LV 162 : Looking death in the face | France’s neighbourhood | Lorgnette : Biden and the Middle East

Letter from La Vigie, dated 3rd March 2021

Delacroix, Bataille de Nancy, 1834, Musée des Beaux-arts de Nancy, source

Looking death in the face

The doctrine of just war was developed in medieval Europe to regulate the use of legitimate state violence. But who then bears the moral burden of guilt, because “thou shalt not kill”? And how far is our society prepared to accept losses, especially civilian ones, now that war is on our soil (jihadist attacks) and at a time of “war against the coronavirus”?

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Neighbourhoods of France

France’s neighbours are drawing up a strategy that still lacks coherence: if the position towards the United States is asserted, the other Americas are neglected; the North is unthinking, the East centred on a European vision without much room for manoeuvre. As for the South, our position is very disjointed today. Further afield, in our overseas territories, our mechanism should enable us to promote an Indo-Pacific strategy that is original and distinct from that of our allies.

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Lorgnette: Biden and the Middle East

The new US administration has taken initial decisions regarding the Middle East. Thus, J. Biden declared that he wanted to resume the treaty with Iran (JCPOA) by wanting to add the question of ballistic missiles to it. Iran, on the eve of new elections, has not closed the door but remains firm on a strict return to the text signed in 2015. At least discussions are resuming. Without weakness, however: in Syria, strikes were decided against the Syrian Shiite militias after the attack on an American base in Erbil (Iraq).

Simultaneously, a mistrust was displayed towards Saudi Arabia. Washington has reopened an investigation into the assassination of J. Khashoggi (which points to the direct responsibility of MBS) and has declared its declining support for the war in Yemen.

Does this point to a new course? Undoubtedly in the case of Iran, even if it is a question of maintaining a position of strength. For the rest of the region, these initial decisions suggest a more measured and balanced position, both towards Syria and Iraq and towards the Gulf States. Israel is for the moment left a little to one side, as if it were no longer the priority.

JOCV

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LV 161 : Fear and strategy | Algerian bastion | Lorgnette : Asia and democracy

Letter from La Vigie dated 17 FEB 2021

Fear and strategy

Fear is now omnipresent in our societies. It is both a source of great comfort but also a source of deep anxiety. However, this attitude refuses to consider progress and only sees the dangers, where risks should be taken. Fear is defeatist and hinders any strategic project.

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Algerian bastion

Very close to us, Algeria seems to be stuck in a situation of general stagnation which worries all those close to it. The end of non-receipt of the Stora report, the effervescence of its neighbours and the cautious restraint of its major partners are all symptoms of a strategic transition that cannot be found.

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Lorgnette: Asia and democracy

The repression in Hong Kong last summer (LV 146 and 155) highlighted a trend that can be observed throughout the Asian continent: the retreat of democracy.

In the Philippines, for example, R. Duterte was elected in 2016 and his populism continues to threaten democratic gains. For several months now, Thailand has been experiencing regular demonstrations against King Rama X, which gradually aim to break away from the traditional constitutional monarchy to weigh more directly on the country’s affairs. On 1st February, a coup d’état in Burma brought the government of Aung San Suu Kyi to heel and she herself was arrested.

This development is taking place under a double influence: on the one hand, the Chinese example which shows the strong manner  in which the Uighurs have been fought in Xinjiang, or recently in Hong Kong and, from longer time, in Tibet; on the other hand, the exhaustion of the Western democratic model, whether under the American era of D. Trump or under the unconvincing performance of the Europeans.

Let us increase our virtue before giving lessons to the world, because if our model no longer attracts, it is our responsibility.

JOCV

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LV 160 : Djibouti, a coveted strategic crossroads | Risks anc conflicts | Lorgnette : A new start

Letter from La Vigie dated 3 FEB 2021

Djibouti, a coveted strategic crossroads

As an established fulcrum at the convergence of the major maritime routes linking Asia and the Middle East on the one hand, and Africa and Europe on the other, which became a strategic crossroads during the Cold War, the Republic of Djibouti’s strategic dimension was strengthened as it entered the 21st century. The subject of massive economic investment from China and home to the military bases of six different foreign countries, with those of China and the United States surpassing those of France (former sovereign power on the territory), this tiny state has engaged in subtle and lucrative diplomacy, not without risks, in order to guarantee its political autonomy, security and development.

