LV 206: Back from Singapore | High intensity: taking the high road | Lorgnette: The Kertch bridge

Letter from La Vigie dated 7 December 2022

Back from Singapore

On his return from a visit to Singapore, the strategist was stunned by what he had seen: here was the capital of globalisation, succeeding in physically and culturally reuniting the East and the West, which, according to Kipling, “will never meet“. And yet, Singapore demonstrates the opposite…

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High intensity: taking the high road

The prevailing discourse, especially since the new phase of the Russian-Ukrainian war started on 24 February 2022, insists on the need for the French armed forces to be prepared to be engaged in a ‘high intensity’ war scenario. While leaving the decision to modify the operational contract of our expeditionary armies to the political power, let us lend ourselves to the exercise: inspired by what we can observe in Ukraine, what are the lessons that we must (re)learn to be able to fight such battles?

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Lorgnette: The Kerch Bridge

On the night of 7-8 October, the Ukrainians managed, to the surprise of everyone, to hit the Kerch Bridge, presumably with the help of a naval drone. This was not only a serious blow to Russian logistics but also a deliberate attack on one of the symbols of Crimea’s attachment to Russia.

On 5 December, barely two months later, Vladimir Putin visited the bridge, which he himself had inaugurated on 15 May 2018.

This visit, which few people expected, is rich in lessons. If Putin travels to and from this bridge in person without any problems, it is because he is healthy enough to do so, that he is not afraid to be absent from places of power despite the conspirators, that he manages to move without foreign intelligence anticipating it, that Russian engineering is working hard and that there is no question, despite the withdrawal from Kherson, of abandoning Crimea.

At the same time, the Ukrainians managed to hit two strategic bases 800 km inside Russia. The political stakes are rising on both sides.

This war is far from over.

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LV 203: Crisis: a question of morale | Did you say deterrence ? | Lorgnette: stiff China

Letter from La Vigie Nr 203 dated 26 October 2022

Crisis: a question of morale

We are living in a state of protean crises, which are becoming endless and simultaneous, creating a climate of anxiety. War is a form of crisis and the military are specialists in crisis management and insist on the importance of morale in order to overcome them. Shouldn’t we draw inspiration from the military model to face current crises?

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Did you say deterrence?

President Macron’s statements the other night on deterrence may have been clumsy. However, they bring up the debate on an essential question, renewed by a world nuclear order that is unravelling, from NWBT to the end of the INF treaty, from Ukraine to North Korea. It is high time to get back to the terms of the discussion.

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Lorgnette: Stiff China

As we predicted last summer (LV 197), the Chinese stiffening has been accentuated on the occasion of this 20th Congress of the CCP. Let us remember that in China, power belongs to the party. We saw the humiliating way in which Hu Jintao, the previous leader, was ruthlessly dismissed in front of the world’s television channels, and also the composition of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau, in which only Xi Jinping’s supporters were promoted.

Despite the difficulties, or more likely because of them, the Chinese leadership has chosen to persevere: in its noxious anti-Covid strategy, in the pursuit of an economic policy that has produced disappointing results this year, and in its opposition to Taiwan, which is now enshrined in the CCP charter. This clear hardening accompanies Xi’s unlimited power, designated for a third term.

The hard line can be expected to become more pronounced, both in opposition to the US and in support of V. Putin. Yet the possibility of failure increases the risk of a breakout action in the zone, notably against Taiwan, betting on a weakening US following the mid-terms. Worrying.

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La Vigie Nr 197 : European security 2022 : to the results | The Chinese question | Lorgnette : Heatwave

Letter from La Vigie, 20th July 2022

European Security 2022: to the results

At the results in mid-2022, the war in Ukraine appears as a major hitch in the trajectory of European security 30 years after the Cold War: a suffering Ukraine, a raw front line in the heart of a continent that is freezing, a postponed European reunification, a Russia that is turning its back on Europe and engaging in new Asian cooperative horizons. France, which cannot be satisfied with this, must retain its freedom of thought and proposal in the face of this strategic discontinuity. This war is first and foremost a question of European security, to be dealt with first and foremost among Europeans. Can we still force Russia to accept a more cooperative framework of cohabitation in Europe through a real and better coordinated strategic containment? It is by answering this question that France will be able to revise its military posture and avoid the anachronistic trap of a massive capability grooming.

