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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LV 163 : The Greek ally | Introduction to multidomain operations | Lorgnette : Senegal in turmoil

Letter from La Vigie, Dated 17 March 2021

The Greek ally

Since last summer’s tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, France has moved closer to Greece. Greece has settled all its differences with its Balkan neighbours. The deep rivalry with Turkey remains, aggravated by the Cyprus question. The rapprochement with France is logical from Athens’ point of view. For Paris, it will be important to ensure that this is not just a diplomatic coup but a lasting alliance.

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Introduction to multi-domain operations

The synergy of multi-domain military engagements has accelerated since 2014. The development of hybrid strategies, combining military and non-military modes of action, by state and non-state competitors or strategic disruptors, led the United States to structure its approach to multi-domain operations (MDOs) and to solicit its allies. As is the case whenever a new strategic and operational concept emerges, each of them is required to appropriate it before considering a common interoperable and coordinated response. France is preparing for this. The next NATO and EU summits could see the adoption of the first concrete multilateral initiatives.

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Lorgnette: Senegal in turmoil

The events of the last few days in Senegal are worrying. Indeed, the arrest of the main opponent to the government, Ousmane Sonko, triggered a series of bloody riots (a dozen dead, nearly 600 injured). Although the situation has since calmed down, it reveals several trends. First of all, Senegalese democracy, often cited as an example, is not immune to upheaval. We need to remember what happened twenty years ago in Côte d’Ivoire. The president, Macky Sall, remains very ambiguous about a possible third candidacy and has succeeded in eliminating the opposition… except for Ousmane Sonko, who is not from the seraglio. He made a name for himself by coming third in the last presidential election by denouncing corruption but also the French influence.

Now, this anti-French sentiment is spreading throughout the former African pré carré. This is to lend a lot of power to France, but the affair comes at a time when the debate is raging around the Barkhane operation. If minds are focused on the Sahel, it is advisable to remain cautious towards the region’s solid supports. A destabilised Senegal would be very bad news for everyone.

JOCV

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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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