La Vigie Nr 184 : Bruised Armenia | Russian-US negotiations | Lorgnette : Deterrence and espionage on the small screen

Letter from La Vigie dated 19 Jan 2022

Bruised Armenia

While Turkey has just begun negotiations to try to normalise its relations with its neighbour Armenia – having agreed not to mention the “Armenian genocide” for the time being – it is time for us to continue our trans-Caucasian tour of horizon by looking at Armenia. What place does it occupy in the regional balance?

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Russian-US negotiations

European observers have been very alarmed by the risk of war on the borders of Ukraine. What if it was all a bluff, with Putin playing poker this time and cashing in on the bilateral negotiations with the US? Killing any hope of an autonomous European defence.

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Lorgnette : Deterrence and espionage on the small screen

A television co-production between Arte and the BBC, entitled “VIGIL” and currently on air, stands out. It is a short six-part series.

It begins with an investigation into the suspicious death of a sailor aboard a British SSBN in Scottish territorial waters. While the aerial images are of the actual base at Faslane, the SNLE base is renamed ‘Dunloch’.

Sadly, sacrificing to current conventions regarding the heroine’s moods and omitting a few implausibilities, certainly accepted for dramatic reasons, the series’ interest lies in the way it revisits the underwater film ‘genre’, which can quickly prove tiresome. It is not the ground investigation that offers it, but the way in which the nuclear deterrent is approached. Indeed, the huis clos is an SNLE (sous-marin nucléaire lanceur d’engins) and it soon becomes apparent that the very principle of the deterrent posture is at the heart of a scheme.

It is rare enough to bring these serious issues to such an audience (so within the series there are also all sorts of pacifists): this is the great merit of the series.

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La Vigie Nr 183 : From 2021 to 2022: Still uncertain! | Cordial disagreement | Lorgnette : South-African Nobels

Leter from La Vigie, dated 5 Jan 2022

From 2021 to 2022: Still uncertain!

The year 2022 still looks very uncertain: a banal America, a declining Russia, a tense China, a hesitant Middle East, a stalled Africa and an undecided Europe do not favour major strategic upheavals. The Sino-American rivalry remains the main structuring factor. As for France, we will have to wait for the presidential election to see clearly.

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Cordial disagreement

The year 2021 marked the end of what was intended to be a year of renewed leadership for the UK in world affairs. As 1 January 2022 marked the first anniversary of the effective entry into force of the Brexit, what can we learn from these twelve months? What does this mean for the future of the Franco-British relationship and the normalisation of the relationship between the EU and the UK?

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Lorgnette: South African Nobels

Two South African Nobel Prize winners have just passed away within a month of each other.

Frederik de Klerk, the last white president of South Africa, ended apartheid and organised a peaceful transition to a democratic regime that allowed blacks to take power. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 with Nelson Mandela. It was he who changed the doctrine of the National Party from 1989 onwards, legalised the black parties and freed Mandela in 1990. The official abolition of apartheid took place in 1991. He died on 11 November 2021.

Desmond Tutu is a black Anglican bishop who, coming from a modest background, preaches reconciliation between peoples. His fight for non-violence earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983. He presided over the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which shed light on many crimes and avoided the confrontation that everyone predicted would follow the change of regime. He did not hesitate to denounce the excesses of Mandela’s successors, notably J. Zuma. He died on 26 December 2021.

Two good men who will be missed by South Africa, which is currently experiencing a lot of turmoil. May their successors be up to the task.

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La Vigie Nr 182 : France and the full strategic exercise | New Caledonia: what now? | Lorgnette: sustainable coexistence

Letter from La Vigie dated 22nd Dec 2021

France and the full strategic exercise

To close this year and feed the strategic debate of the presidential elections, here are the four logics that structure the strategic posture of France at the end of 2021: the neighbours, the competitions, the frictions and the cold wars. In the post-Covid world that is opening up, should we keep this outdated 20th century software? Can we explore a new one to enable France in Europe and Europe in the world to propose another point of balance, free from the rivalry between the United States and China? Will the year 2022 be a milestone in France’s strategic history or a reactivation of its previous actions?