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Risks and conflicts

2021 will provide the basis for the 2022 election platforms. The recent publication of an Update to the 2017 Strategic Review is part of this framework. The exercise is classic, well-written and somewhat agreed upon, but it serves above all to justify capacity needs. It lacks boldness in the face of undiscerning risks and a new, ambivalent and below-threshold conflictuality, both external and internal. It does not outline a necessary integral strategy. This is a pity.

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Lorgnette: New start

As soon as he arrived, Joe Biden proposed a five-year extension of the New Start Treaty. Russia agreed immediately. This is good news. New Start was indeed the last arms control treaty in force. Bilateral, it linked Washington and Moscow to limit the number of their nuclear weapons. It was due to expire on 5 February and it is likely that a re-elected Donald Trump would have let the deadline pass, as he had withdrawn from other treaties. This was not the decision of his successor.

The extension means that the bilateral dialogue should resume in a more conventional way, which does not mean that tensions will ease. One recalls the Democratic Party’s obsession with “Russian fraud” and the suspicion of connivance between Mr Trump and Putin. J. Biden will have to take this fringe of his party into account. However, returning to international negotiations is a good signal. Above all, it reopens perspectives on nuclear issues: updating the JCPOA agreement with Iran or dealing with the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW cf. LV 87). We will follow this closely.

JOCV

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LV 159 : On democracy in America | Grozny the new | Lorgnette : Closed sky

Letter from La Vigie Nr 159, dated 20 January 2021

Democracy in America

The events of 6 January in Washington mark a popular emotion, undeniably seditious even if it cannot be described as a coup d’état. It confirms the deep American division between radicals on both sides. It is also the occasion for censorship by the major social networks which questions their place in the democratic system. A heavy task awaits Joe Biden.

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Grozny the new

Chechnya hasn’t been in the headlines for the last 15 years or so, yet what happened to Chechens fighting Chechens in Syria, some alongside Russians, others in the EI? Today, however, let us note the Russian control that has regained control of it ciscaucasian space.

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Lorgnette : Closed sky

Russia declared on 15 January that it was withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty, signed in 2002, which allowed the right to conduct and the obligation to accept observation flights over [the] other party’s territory to verify military activities and installations. Trump’s United States unilaterally withdrew last November (LV 143) to the chagrin of its European allies, who refused to accede to Moscow’s request not to transfer their observations to Washington. The United States had already withdrawn unilaterally from the INF Treaty (LV 112).

Open Skies marked the end of the era of Confidence and Stability Building Measures (CSBMs) that had irrigated international dialogue since the 1970s. The whole system of arms control and monitoring disappears: all that remains is the New Start Treaty (nuclear arsenal control), which expires on 5 February next.

The timetable is important: while Joe Biden will take command of the White House on 20 January, the Russian announcement constitutes diplomatic pressure to prolong New Start while affirming its resolution in the negotiations to come.

JOCV

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LV 158 : 2021 : Blurred perspective | News from Australia | Lorgnette : those of 14

Letter n° 158 from La Vigie dated 6 January 2021

2021 : Blurred perspective

2021 will see a slow recovery from the crisis, both in terms of health and the economy. It will confirm the demand for policy and weak ideological responses to it; the security fronts will continue to be as diverse as ever. The new American President J. Biden will give a new style but will continue the tension with China, which will remain the main geopolitical trend. In France, in addition to managing the crisis, the year will gradually move towards preparing for the presidential election, which will require a number of clarifications on our strategic posture.

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News from Australia

Few countries have experienced such a rapid change in their security environment as Australia is experiencing as a result of climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic, the associated economic crisis and the diplomatic tensions and retaliatory trade measures taken by Beijing. The confrontation between China and Australia has lessons for the world’s powers as far away as Europe and France.

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Lorgnette: Those of 14

With Maurice Genevoix’s entry into the Pantheon, France is of course celebrating a singular author. He is a poet of nature (Raboliot and La dernière harde) but he enters the Pantheon for another work, Ceux de 14, which gathers five volumes of testimonies on the First World War. The heroic virtues of the latter are already magnified by the unknown soldier under the Arc de Triomphe. The Pantheon needed another way to honour our elders: it would be through literature. Why not?