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The Chinese question

China is experiencing a sudden economic slowdown, due in large part to a brutal zero-covid policy. This is undermining a system based on successful growth. It affects Beijing’s international posture: less towards the near abroad than the implementation of its global policy. These economic challenges pose political problems that will be at the heart of the next CCP Congress this autumn.

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Lorgnette: Heatwave

What does the recent heatwave in France and Europe tell us? First of all, the reality of climate change, now measurable by everyone, at the level of human experience. The novelty of the current episode lies in its brutality, which makes it a radical departure from the climatic variations that the earth has experienced in the past, which extended over hundreds and thousands of years. The cause is most certainly also human.

It should also be noted that it coincides with the development of globalisation in the 1980s: the emergence of the Third World and the transformation of numerous countries into manufacturing workshops has led to production, trade and consumption. The heat wave is the counterpart of our prosperity. And if China is responsible for 30% of the planet’s greenhouse gases, it is because it produces for the Western consumer.

Symbolically, this heatwave also reflects the political and economic disruption of the world. Wars and conflicts are still raging (Ukraine, Yemen, Sahel) and popular riots are on the rise (Sri Lanka, Panama). Everywhere, the planet is experiencing a heat wave.

This is worrying.

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La Vigie Nr 194 : India is on its way | Conceptual wavering | Lorgnette : God save the Queen

Letter from La Vigie, dated 8 June 2022

India is on its way

India is attracting little interest, even though its rank among nations is growing steadily. Its strategy remains marked by its cumbersome neighbours (Pakistan, China), but its tradition of non-alignment makes it resistant to American neo-imperial embroilment. This is an opportunity for France, which is in good agreement with this South Asian power, an agreement that goes beyond signed contracts.

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Conceptual wavering

From strategic compass to strategic concept, there is a general wavering as the war in Ukraine seems to be stalling. It is the moment of the first assessments among the Europeans who are divided on the way to go. It is perhaps also the time for France to question its defence posture, to take its time to find out how to integrate the lessons of the strategic surprises coming from Moscow and Kiev.

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Lorgnette: God save the Queen

The Queen of England has just celebrated her jubilee, the 70th anniversary of her reign. The longevity is understandably surprising, but not as surprising as the popular fervour that has surrounded these celebrations. A silent sovereign, the Queen nevertheless won the support of her subjects thanks to her remarkable demeanour and reserve: who was not impressed by her brief three-minute statement at the time of the Covid pandemic, calling on her compatriots to hold on? It was a change from the lengthy speeches made by other leaders.

Source

Yet it is not this exemplary role played by an exceptional personality over these 70 years that counts. It is the tribute to the last human being who came close to the political management of the Second World War. It is true that she had no decision-making power at the time, but she already had the awareness of a national mobilisation to resist the enemy.

This memory is still prominent in contemporary England, which cannot be understood if we ignore the pride of having resisted with sweat, blood and tears. Elizabeth II is also a witness to that moment, to that sacred union of the British people. May God keep you!

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La Vigie Nr 186 : African coups | Torn Georgia | Lorgnette : Indonesian opening

African coups

The recent coups in Mali and Burkina Faso show the disappointment of African elites and populations towards France. This can be explained by a major strategic error, a mixture of good conscience, overuse of the military tool, inappropriate governance manoeuvres and, finally, misunderstood and therefore misimplemented interests. France has disappointed and it is to blame. It must draw the consequences.

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Georgia torn

Georgia is the only country in the Transcaucasus that is open to the West, to the Black Sea, to Europe. The country is haunted by the demons of conflict with separatist provinces and its complicated relationship with Russia. Its attempt at rapprochement with the United States ended in failure, especially militarily, but Georgia has since embarked on a new path towards the European Union. Perhaps this is not a bad idea!

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Lorgnette: Indonesian opening

The recent sale of 42 Rafale fighters to Indonesia is welcome, for obvious industrial reasons. If it is not sure that it favours French defence, it constitutes on the other hand an asset in our foreign policy, in particular in South-East Asia, a more accurate term here than Indo-Pacific. It should also be noted that this sale is accompanied by that of two Scorpene submarines. The AUKUS affront has been repaired (LV 176).