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New Caledonia: what now?

The last referendum logically – and legitimately – decided to keep New Caledonia in the French nation. However, there is still a destiny to be built, as the rock remains divided: these divisions resemble many others, including in metropolitan France. Beyond that, it is a Pacific strategy for France that must be built.

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Lorgnette: sustainable coexistence

The experience of peoples forges the social capital that allows them to be governed. America comes from the conquest of the West and prosperity, China from the idealised Tianxia and prescribed harmony, Europe from the banishment of internal struggles after devastating tragedies. The result is three strategic trajectories that are not convergent today, even if an essential model of Western governance is seen as universal. The Asian model is therefore seen as alternative and therefore antagonistic. But what humanity would gain from political unification would deprive it of the pluralism whose richness comes from accepted diversity.

Here is a lesson from Jean Marie Guéhenno’s latest book, “Le premier XXIe siècle” (here) that LV recommends. His groping but rigorous approach denounces the harebrained triumphalism of a democratic West today in a deep identity crisis that is blinded by a Chinese obsession and wants to unify the world. Just as China wanted to take the best of the West to keep the best of China, should the West not take the best of China to save the best of the West, which is assumed pluralism? To be explored and meditated upon.

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La Vigie Nr 181 : On civil war | Azerbaijan in turmoil | Lorgnette : pre-2022 strategic debate

Letter from La Vigie, December 8, 2021

On civil war

Civil war is a conflict between parties in a constituted political unit. Its causes have varied throughout history, but like external warfare, it contributes powerfully to the constitution of the state (or to its dissolution). Today, it seems much more frequent than external war, even if it seems unlikely in France.

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Azerbaijan in turmoil

One year after the end of the second Nagorno-Karabakh war, sporadic clashes have resumed. Let us begin a cycle of in-depth analysis of the Transcaucasus and start with Azerbaijan, reviewing its delicate game of alliances and its place in the regional balance.

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Lorgnette : pre-2022 strategic debate

The preparation of the 2022 electoral scene continues with new candidates. Preliminary debates focus on issues of purchasing power, immigration and internal security (see above). They address the domestic issues that are crucial in a presidential election. Yet the prospect of the upcoming French presidency of the European Union opens the door to debates on the posture of the European Union and its strategic autonomy in the current world disorder. French arms export successes underline the rearmament of Middle Eastern countries, the volatility of power relations in West Asia (see above) and the ongoing technological competition. The Sino-American rivalry is more about Taiwan than the New Caledonia referendum and France’s interests in the Asia-Pacific.

The debate of the electoral campaign should, however, seriously address the strategic questions of the ambient conflict, France’s military commitments, France’s place in Europe and Europe’s place in the world, and the means to be devoted to the country’s security.

LV is preparing to contribute to this.

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La Vigie Nr 180 : Air and space environments: displaying power | FR CHOD strategic vision | Spain : party of the void

Letter from La Vigie, November 24, 2021

Air and space environments: displaying power

Air power implies mastering technology, which has led to certain excesses in the thinking of the air and space community that are now being questioned. The need for a return to deployable mass and the contribution of drones seems to be a method for achieving this. But the Franco-German projects (SCAF) are uncertain. Finally, the air environment has logically extended to space which is becoming a demanding environment where challenges abound.

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FR CHOD Strategic Vision

The public launch of the new Chief of Defence Staff’s strategic vision is a good opportunity to give the military a voice to specify their contribution to the country’s security. Three sensitive issues emerge: high intensity confrontation, strategic surprise and the need for a global security policy for France.

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Lorgnette: Spain, party of the void

Contemporary Spain (LV 172) is, like Italy, adept at political innovation. It had invented Podemos, a far-left party. Founded in 2014, it obtained 20% of the vote in 2015 and has participated in a coalition government since 2019. Ciudadanos, a liberal party, originally Catalan, spread throughout Spain from 2014. But these good electoral results of 2015 and 2016 have not been confirmed. These political parties want to get out of the alternative between PSOE, PP and independents.

