France, Counter-Terrorism Policy

France, Counter-Terrorism Policy

Counter-terrorism is the use of military, law enforcement, intelligence, and other resources to identify, circumvent, and neutralize terrorist groups within a country. Like all western European nations, France has been forced by events since the 1960s to develop a response to terrorism. The most attention-getting aspect of French counter-terrorism is GIGN, the Group d'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale (National Police Intervention Group), but this small, elite counter-terrorism action team is only a small component of counter-terrorism activities and policy in France.

Overseeing and coordinating antiterrorist activity in France is the Interministerial Liaison Committee against Terrorism, or Comité Interministériel de Lutte Anti-Terroriste. The committee, which includes the prime minister and the ministers of the Interior, Defense, Justice, and Foreign Affairs, develops and directs counter-terrorism policy. Below the committee in rank is the Anti-Terrorism Coordination Unit (Unité de Coordination de la Lutte Anti-Terroriste), which includes agencies from the Interior and Defense ministries, and which coordinates operations.

Unlike in the United States, where the Department of the Interior manages natural resources, France's Ministry of the Interior (Ministère de L'Intérieur) is a security and law-enforcement department. The ministry, which oversees the Anti-Terrorism Coordination Unit, includes the National Police, the Central Headquarters for Surveillance of the Territory, and the General Intelligence Central Service. All of these services are responsible for law enforcement and/or monitoring of suspicious activities in French territories.

Enforcement agencies. The National Police, or Direction Générale de la Police Nationale, is the principal civilian national police force in large urban areas. Within the National Police are specialized groups with functions such as border security and the protection of dignitaries. In addition to the National Police, which falls under the Ministry of the Interior, there is the National Gendarmerie, or Direction Générale de Gendarmerie Nationale, directed by the Ministry of Defense. The National Gendarmerie oversees law enforcement in small towns and rural areas.

Also under the Ministry of Defense is GIGN, which, like its German counterpart, GSG-9, was formed in the aftermath of the terrorist incident at the 1972 Munich Olympics. GIGN, though highly effective in special circumstances, is a small force, consisting of fewer than a hundred full-time personnel at the end of the twentieth century. Its activities are, therefore, rather limited compared to those of larger police forces.

Intelligence agencies. The Central Headquarters for Surveillance of the Territory (Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire), an arm of the National Police, gathers intelligence regarding potential threats from external organizations. Overseeing potential threats by internal organizations is the General Intelligence Central Service (Direction Centrale des Renseignenments Généreaux).

Outside of France, intelligence gathering is the job of the General Headquarters for Security Overseas (Direction Générale de la Sécurité Exterieure), which is under the Ministry of Defense. The Central Headquarters Military Intelligence (Direction Reseignments Militaire), also under the Ministry of Defense, gathers and interprets military intelligence.



Bourret, Jean Claude. GIGN, Vingt Ans d'Actions: 1974–1994. Paris: M. Lafon, 1995.

Linde, Erik J. G. van de. Quick Scan of Post 9/11 National Counter-terrorism Policymaking and Implementation in Selected European Countries: Research Project for the Netherlands Ministry of Justice. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Europe, 2002.


Hoffman, Bruce. "Is Europe Soft on Terrorism?" Foreign Policy no. 115 (summer 1999): 62–76.


European Union
France, Intelligence and Security
Germany, Counter-Terrorism Policy

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