La Vigie Nr 175 : 20 years after (9/11) | Land domain : what future ? | Lorgnette : war in Tigray

Letter from La Vigie of 15 September 2021

Twenty years after (September 11)

Who remembers September 11? Far fewer people than one might think, even though it was the first event with immediate global resonance, a strategic victory for the aggressors. It marked a turning point for America, which is not as definitive as it is said to be; political Islam has emerged as central, though no one knows if it is really sustainable. Finally, September 11 marked the beginning of European disillusionment from which we have not emerged.

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Land domain: what future?

The French Army has not necessarily been in the spotlight lately. According to its own words, it is preparing for increasingly tough wars and its increase in power, particularly in terms of capabilities, is consistent with its new doctrine. However, given the dangerous nature of the world, we will have to find reliable allies.

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Lorgnette: War in Tigray

Since November 2020, war has been raging in northern Ethiopia. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his reconciliation with Eritrea, has embarked on a policy of centralising this federal country. He quickly wanted to bring Tigray, the northern province that had played a major political role in past decades, to heel: it was the Tigrayans who had brought down the regime of Mengistu (the Black Stalin), and had led the country since 1991.

A minority (7% of the 110 million people), they had allied themselves with the Oromo ethnic group but had to leave power three years ago because their management was considered too biased. Their successor, who appeared to be a man of compromise, was even more so when he launched hostilities last year. However, after initial setbacks, the Tigrayans regained the advantage and repelled both the Eritreans who were attacking in the north and the Ethiopian army coming from the south. Since then, they have allied themselves with other ethnic groups and the federal model is in danger of breaking up, while massacres and exactions are on the increase.

The second most populous country in Africa is risking its survival.

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La Vigie nr 174 (free) : Concerns and doubts | Afghanistan : reason to keep | Lorgnette: Year in Review and Year 8 | Table of publications 2020-2021

Letter from La Vigie, September 1, 2021 in free reading

Concerns and doubts

At the end of the summer, a deep inner anxiety is emerging in France. It is due to a new generation, the so-called Millennials, but also to a deep geographical fracture of the territory. The ambient malaise goes beyond the question of the health pass and finally awaits a new, homogeneous and coherent domestic strategy, giving meaning to our national community. Far from the declinism of some or simplistic slogans, France’s assets must be mobilised to rebuild cohesion.

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Afghanistan : reason to keep

The withdrawal from Afghanistan was logical and surprises only the candid. It is part of an American continuity that dates back to Obama. It does not constitute a profound decline of the United States which follows its strategic interests of the moment, as it has always done, which should not surprise Europeans.

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Lorgnette: Year in Review and Year 8

Attached is an analytical table of the issues and posts of La Vigie published in the last year.

We have published 118 texts this year, of which 31 were written by external authors: many thanks to our contributors who complement our analyses. This dynamic allows us to broaden our points of view and allows young or experienced authors to express themselves, thus fulfilling the vocation of La Vigie. In addition, we have published 46 additional articles for free reading (in addition to the Lorgnettes, various blog articles). In total, 71 texts can be read without subscription, even if they do not have the coherence sought by the fortnightly letter.

Of the 118 texts, 58 dealt with cross-cutting themes, 60 with specific geographical areas. 28 articles dealt with strategy (general, military or environmental), not to mention those on geopolitics or military deterrence. Let us point out a series on spatial strategy, thanks in particular to our intern, whom we thank here. There are also a few more general considerations (environment, religion, culture), obituaries and reading notes.

Europe has attracted our particular attention (with a series that will be grouped together in a dossier), as well as Africa (Sahel and Maghreb). Asia and the Middle East follow, while the Americas, the Arctic, Central and South Asia and Russia have received little attention.

We are entering our eighth year. More than ever, strategic fluidity is the order of the day and the upcoming economic crisis, the results of the American election or the beginnings of the French presidential campaign will accentuate the difficult high-level reading of our environment. More than ever, we will endeavour to present our analyses to you. We will soon be announcing some changes.

Until then, enjoy your reading… and have a good summer!

Table of publications 2020-2021

The table of publications published by La Vigie in recent months is attached to this issue. You can consult it by downloading the pdf issue here.