A new attempt is emerging, that of the Party of Emptiness (España Vaciada: Emptied Spain), formed in September. A poll already promises it 15 deputies. It brings together the neglected territories, neither capital nor rich coastal region (i.e. Catalonia and the Basque Country). They are disconnected from the networks (motorways, TGV, high-speed Internet). They are reminiscent of the Yellow Vests, but above all of the French “Diagonal of Emptiness”, that scarf of underdevelopment crossing the hexagon from the North-East to the South-West.

We must be attentive to this non-ideological but territorial political experiment, bringing together the “somewhere” against the “anywhere”. The return of the local (LV 94) will perhaps be the next surprise.

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La Vigie Nr 179 : France in 2050 | The American question | Lorgnette : Forgotten Bosnia

Letter from La Vigie dated November 10th 2021

France in 2050

The news is always quick to emphasise the crises of the moment and the seemingly insurmountable challenges: let’s reverse the point of view and consider what assets France has at its disposal to still be what it is in 2050. The picture is less bleak than is often assumed.

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The American question

Trumpism did not disappear after the last presidential election. Just as the Democrats refused to accept Trump’s victory five years ago, the Republicans refuse to accept Biden’s victory. He was badly elected and is struggling to implement his reforms and to unify the Democrats, divided between radicals and conservatives. A defeat in the next elections (mid-term, presidential 2024) is therefore highly likely. A second Trump presidency would deepen the fragmentation of the country.

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Lorgnette: Forgotten Bosnia

Who still remembers Bosnia-Herzegovina? This small country, born in 1995 from the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, has never found a political balance. This meeting between a “Muslim-Croat federation” and a “Republika Srpska” has never worked. It is under the supervision of the European Union, which is no longer interested in it. So we see the Serbian leader gradually acting in favour of separation (and eventually the reunion of the Serbian part with Serbia in Belgrade). The population is talking about a possible return to war.

However, this does not worry the international community, especially Europe, which is content with a black hole in the Balkans and has no prospects to offer. The Union is struggling to promote a negotiated solution between Kosovo and Serbia. It is not even certain that a secession of the Bosnian Serb part would be violent. In fact, some may think that this separation is a logical option and that 25 years later, with the help of fatigue, what was considered inadmissible at the time is admitted. But this would open the Pandora’s box of border rectifications in Europe. Which it does not need.

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La Vigie Nr 178 : Strategic Identity for France | The German question | Lorgnette : Diplomacy is a combat sport

Letter from La Vigie dated 27 OCtober 2021

Strategic identity of France in 2022

There can be no European autonomy without a prior strategic identity, and no strategic identity without a desire for sovereignty. The time of strategic rivalries is over, it is the time of the 20th century. The time of regulated coexistence could become that of the 21st century. It is up to France to propose in 2022 a European de-alignment and a return to centrality and thus to strategic sovereignty.

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The German question

The German question, born at the beginning of the 19th century, seemed to have been resolved in 1990 with the reunification of the two Germanies. It has simply changed form and one cannot understand the European question without discerning an underlying German question. Its economic power and geographical centrality allow it to exercise a new benign neglect that is not in our interest.

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Lorgnette: Diplomacy is a combat sport

Diplomatic manoeuvres are in fashion. France cannot do without them, either by using them or by paying for them. In the gradation of a diplomatic crisis, the first rung is the summoning of the foreign ambassador to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: this was the recent decision of Algeria (September) and Mali (October), following remarks deemed excessive by President Macron.

The next level is a recall for consultation: this was the case with allied countries: Italy in 2019, Turkey in 2020, the United States and Australia this summer. Algeria has just recalled its ambassador following the president’s remarks on the memorial rent. However, the embassy’s services continue to function.