However, without wanting to belittle Maurice Genevoix, a valiant and talented writer, one may question the decision to place him in the Pantheon. In 33 years, nine illustrious men and women have thus joined the necropolis. There is a kind of inflation, which is in line with the vogue for national tributes in the Cour des Invalides, formerly reserved for soldiers who died for France, now used to celebrate famous missing persons; what should we think of this curious “medal of the victims” which has just been created? If we want to celebrate or commemorate too much, we lose the hierarchy of values. Too much of a desire to magnify levels the playing field.

It is a pity.

JOCV

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LV 157 : Assessment of 2020 | Digital maneuvers | Lorgnette : Brexit, eventually

Letter n° 157 from La Vigie dated 23rd December 2020

AMR 2020: assessment of a year that put the world out of action

In one year a serious health accident overwhelmed the planet and put the whole world out of action. And the year 2020 will enter the list of the great strategic vintages of the century, alongside 1945, 1989 and 2001. Certainly the tensions that presided over the world before the pandemic have subsided, but the strategic situation has changed profoundly, new dialectics are emerging, but no possible balance is in sight on the horizon. Here is an end-of-year review of this extraordinary episode.

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Digital maneuvers

This month of December sees several high-intensity cyber clashes crackle: whether sabotage, subversion or espionage, the powers are clashing in digital space, to a degree rarely known. Cyberspace is indeed in permanent conflict, but below the threshold. However, other confrontations are emerging, this time between States and powers deprived of digital technology: whether in the United States or in the European Union, legal initiatives aim to bring these new operators, with their inordinate means and unknown ambitions, into line.

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Lorgnette: Brexit, finally

Negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union on the modalities of Brexit have frustrated all the envisaged deadlines. We had been told that we could not go beyond October and then November with the cut-off date of 31 December. The two parties went much further, since the agreement has still not been pronounced on 22 December. This is impressive.

On the one hand, one can only admire Boris Johnson who knew how to hide his intention until the end: nobody really knew whether he wanted an agreement or just a pretext to justify a hard Brexit to his public opinion. Perhaps he hadn’t even made up his mind, waiting for the result of the American election to decide. The fact remains that he was able to preserve his freedom of manoeuvre to the end and therefore to constantly weigh on the content of the negotiations.

On the other hand, the strength of the EU is also remarkable. While London had hoped to be able to crack the European bloc, it held out against all odds and withstood British pressure. This shows proven collective nerves that are to be commended. As for Brexit, we shall see in ten years’ time what the real effects will be on both sides.

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DV 12 : Covid and strategy

La Vigie’s strategic dossier n° 12 (16 December 2020)

We are pleased to resume our series of strategic dossiers, which we had somewhat neglected recently. So here is a nice 37-page issue on Covid and strategy. It prepares our end of year issue (the 157) with its traditional “aide-memoire to the king” which will evaluate this year 2020.

The Covid 19 pandemic will undoubtedly remain, without a doubt, as the highlight of this year 2020. La Vigie spoke about it early on (see the prelude) and then devoted many articles to the subject, from March to May. We thought it would be interesting to bring them together in a single, organised document.

A first introductory part recalls some factual elements and the first conclusions drawn. A second part gives an overview of the regional experiences of this pandemic in Europe (Italy, Poland or the EU) but also abroad (China, USA). The third part offers some strategic comments on this crisis, while the fourth part examines the French perspective. Finally, to conclude, a fifth part brings together a few mood notes, many of them taken from the Cadet.

We hope you enjoy reading them.

JOCV

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La Vigie n° 156: Dying for Warsaw or for Brussels? What does Erdogan tell us? Lorgnette : presidential race 2022

Letter n° 156 from La Vigie dated 9 December 2020

Dying for Warsaw or for Brussels?

Polish politics are often pointed at and the news about the blocking of the European budget is clearly a crisis. But before judging, wouldn’t it be on our side a lack of understanding of a Poland that is more rational than it seems?

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What does Erdoğan tell us?