Paradoxically, it may have served its purpose. Indeed, like many countries in the region, Indonesia is careful to maintain a policy of balance between China and the United States, ensuring that it is not too dependent on either. It had been following our strategic and industrial partnership with India with interest, which prompted it to consider our offer carefully. But it is very likely that the Australians’ unilateral decision played a role: by considering that France was not secure enough, Australia proved that, on the contrary, France had a balanced position in the region. This was probably the decisive argument for Jakarta. Thus, in addition to India and Singapore, France obtains a third partner in this South and South-East Asia. Let’s hope it won’t be the last.

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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 146 : Maverick states | There is no more West | Lorgnette : Hong-Kong mastered

Letter from La Vigie dated 8 July 2020


Maverick states

The Westphalian international order, which was intended to be egalitarian, has ended up degenerating into the law of the strongest: some States, using leverage, will try to compensate for their weakness by adopting an original model that should guarantee their survival. We shall call them the mavericks’ and here we propose a typology of their strategies.

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There is no more West.

The West was at the same time a civilization, a way of thinking marked by doubt and science, a world domination and a geopolitical device focused on the alliance between Europe and America. But both America and Europe are in deep disarray as the link between the two sides of the Atlantic inexorably unravels. The West is no longer, if not as a remnant of an ancient but already extinct world. Let us become aware of this in order to build a new system.

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Lorgnette: Hong Kong mastered

China finally decided to take over the Hong Kong enclave, despite a special status negotiated in 1997 that was to last fifty years. The “one country, two systems” theory has just been shattered a quarter of a century ahead of schedule.

This decision does not really surprise even if Beijing takes a risk, that of seeing the financial and commercial place that HK was and of tarnishing its image. But the ceaseless demonstrations, at a time when the Chinese power has been stiffening for several years in the face of difficulties, constituted an internal challenge that could not last any longer. Indeed, China is first of all obsessed with maintaining its unity, guaranteed by sustained growth rates that were fading away, a trend that accelerated with the pandemic. The Chinese decision must first be understood along that way. Yet Beijing felt strong enough to challenge the international community, especially the United States.

Beyond that, it reinforces the bad image given by China that has spread throughout the world over the last six months. It seems to ignore it, confident of its power and negligent towards the rest of the world, in line with its ancestral attitude.

Taiwan now remains to be watched.

JOCV

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Friedrich Nerly. 1807-1878. The Piazzetta in the moonlight. The Piazzetta in the moonlight. Cologne. Wallraf Richartz Museum

LV 145 : Japan and France: maritime strategies | Army’s strategic vision | Lorgnette: Sino-Indian tensions

Letter from La Vigie Nr 145, dated 24th June 2020

Japan and France: maritime strategies

France and Japan, comparable G7 countries, linked by an exceptional partnership, are similarly confronted with the economic consequences of the coronavirus crisis. In search of new levers to revive their economies, they are among the world’s leading oceanic powers and can count on their national maritime strategies to make the most of their assets. The global, bilateral and inter-ministerial maritime dialogue, which opened in Noumea in September 2019, is a pioneering tool enabling them to launch open projects at the scale of the maritime spaces of Europe and the Indo-Pacific, in the service of the reasoned development and preservation of the world ocean.

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Army’s Strategic Vision

The central argument of this reflection is the return to high intensity. It goes without saying that after thirty years of land-based operations of all kinds (peacekeeping, counter-insurgency, etc.) we are seeing a hardening of land-based armed conflicts outside. In order to cope with this, the army will have to be toughened up. It should be noted that this global vision does not cover the national territory.

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Lorgnette: Sino-Indian tensions

China and India clashed on 15 June in a high valley in Ladakh, on the Himalayan borders of the two countries, on the shores of Kashmir, itself the object of friction between India and Pakistan (LV 113). In a valley at more than 4000 m., unarmed border guards clashed with stones and sticks, causing the deaths of about twenty Indians and perhaps forty Chinese. It is believed that the Chinese set up tents in a disputed area. Both countries have since increased their appeasement measures.