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La Vigie Nr 173 : On the front lines | Lorgnette : Geopolitical trip to MOrocco | Summer reading

Letter from La Vigie, August 4th 2021

On the front lines

While the “summer break” overshadows international news in France, serious business continues to be conducted elsewhere. Here is a series of strategic snapshots of the world’s frictions: Tunisia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Polynesia, Pegasus, Sahel.

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Lorgnette: Geopolitical trip to Morocco

Sea, mountain and desert, Morocco offers multiple faces. A sultanate and then a kingdom with a brilliant history and a rich heritage, it is a country to visit to understand the challenges of the Maghreb and Africa. Discover Morocco next November with Professor Kader Aberrahim and our partners from Conflits and Ictus Voyages. This is La Vigie’s first geopolitical study tour!

During this trip, you will be accompanied by French-speaking guides as well as Kader Abderrahim, professor at Science Po, associate director of research at La Vigie and author at Conflits. He has published Géopolitique du Maroc, which we have reported on (here). Two meetings with Moroccan personalities are planned, in Marrakech and Tangiers, to discuss the major geopolitical issues of the country. In addition to the historical sites of Morocco, a guided tour of Tangier Med, the first port in Africa, is also organised. Information and registration here.

Transport is by coach and overnight stays are in 4-star hotels.

Summer reading

For your summer, we suggest you read: Le versant du soleil (R. Frison-Roche) – It doesn’t take a hero (HN Schwarzkopf) – Unité 8200 (D. Alfon) – Quand la France commence-t-elle? (B. Lançon) – Guerres invisibles (Th. Gomart) – Non-retour (Jusseaume et alii).

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JOCV

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La Vigie Nr 172 : The need for foresight | Spanish restraint | Lorgnette : Olympic Truce

Letter from La Vigie, dated 21th July 2021

The need for foresight

The DNA of the military naturally leads them to foresight and to translate it into action through operational planning procedures. Planning is a virtue and foresight remains more necessary than ever at a time when long-term orientation, a traditionally very Western cultural trait, is being questioned.

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Spanish restraint

Spain is the heir to a long history that began under the Romans, continued through the Visigothic empire before experiencing the long cycle of the Muslim invasion and the Reconquista. At the end of the Middle Ages, a world power was built, combining a European power with the Habsburgs and a colonial power with Latin America. Centuries of long decline and a painful 20th century followed, leaving a democratic Spain in reconstruction, having made a Western choice and more concerned with itself than with its obvious but little used international assets.

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Lorgnette: Olympic Truce

On 23 July the Games of the 32nd Olympiad will open in Tokyo. Restored by Pierre de Coubertin, bringing together every four years the world’s best athletes to compete in a fair joust, celebrating youth, friendship between peoples and the universal values of sport, they usually offer an opportunity for a truce in the development of world tensions and conflicts. This truce should be very brief.

The global politicisation of the Covid-19 pandemic, the virulent rise of nationalist discourses thought to be a thing of the past, the questioning of international law and order, pessimistic editorials heralding the Chaos Games, and the fracturing of most national societies along these lines are among the reasons given. In spite of reinforced health protection measures excluding all spectators from the venues, the Games are expected to attract nearly 4 billion viewers and become the most watched in history. After August 9 and the commemoration of the nuclear holocausts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, regional geopolitics, usually animated during the summer when Europe is on holiday, will resume its rights.

Long live the athletes and long live Olympism!

JOCV

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La Vigie Nr 171 : Providing France with a grand strategy | The games of war and chance | Lorgnette :Iran and negotiations

Letter from La Vigie, dated 7 July 2021

Providing France with a grand strategy

The discontinuity in the global trajectory caused by the pandemic invites France to rethink the strategic framework of its current action; in the absence of sufficient European coherence, it must adopt a long-term national vision and define the axes of a major long-term strategy for which six key factors to be prioritised and combined are proposed to the reader.

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The games of war and chance

Strategy is too serious a matter not to devote all one’s time to it. Games are an abundant means of doing so. In these times when we are constantly being surprised by our environment, it is time to get serious and finally play.

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Lorgnette: Iran and negotiations

In Iran, Ebrahim Raissi was elected President of the Republic on 19 June, after a soft campaign that resulted in a record abstention, a sign of voter disaffection and perhaps the sidelining of all reformist candidates. The press labelled him an ultraconservative. The system probably selected him first for his ability to maintain: he is conservative in the first sense. The fact remains that this impoverished and corrupt country is suffering from the sanctions imposed by D. Trump and that during his campaign, Mr. Raissi constantly affirmed his desire to obtain the lifting of the sanctions.