R. Erdoğan is today portrayed by some as France’s main adversary. Provocation is an art that must be decoded in order not to fall into its trap. The Turkish leader is a skilful politician who has been in power for more than fifteen years and is now changing his internal base. This motivates a large part of his current foreign policy, whose major point of friction is in the Eastern Mediterranean. A good diagnosis of the situation makes it possible to envisage the strategic direction to be taken.

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Lorgnette: Presidential 2022

Of course, as with every such deadline, the elections of 2022 will not affect our diplomatic activity and our external military actions. Obviously, health, social and economic issues on the one hand, and public order, internal security and domestic terrorism on the other, will be the core of the electoral reactor of 2022. For all that, should we consider that everything has already been said by what has been done and that there will be no external issues to consider for the coming election?

Certainly not. The world is changing so fast today, from Washington to Beijing, from Moscow to Tehran and Ankara (see above), from London to Berlin, from Algiers to Bamako…

La Vigie is preparing to take stock in 2021 of the major issues of France’s security and defence, both internally and externally.

It will examine its diplomatic posture in Europe, the Mediterranean and the world, its military capabilities and operational activities, and its general strategy of presence in the world. This work will provide input for future political projects and will help inform the voters’ judgement in 2022.

JOCV

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La Vigie n° 155 (FREE) : After Hong Kong, Taiwan ? | The new Macron doctrine | Lorgnette : Russian Sudan

Letter from La Vigie n° 155 of 25 November 2020

After Hong Kong, Taiwan?

After the early abrogation of the Basic Law in Hong Kong and the promulgation of the National Security Law on 1 July 2020, Beijing has weakened its international credibility while sending a clear signal on how to settle international disputes, considered by the Communist Party as Chinese internal affairs. In an unstable strategic context, where relations between China and the United States are bound to be tense, the normalisation of Taiwan’s status is a matter for which the best chancelleries must prepare themselves in a concerted manner, at the risk of finding themselves once again without one.

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The new Macron doctrine

The recent interview given by the President of the Republic on foreign policy constitutes a “Macron doctrine”. The diagnosis is clear and bears witness to a fine evolution. The denunciation of a Washington consensus is lucid, the call for European strategic autonomy is clear, the designation of a Euro-African axis is a priority. Nevertheless, this brilliant discourse may lack pedagogy with our neighbours and partners and hardly conceals the limits of the implementation of this ambition.

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Lorgnette: Russian Sudan

Russia seems to be everywhere. It can be seen in Syria, the Caucasus, Libya, Egypt (LV 99) to mention only the Mediterranean rim. It has just signed an agreement to establish a naval base in Sudan. This shows a “grand strategy” that articulates several elements: firstly, the return to Africa that we have been seeing for many years, with actions in CAR and stronger links with various powers on the continent. Secondly, a stubborn opening towards “hot seas”, in this case the Indian Ocean. When China and Japan set up bases in Djibouti, Moscow moved a little further south, allowing a relay to East Africa and the Indo-Pacific. Finally, let us note the consolidation of a reborn maritime power, further densified by the opening of the northern passage.

From the Sudanese point of view, while the transitional regime saw the departure of Omar el Bechir (see note and LV 123), the opening of the game is obvious: it is a question of finding relays outside the American and Saudi sponsors (even if Khartoum has moved closer to Israel). But it is also a question of weighing up against problematic neighbours (southern Sudan, Egypt, even Ethiopia and Chad).

JOCV

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LV 154 : Tumultuous elections | (De)frozen conflitcts | Lorgnette : Secularims misunderstood

Letter from La Vigie n° 154 ; 11 November 2020

Tumultuous elections

The US presidential election has kept the world’s media on tenterhooks. Many on that occasion decried American democracy. However, other recent elections (Belarus, Côte d’Ivoire) have shown unconvincing processes. On closer inspection, the American election shows a great democratic vitality, even if politically (but that is another matter) the transition crisis is likely to continue.

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(De)frozen conflicts)

Frozen conflicts were an unwelcome legacy of the Cold War. Nevertheless, they are warming dangerously, one after the other, and the case of Nagorno-Karabakh is fuelling strategic thinking around hypotheses of symmetrical high-intensity conflicts.

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Lorgnette: Secularism misunderstood

It must be said that following the Islamist attacks of the last few weeks, secularism has been much talked about, rarely understood. First of all in France, where some people who take advantage of it understand it only as a kind of State atheism, which it is obviously not. But above all, the notion seems to some people to be the symbol of a “French universalism”: it must be said that this universalism is indeed French and very poorly understood outside.