Yet the affair is worrying: firstly, because Kashmir is the other explosive region in Central Asia (apart from Afghanistan) that involves three nuclear powers, in a context of state claims (which we note in this issue). But also because China seems to want to apply on the banks of the Galwan River the fait accompli policy it has practised in the South China Sea. The only difference is that here it is challenging not middle powers but India, itself a nationalist, which can use this as a pretext to make up for poor economic results.

This is worrying.

JOCV

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La Vigie Nr 139 : Face to the virus : first lessons from Asia | Forgotten strategic vocabulary | Withdrawing forces

Letter from La Vigie, 1st April 2020

Face to the virus: first lessons from Asia

Two weeks after the lockdown of the entire French population, much has been said about the measures adopted in some Asian countries to contain the Covid-19 epidemic. If the successes met by Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea or Japan to deal with the first wave of the epidemic are undeniable, they are due to a high level of preparedness of the administrations, the response forces and the populations to manage a probable crisis with potentially severe consequences. The rapid spread of the pandemic, incomplete information from China and hampered international cooperation have left most European countries with no choice but to confine themselves. These initial lessons from Asia will have to be quickly learned by all, individually and collectively, to prevent such a strategic surprise from being repeated in the new world to be built the day after.

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Forgotten strategic vocabulary

The health crisis we are facing reminds us of a number of terms that have been forgotten or neglected in strategic vocabulary: strategic surprise, weak signals, strategy of means, defence and innovation, freedom of movement, resilience… some are losing interest, others are regaining an importance that should not have been given up.

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Lorgnette: Withdrawing forces

The coronavirus is a good excuse. Or it can be very useful. For example, Iraq has decided on very strict border restrictions. The Americans took the opportunity to redeploy their force, in fact to abandon two of the three bases they had in the North and West of the country. That this decision came at a time when the Shiite militias had relaunched their campaign of harassment against American troops, following (post) the assassination of General Souleimani is of course completely fortuitous.

Unsurprisingly, many followed the American decision: the British and Czechs announced their decision to stop the training mission. France too, thus dismantling the Iraqi component of Operation Chammal, but also (discreetly) the special forces detachment operating in Syria. Officially, it is of course concerned about the strengthening of the Islamic state in the region. But it is in fact very happy to find a timely way out, since the objectives of this mission were no longer very clear. Above all, this will make it possible to lighten the system and strengthen the military resources in France. We have to relearn how to complete an operation.

JOCV

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LV 135 : Europe and the South | Brexit and the end of EU | Coronavirus : Chinese ?

Letter from La Vigie, dated 5 FEB 2020

Europe and its South

Long regarded as the preserve of southern European countries, the southern Mediterranean shore and its hinterland are now becoming an issue for all European countries, whatever they may be. Only a long-term multilateral strategy will make it possible to resolve the many crises in this region that threaten Europe.

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Brexit and the end of the EU

Brexit thus became law and a country left the European Union for the first time. Admittedly, there are still a few months of negotiations to settle the details of future relations, but the essential points have been said. The EU loses much more than just a 28th of its members: in addition to size (population, GDP) or contribution to the common budget (which will have repercussions on solidarity towards poorer countries, often the latest entrants), it loses a strategic player. While the UK may lose out, the EU sees with its departure the beginning of the end.

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Lorgnette: Coronavirus: Chinese?

The Coronavirus epidemic surprises the observer. As well for its treatment in China, which testifies to the feverishness of the government while the growth rate was ebbing away and that the prior takeover was intended to allow President Xi to better control it. The crisis is generating popular discontent that must be carefully monitored, especially if the power fails to stem the epidemic.

Incidentally, there is a massive movement of quarantines: villages, neighbourhoods, entire cities and even countries, as evidenced by the drastic reduction in relations with China and the closure of borders. We can see here the new phase of globalisation, as we have known it for the last ten years: while trade has increased incredibly (including in diseases), the reaction to the negative effects is closure and local repatriation: here protectionism, there health isolation of a suspect country. The coronavirus is symbolic of geo-economic times and beyond, geopolitical times. Let us hope that this disease is controlled before contaminating everything.

JOCV

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