can be broken down in so many ways. I will only outline a few of the issues I would also look at; issues like local crime, including robbery and theft and in extreme circumstance kidnap and extortion. Are law enforcement agencies corrupt? Corruption within some law enforcement organisations does exist. We in the west have a tendency to think that the rest of the world is the same as us and we could not be more wrong.
What is the risk of terrorism against the country in question? Terrorism has become one of the main focuses in assessing a country’s risk. It speaks for its self. Terrorism is on the increase, it been around for a long time but not on the scale it is today. Since 9/11 as I am sure we are all aware there has been a steady growing trend in not only terrorist organisations but in the attacks that have taken place globally.
So last but not least what are the travel risks to any persons that may be travelling to the country in question? This can include local crime against tourists; for example in Barcelona local criminals and organised crime groups target tourists. The normal modus operandi is pick pocketing and bag snatching.
Terrorism can also be included here; as tourist areas could find themselves becoming a target of certain groups as this would have massive media and social media coverage. The impact of terrorism against tourists has a negative effect on the tourist industry and that in turn affects a country’s overarching economy.
So where dose France stand now?
Politically France is a democratic country with a strong history in human’s rights and civil liberties, which are being put under pressure by the recent terrorist attacks against them and for the first time in Frances political history both parties are not aligned against ISIS. The conservative opposition are making claims that the socialist government have not done enough to stop the waging of terror against them. This has also been echoed by the French people where two-thirds of the population don’t trust the socialist government to fight the terrorist threat against them nor to keep them safe this is according to an IFOP poll published on Monday 18 July in Le Figaro.
With all that is going on the Socialist Government have stated that no French government have ever done so much to tackle terrorism but is that enough to keep public support and keep them in power with the elections scheduled for the end of April and May of 2017?
Operationally France is a First World Nation, with no real problems with corruption. Its critical infrastructure is of a high level and; trade and business are welcomed within the EU where they trade freely with other EU member states.
The Security risk to France at the minute is what I would consider high. As with all countries they will have a range of “normal” crime types and crime hot spots; within highly populated urban areas and cities, however with the lack of border controls and regulations it is easier to cross the borders between France and their neighbours. This makes it easier for criminal organisation and terrorist group movements to achieve their goals and much harder for the authorities to detect and stop. This freedom movement allows for guns and drugs and at worst case bomb making equipment to be moved with relative ease into and around the country.
Another factor to consider is that in low economic areas where living standard is low; jobs are few and far between; crime will always flourish, adding a large influx of migrants to low economic areas as has been the case with migrant movements across Europe from conflict zones in Syria and Iraq; France is fighting a double edged sword. There are real risks where potentially genuine refuges will be forced through lack of work and prospects to turn to crime to survive adding to existing crime challenges and where terrorists can easily disguise themselves as refugees and wreck havoc. All this also adds to the potential for riots and criminal damage not only from the migrants but the common people as they lose faith in the government to protect them and viewing migrants as responsible and taking matters into their own hands.
The Terrorism risk against France in the current climate should be considered high. Over the last 18 months France has suffered from three major attacks where over 231 people have been killed and hundreds injured. I will not go to into the attacks as we are all aware of what has happened but I will go into the why?
France has been the second largest contributor of air strike and the bombing of ISIS in Syria and Iraq and this has made them a target for ISIS and potentially other terrorist organisations with the same agenda being that France as a European nation has more involvement in terms of deployment in Muslim countries
How jihadists see France according to Prof. Neumamm (Kings College London – Professor of Security Studies at the Dept of War Studies) the Jihadists see France as a country that is spreading Islamophobia and they hate France for this. They also consider France to be a part of the western crusader nations like many other European countries; they also feel that France has been explicitly aggressive and have an anti-Islamic agenda.
All nations that form the collation against ISIS and Al Qaida over the years since September 11th should consider themselves a potential target of these groups. The different between us here in the UK and France is that we do have some border controls in place. We are an island so this makes it easier from that stand point to protect ourselves, whereas France has as I have mentioned before is landlocked and does not control or enforce its borders as they are part of the free movement agreement within Europe so this makes them an easy and soft target for terrorist groups. Just like criminal organisations, taking advantage of what is perceived as an easy or softer target. The methods may differ from group to group but the thought process is the same and the refugee crisis is also the perfect smoke screen to move terrorist cells around the main land Europe. This is something which they (the terrorist groups boast they have done) according to their own propaganda.
It has also been estimated that up to 27,000 of ISIS fighters have travelled to join them from other nations and some experts has estimated that about 20 to 30 percent have travelled back home. This is of a real concern to France and other nations; what are these returnees doing now?
France is 6th on the list to have their nationals go to join ISIS but it is estimated on the whole that approximately 6000 people from Europe have joined ISIS this being with the most fighters joining from France, Germany and the United Kingdom.
Are there potential travel risks to going to France in the wake of recent events? The simple answer is yes! There are risks at the moment due to what seems to be a campaign of terror attacks against France by terrorist cells with connections to ISIS. In saying this it is not just the western traveller or tourists that are in danger of being targeted by them. As most people we have seen and should understand it is also the French people themselves that have become targets of these radical groups.
The future for France at the moment is uncertain to say the least with the elections next year in April and May depending on what party takes control. Policies and national support for the defence of their borders and involvement against ISIS could potentially change with a hardening of stance if Marine Le Pen gets in with the nationalist party who have been growing in strength for some time now.
There will undoubtedly be more attempts of terrorism against France as three major attacks have been a success for ISIS. It is unlikely that they will stop in their attempts to undermine the government in an attempt to stop the bombing against them in Syria and Iraq. They will see this as a victory and will not stop as they will believe that they are winning the battle and are taking the fight to France.
I believe this could lead to quite the reverse effect, as the socialist government will be looking to stay in power and is under pressure by their rivals the Conservative Party and Nationalist Party to do something about the terrorism problems they now face. Internal security problems could arise as the refugee and migrant numbers increase, as there is already nowhere to house and support so many people. This will add other pressure and cause a drain on local and national infrastructure and will cause local division and tensions to rise.
In knowing and understanding the risks, would I still travel to France for work or pleasure?
The answer is YES I would. If we alter the way we live our lives and the places we travel to for our holidays or business they (the terrorists) have already won and we cannot allow that. I would take extra precautions and make sure that some planning and preparation was conducted before I travel as I do in my own day to day life anyway.
So what precautions should you take?
I would say do a little research into the areas you are going to, visiting the FCO website is a good place to start as there is lots of information there.
If you really want to be more prepared look into doing a First Aid Course; as knowing the basics is always good practice and could help to save the life of a love one or a stranger in a worst case scenario.
If you have any further concerns or questions speak to a professional. Here at Ares Risk Management, we’re always here to help!
Till the next time ~ Stay Safe