This is the subject of the Vienna negotiations, which are the focus of the new US president’s attention (LV 168). So we should not be surprised by the latest IAEA report which states that Iran has “begun the necessary steps to produce enriched uranium metal“. This comes as no surprise to anyone, but it is a good way to put pressure on the Iranian authorities to negotiate.

Thus, a new Iranian leadership seems to be in a position to discuss with the new American leadership. Let’s hope that Mr. Raissi’s conservatism will give way to a fine pragmatism to compromise.

JOCV

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La Vigie n°170: J. Biden’s European campaign | Strategic orientation and synthesis | Lorgnette: France and the Indian Ocean

Letter from La Vigie dated 23 June 2021

Joe Biden’s European campaign

The long experience of J. Biden has allowed the success of a meticulously prepared European tour, satisfying all parties (G7, EU, NATO but also V. Putin) while subordinating them to a more global objective, by means of carefully maintained ambiguities not always perceived by his interlocutors.

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Strategic orientation and synthesis

At a rare moment in history, the need to manage a complicated present is preventing policy makers from devoting the necessary time to finding solutions to tomorrow’s challenges. It is time to reintroduce the long time of reflection and strategy, within the State and society, to enable our country to pull its weight in the Great Game that is being set up. For this, the creation of a National Council for Strategic Orientation and Synthesis appears to be a necessity.

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Lorgnette: France and the Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean, which is part of the Indo-Pacific, occupies a unique position for France. Bordering on the territory (Reunion, Mayotte, TAAF) and the sea (EEZ), it has both permanent sovereignty military forces and those pre-positioned abroad, by virtue of defence agreements concluded with partner countries (Djibouti, UAE), to ensure the protection of citizens and national interests and to contribute to regional peace and stability. It has strong strategic partnerships such as those with India, Australia and Indonesia.

In 2021, it will hold the annual presidency of the IOC, which brings together Mauritius, the Comoros, Madagascar and the Seychelles, whose recently elected SG is French for four years, as well as the two-year presidency of the Indian Ocean Chiefs of Navy Forum (IONS), whose plenary session will be held in La Reunion from 28 to 30 June. It is also a member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association. As the EU Member State that launched Operation ATALANTA to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia, France has valuable assets to guide the Union’s maritime ambitions during its EU Presidency in 2022.

JOCV

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La Vigie Nr 169 (Free) : What is France ? | Staying on course | Lorgnette : Tchüss, Angèle

Letter from La Vigie, dated 9 June 2021

What is France?

To say France today is much less obvious and shared than in the past. There are many gaps between generations and populations. Beyond that, it is a common understanding of geography, history and the State, these three pillars of the person France, that seems no longer to be shared. Being aware of this is essential before launching any grand strategy project.

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Staying on course

In such a fluid strategic situation, how do you stay on course? How to conduct an effective manoeuvre? How to get rid of untimely strategic biases? From Europe to Africa, the practice is difficult, the difficulties follow one another and are similar.

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Lorgnette : Tchüss, Angèle

Angela Merkel is leaving office: we won’t miss her. This cold-blooded politician knew how to kill her political rivals. She was excellent at coming to and staying in power, but has been a disappointment since. It is true that her measured, nuanced and ‘proper’ side appealed to the French notable, who was impressed by this Germanic restraint which he took for healthy rigour. And yet… she systematically decided late, always taking the time to let situations rot before giving her opinion. The few times she has allowed herself to be guided by instinct, it has been catastrophic: whether it was the decision to stop nuclear power after Fukushima or the decision to welcome a million migrants in the middle of summer 2015.

Of course, her policies may not be bad for Germany, whose short-term interests and ageing, satisfied rentier ideal she has always preserved. Externally, it was worse. She is presented as pro-European: she was the most Germanolist of German leaders since the war. Worse: not a single French leader noticed.

Tschüss Angèle, we will not miss you.

JOCV

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La Vigie 168 : New develoments in the Middle East | Deterrence reversed | Lorgnette : Rafales in rafales

Letter from La Vigie, 26 May 2021

New developments in the Middle East

The Middle East theatre is changing very quickly. Indeed, Saudi Arabia seems to be conducting a foreign policy reset, resuming its dialogue with Qatar and Syria, deepening its dialogue with Iraq and even opening bridges with Iran. Meanwhile, Joe Biden is cautiously moving forward with his resumption of negotiations with Tehran, while Israel is at a standstill.