This is true among our European and American friends. One only has to look at the journalistic treatment of the “big” American media, it is true that it is strongly influenced by the post-colonial, woke and communitarian ideology. Even Le Monde implies that this is excessive (here). But this famous “French model” is not understood by Muslim countries either, and the French reaction has been seen (and instrumentalized by some, notably R. Erdogan) as an official persecution of Muslims. Let us recall that French Muslims are those in Europe who feel best integrated into their country. And let us deplore the fact that our secularism is so badly assimilated, first of all by us, unable to explain it simply.

JOCV

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LV 153 : The strategist’s dilemma | Repression of terrorism | Elections in Bolivia

Letter from La Vigie Nr 153 (28 October 2020)

The strategist’s dilemma

The strategist’s dilemma at the end of this extraordinary year is both to preserve France’s strategic personality and to accept new rules in a complex game to which it does not hold the keys. To do this, one must first try to unclutter its strategic posture from a large number of implicit biases and perverse enrollments that weaken its relevance and often make it illegible.

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Repression of terrorism

Following the last two attacks, we can see that anger is rising in France. Let us note that we are facing a domestic terrorism which is not the fact of all French Muslims, but of only a part of them, supported, moreover, both by tacit internal allies and by external support. From now on, there is no longer any time to avoid this internal conflict. Before talking again (once again) about toughening the laws, the authorities must have authority and firmly apply those that exist in order to reverse the balance of power imposed on us. It is only time.

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Lorgnette: Elections in Bolivia

The recent general elections in Bolivia gave a large majority to the left-wing candidate Luis Arce with 55% of the votes in the first round. This election came after the institutional crisis of 2019, which saw the controversial departure of Evo Morales. Morales had won the first round of the 2019 elections (with 47% of the votes) but there had been a debate about holding a second round. Demonstrations on the one hand, and a council of the Organisation of American States on the other, had prompted the army to abandon Evo Morales, who had had to go into exile.

The party of E. Morales won the elections twice in a row and the accusations of irregularity in 2019 may have been (?) excessive. This puts into perspective the accusations of authoritarianism that flourished at the time. Incidentally, we see that the international community does not always make happy choices in Latin America, whether it be support for Luis Guaidó in Venezuela or opposition to Morales in Bolivia. Like it or not, the left remains well supported there and outside interference can do little in the long run.

JOCV

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LV 152 : What does Russia tell us ? | Disunited unities | Lorgnette : Free hostages

Letter from La Vigie Nr 152 (14 October 2020)

What does Russia tell us?

Russia thinks of itself as a power. Master of the land, it is implementing a strategy that knows how to take its time and skillfully play with the new configuration of the world structured by the confrontation between China and the United States and a deregulation of multilateralism. It is, however, a rough partner that does not know how to encourage dialogue, which is necessary for Europe if it does not want to fall prey to predators.

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Disunited Unities

The word unité (both unit and unity) has in French the particularity of designating both the elementary part of a set and the set itself. Depending on the fields to which it is applied, the duality of meaning leads to singularly different values of unity, particularly in terms of a state’s political philosophy or foreign policy. In the era of triumphant individualism, what meaning should be given to the unity of the Republic in a world in the midst of strategic recomposition?

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Lorgnette : Free Hostages

The release of the last French hostage last week has caused several controversies. Did France pay a ransom? Was her release worth the release of 200 prisoners? On these two points, we have few details, but the negotiations seem to have been conducted by the Malian government autonomously, without France. The question of the hostage would have come late, without any question of ransom. As for the terms of trade, some quickly concluded that they were Islamists, when the barter seems to have been based on intra-Malian considerations.

This largely explains the embarrassment of the authorities, faced with a fait accompli and not knowing what to say in the face of the hostage’s words, declaring that he had followed “a spiritual retreat”. Everyone was able to note there the limits of the curious tradition of a President of the Republic rushing to the airport to welcome the freed compatriot. Communication without a message is counterproductive. For all that, no matter the merit or the opinions of each hostage: national solidarity requires that they be sent home, according to the principle of “all for one”. This is basically our national raison d’être.

JOCV

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