The next step is to dismiss the ambassador. This is what Belarus decided last week and Turkey this weekend. The next decisions are to close the embassy and then to break off diplomatic relations.

It is clear that this autumn is very active and that France is particularly targeted, which is a sign that it is expressing itself at the risk of displeasing.

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La Vigie n° 177 : Uchronies 2100 | Finally alone ! | Lorgnette : Polish challenge

Letter from La Vigie dated October 13, 2021

Uchronies 2100

What are the major strategic paths on which France can embark? Where will we be in 2100? We propose three deliberately divergent uchronies to explore the consequences of our actions if nothing changes today. Let’s hope that they will fuel our reflection and help us imagine an enviable original option.

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Alone at last!

Solitude is a possible strategic choice, contrary to what we too often think. It abandons many flaws in the analysis of the current globalisation, and many fantasies of a solution as well. If it is well thought out, by choosing partners here or there on this or that subject, and by not hesitating to seek power relations elsewhere, it should make it possible to find new margins for manoeuvre in line with our long-term interests.

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Lorgnette: Polish challenge

The Polish Constitutional Court this week ruled that the Polish Constitution is superior to the EU treaties in certain cases. This is another stone thrown into the EU’s garden, after the turmoil of the Brexit. Some speak of a legal Polexit. Poland would remain in the Union but would opt out of some common legal rules. Denmark and Germany have said similar things (LV 142). This is a major challenge, since the Union is built on law. The Polish decision calls into question this essential foundation of the Union’s effectiveness (we do not dare use the word “power” in relation to the EU).

The case is eminently political. The threat of the end of subsidies will not scare Warsaw, which may be using this decision to establish a balance of power with Brussels. Other countries (Hungary and even the Czech Republic) will oppose any retaliation that is too serious. Once again, a Brussels certainty is being called into question: the ineluctability of European construction and its superstructure. So far, crises have been overcome, but with increasing difficulty. A road accident can be fatal.

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La Vigie n° 176 : AUKUS: the irremediable mistrust | Maritime environment: what are the stakes ? | Lorgnette : islamist reflux in the Maghreb

Letter from La Vigie, September 29, 2021

AUKUS: the irremediable defiance

The AUKUS affair is not primarily commercial but fundamentally political. France has not only been fooled but also scorned. This calls into question not only the reliability of our alliances but above all that of the United States whose amateurism is obvious. The consequences are irremediable and France must question many of its certainties, both with regard to the Alliance and above all to the EU. As for the concept of the Indo-Pacific, marked by an obsolete concept of containment of China, it is necessary to quickly move away from it and return to a balanced Asian policy. Finally, be more cunning.

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Maritime environment: what is at stake?

After the “perspectives of the terrestrial environment” for the Army (LV 175), here are the “stakes of the maritime environment” for the French Navy, which finds itself in the wide open spaces of a deployment on the four naval and strategic fronts that fall to it and which require many more resources. An integral maritime strategy for France is emerging as a new ambition for France in the 21st century.

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Lorgnette: Islamist backlash in the Maghreb

The general public does not follow much of what is happening in the Maghreb where, however, significant developments are taking place. For example, in the last Moroccan legislative elections, the local Islamist party (the PJD) largely lost its influence. Whereas yesterday many saw an irremediable progression, here is the sound of its retreat that cannot be attributed to pressure from the Palace alone.

Similarly, the coup de force this summer by Kaïs Saïed (LV 173) marks above all the failure of Ennhadha, the Islamist party that has been part of all governments since the Jasmine Revolution of 2011. Finally, in Algeria, the Islamists are gradually losing their positions and their influence, both with the government and the population.

The Maghreb is thus experiencing a general movement of disaffection towards political Islam. This does not mean that it has disappeared: simply that its dynamic of progress has broken down and that it is considered a marginal option, but certainly no longer inevitable.

However, this does not mean that credible alternatives are emerging. On the contrary, this is a sign of deeply disillusioned populations. This is just as worrying.

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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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