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Deterrence reversed

French strategic thinking on nuclear deterrence has traditionally been dominated by an extremely realistic vision. Deterrence from the weak to the strong is effective and obvious. In reality, purely material calculations are not enough to explain the use, but especially the non-use, of the nuclear bomb since 1945. In particular, normative factors such as the “nuclear taboo” must be taken into account: who is really deterred from doing what? The question is more open than it seems.

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Lorgnette: Rafales in Rafales

Dassault has just sold another 30 Rafale fighters to Egypt, as well as a dozen to Croatia, while a forthcoming sale to Indonesia has been announced. This flurry of success is surprising, given the aircraft’s difficult commercial debut. Why is the aircraft selling so well today?

There has been a general upturn in military equipment around the world, especially as many countries need to renew their fleets, which was not the case 20 years ago. The Russian offer is less attractive and many countries have distanced themselves from the United States, following the excesses of D. Trump. Therefore, the European alternative appeals. The Rafale has several advantages: it is more expensive than the Gripen but has far greater capabilities, it was designed to be upgraded regularly and now offers a versatility that the Eurofighter does not.

A national aircraft can therefore find its commercial way and international cooperation is not necessarily an indispensable economic necessity: a reminder at a time of tough negotiations on the SCAF!

JOCV

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La Vigie 167 : The French security fronts | The high intensity | Lorgnette : Afghan withdrawal

La Vigie letter, dated 12 May 2021

The French security fronts

Of all the fronts on which France is engaged in this period of persistent pandemic, one is an exception, that of internal security. Is this a fate, a challenge, a transition or a threat? The military are worried about it and say so. La Vigie, which has regularly addressed this issue, remembers. If the country comes together to face up collectively, then the proven targeting of France by Islamism will be defeated without the armed forces having to intervene to guarantee public order.

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The high intensity

The chiefs of staff are now talking about a high-intensity war for which we should be prepared again. Yet this seems unlikely, for both strategic and geopolitical reasons. The military chiefs are well aware of this, but insist on it anyway, for valid but indirect reasons. The fact remains that other fields, below the threshold, deserve very close attention. They should not be forgotten because of the high intensity.

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Lorgnette: Afghan withdrawal

President Biden’s decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan makes sense. It had tempted B. Obama as well as D. Trump: to take his losses, to note that the mission has not been fulfilled and that the objectives pursued for twenty years have not been achieved. Remember, at the Bonn conference in 2001, the international community committed itself to accompanying Afghanistan in a democratic transition towards prosperity. Although progress has been made in education and even in the economy, the Taliban have won, thanks to the support of neighbouring Pakistan, which has become the real Islamist sponsor of the region, with the support of China.

So what does the future hold? The current Afghan government has a lot to worry about, as it will probably be ousted fairly quickly. The other neighbours will try to keep the mess together: to the north (Central Asian countries and beyond Russia), to the west (Iran) and to the south (India). But it is likely that the country will once again become an epicentre of international jihadism, abandoned to the ‘barbarians’. Will the Pakistani godfather and the Chinese big brother be strong enough to control Kabul? Nothing is less certain.

JOCV

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La Vigie Nr 166 : The end of the state ? | Strategic posture of Italia | Lorgnette : Chadian domino

Letter La Vigie, dated 28 APRIL 2021

The end of the state?

It seems obvious to us that we live in a state. However, modern state organisation is the result of a long process and the contemporary rule of law is not a constant. Today, states are challenged by various means, which weakens and discredits them. How then can the legitimacy of the state be strengthened?

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Italy’s strategic posture

Contemporary Italy, heir to three Romas, is fundamentally Mediterranean and existentially European. These determinants do not prevent it from having a very deep alliance with the United States while maintaining a special relationship with Russia. In Europe, it has a complicated relationship with Germany, the result of centuries of experience. With the Brexit causing a reshuffling of European balances, this is a good time for a rapprochement between Paris and Rome, despite recent frictions and provided France forgets its condescension.

