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Belgian Army soldiers patrol in the picturesque Grand Place in the center of Brussels on Nov. 20, 2015.

Geert Vanden Wijngaert/The Associated Press

One of NATO's senior officials says the Nov. 13 Paris attacks are a "game changer" for security in the West as the ascendant Islamic State moves beyond its self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria to wage al-Qaeda-style attacks on distant targets.

General Petr Pavel, chairman of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's military committee, said all Western countries are at risk of not just IS-inspired attacks but also terrorism planned and executed directly by the Islamic State, also known as ISIL and ISIS.

"Anyone who is not following the values of ISIL should be afraid."

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Recent examples include IS-organized attacks in Beirut, Turkey and Paris, where 130 people were killed and hundreds wounded by gunmen and bombers, as well as the downing of a Russian aircraft carrying 224 people over the Sinai Peninsula in October.

"It is apparent that the Islamic State has reached the limits of geographical expansion and now they are even losing some, so they [will] probably expand into our domain and one of them may be even hitting us on our own ground," Gen. Pavel said in an interview.

"We are most probably at the beginning of a new phase of ISIL activities that will affect us in our own countries and we will have to take appropriate measures," said the general, who was attending the Halifax International Security Forum, an annual gathering of security and defence experts sponsored by the Canadian government.

Gen. Pavel argued that what happened in Paris does not constitute grounds for France to invoke Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which would oblige collective action by all members of the military alliance. The United States invoked this article for the first time in NATO's history after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but France has not chosen to follow suit.

"It is difficult to imagine a terrorist attack in France as a military aggression against France," the general said. "It's not a military attack."

However, he said NATO needs to share intelligence better and continue to support local forces in Iraq and Syria to fight the Islamic State.

French President François Hollande has called for a grand military coalition of the United States, France and Russia to "eradicate" the Islamic State. This would force Washington and Moscow to set aside their estrangement over Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and its ongoing backing for rebels fighting Kiev in eastern Ukraine.

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Gen. Pavel said that while the West may have to "pragmatically co-ordinate" with Moscow to fight the Islamic State, he warned against losing focus on Russia's ongoing occupation of Crimea and the fragile ceasefire in eastern Ukraine.

"That would be a mistake on our side," he said, warning that this would play into Moscow's hands. "That would be exactly … one of the objectives of President Putin – to take attention out of Ukraine and move it elsewhere [and] now in this case to Syria."

"We shouldn't let Ukraine disappear from the radar and stay focused on the fact there were breaches to the international security system made by Russia that are not forgiven and not forgotten."

He said there have been increasing breaches of the Minsk ceasefire between Kiev's soldiers and the Russian-backed rebels in recent days and heavy weaponry has not been removed from the immediate region, as required.

Canada has nearly 70 special forces soldiers in Iraq advising Kurdish fighters in their battle against the Islamic State and CF-18 warplanes are currently bombing IS targets in Iraq and Syria. The new Liberal government is planning to withdraw the jets and expand training efforts in Iraq, possibly including government forces.

About 200 Canadian troops are currently deployed to Ukraine to train Kiev's forces to better fight the Russian-backed rebels.

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