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Lorgnette: Chadian Domino

The violent death (in troubled circumstances) of Idriss Déby, the Chadian president, constitutes a geopolitical earthquake. It is first and foremost an internal one because, as a good despot, he had not prepared his succession. Without even mentioning the representation of popular aspirations, his system will be difficult to perpetuate and should re-launch rivalries between clans. Let’s remember that the conquest of power has always been done by arms, especially by the northern tribes.

But it is above all the regional balance and the French security apparatus that are weakened. In the military system left in Africa after the Cold War, N’Djamena has always occupied a place of choice thanks to its central position. It has been strengthened more than ever following the troubles in the Sahel-Saharan strip that have followed one another over the past decade, and particularly the intervention in Mali. It should be remembered that the headquarters of Operation Barkhane is located in N’Djamena and that the Chadian troops were the only effective ones in the G5 Sahel on which Paris is basing so much hope. By domino effect, all the countries in the region can now fall. This is bad news.

JOCV

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La Vigie Nr 165 : Global Britain | What alliances for France ? | Lorgnette : Europe on a sofa

Lettre La Vigie, dated 14 APRIL 2021

Global Britain

Three months after the Brexit came into force, the British government published two documents in March to set out the direction and allocate the resources of a cross-departmental strategy integrating security, defence and development policies with the country’s foreign policy. This exercise enabled the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to clarify the meaning to be given to the Global Britain concept, which emerged in the aftermath of the referendum sealing the UK’s departure from the EU in 2016. The knowledge of these documents is essential to appreciate the future of a UK/EU relationship to be built and more particularly that to be developed between France and the United Kingdom, linked by common interests, a bilateral security treaty, an alliance within NATO and which, depending on the field, are allies, partners or rivals.

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What alliances for France?

The question of alliances is not so much about who to ally with or against, but about what to ally oneself with. It is true that the institutions inherited from the 20th century remain useful for France, whether it be the UN, the Francophonie, the Atlantic Alliance or the European Union. However, none of them responds to the integral strategy needed in the face of a current conflicts below the threshold. These instruments must therefore be supplemented by other alliances, more fleeting and less structured, but still flexible.

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Lorgnette: Europe on a sofa

The recent meeting between Turkey and European representatives turned into a farce. At the end of the meeting, the President of the Council, Charles Michel, went to sit in an armchair opposite Erdogan, while the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, was left on a sofa.

Commentators were very critical of the Turkish leader, who was suspected of having engineered this bad manners. Then it was Mr Michel who was criticised, accused of machismo. In this case, the fault lies mainly with the EU. Erdogan is accustomed to putting only one chair at his side when he receives a head of state, and he could hardly have put two at the risk of appearing dominated. Moreover, he is currently trying to reconcile himself with the Europeans.

Hierarchically, the President of the Council is above the President of the Commission. One can certainly criticise the European protocol services for not having detected the incident or warned the European leaders. Above all, the Union was wrong to come with two people. It showed its weaknesses and its complicated organisation.

In this case, the Byzantine convolutedness was European, not Turkish.

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La Vigie n° 164 : Chinese culminating point | What is a great battle?| Lorgnette : Suez and industry

Letter from La Vigie dated 31 March 2021

Chinese culminating point

As the United States rallies its allies around the world, especially those in NATO, to present a united front against China, the latter is showing a vindictive and triumphant face that manifests a newfound pride: but does this climax not mark a “culminating point”, the one that Clausewitz described as the maximum point of the offensiv ?

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What is a great battle?

Military historians study battles. But what really defines a ‘great’ battle? Is the tactical genius deployed enough? And can the military commander draw a conclusion at his level?

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Lorgnette : Suez and industry

One year ago, when the global market seized up because of the health crisis, we pretended to discover how dependent we were on a globalisation that had ended up depriving us of manufacturing resources, making it impossible to manufacture simple protective surgical masks. The time had come to reindustrialise France.

Today, a new Suez crisis (accidental this time) is once again preventing the flow of goods through this canal between Asia and Europe, through which 12% of world trade passes.

In addition to the traditional volatility of the price of a barrel of oil, supply difficulties for electronic products are already looming, in addition to the direct and indirect costs linked to delivery delays, especially at a time when containers are already in a state of flux.

Let’s remember that after a year, we can still draw the same conclusions regarding the insufficient resilience of our economy, dependent on maritime traffic; the importance of reindustrialising and regaining a form of self-sufficiency. What if this was the real “strategic autonomy”?

JOCV

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