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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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La Vigie Nr 130 : People in motion | Europe-Asia : same equations ? | Lorgnette : pope and nuclear

Letter from La Vigie dated 27 November 2019


People in motion

This autumn saw massive demonstrations all over the world: in Latin America, North Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia. What does this global and simultaneous phenomenon mean when the analysis of each movement suggests contingent and local factors? Despite the differences (purpose, duration, social or political motivation), they share the disappointment with the established powers. Above all, they appear to be a new consequence of globalization, as paradoxical as this conclusion seems.

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Europe-Asia: same equations?

In twenty years, France and Japan have become strategic partners of the 21st century, re-establishing a level of relations that the two countries had not enjoyed since the advent of the Meiji era, contributing to the archipelago’s opening to modernity at the end of the 19th century. Over the course of the 20th century, after having been allies in the first world war, they became allies of the United States after 1945. With different strategic cultures that reflect their distinct histories, their strategic autonomy and their alliance stances towards Washington now have some common points that are interesting to note as we approach the next NATO Summit.

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Lorgnette: Pope and nuclear

Pope Francis’ speech in Nagasaki (here) constitutes a significant reversal of jurisprudence. Indeed, the Catholic Church has never concealed its opposition to nuclear weapons. But after much debate, it had resolved, in France, to accept the principle of deterrence (text of the 1983 Episcopal Conference). Deterrence had been recognized as a necessary evil. But for Pope Francis, it is “perverse”: “International peace and stability are incompatible with any attempt to rely on the fear of mutual destruction or on the threat of total annihilation“. As for nuclear weapons, if their use had always been condemned, the Church said nothing about their possession. Having or manufacturing it is now condemned: “The use of atomic energy for military purposes is now, more than ever, a crime. It is immoral.

The Pope calls for international negotiations, especially around the TPNW (LV 87). It is the only time when morality meets reality. It must be said that today, despite the objectives affirmed by the NPT, we are not moving towards a world without nuclear weapons. On the contrary.

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La Vigie Nr 128 : Why Indo-Pacific? – Towards calm in the Middle East – The Lorgnette: The inevitable Brexit

Letter from La Vigie dated 30 October 2019

Why Indo-Pacific?

In ten years, the term Indo-Pacific (IP) has almost replaced the term Asia-Pacific. What are the reasons for this change in the geographical framework of the main actors’ foreign policies? As the world’s demographic and economic centre of gravity, will the PI become the next challenge in the confrontation between Beijing and Washington or the area of cooperation, freedom and development from which as many people as possible can benefit? To avoid marginalisation, France and Europe must develop a global and coherent vision of the PI accompanied by projects that will concretely meet the expectations of the different sub-regions.

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Towards calm in the Middle East

The Middle East has long been polarized around the Palestinian question and then the jihadist question. From now on, we are in a new phase, initiated before D. Trump came to power. Whether in Turkey, Syria or even Saudi Arabia, policies are changing and one can imagine a region less conflictual than in recent years.

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The Lorgnette: The inevitable Brexit

Very few are able to follow the detours of Euro-British policy around Brexit. However, let us note several things. 1/ The European strategy of blocking Brexit at all costs has failed. It should be noted that the EU was indeed partly responsible for the blockage. Until recently, there was nothing to negotiate. But in the end, the EU negotiated. 2/ Boris Johnson won his bet, contradicting all speculation. Many expected him to seek only a no-deal, but he managed to negotiate, quickly and skilfully, an agreement that was certainly not perfect, which is the hallmark of all agreements. 3/ The British Parliament played an unpleasant role, between persistent blockage and refusal of dissolution: indeed, another of Cameron’s reforms was to introduce a threshold for dissolution, which blocks the system. 4/ The ultimate blockage implemented against BoJo is intended to counter it, not the agreement, which could lead to a no-deal that we were precisely trying to avoid.

Absurdity is indeed a British trait.

But this should not hinder a Brexit that is now inevitable. The result will then have to be assessed in five years or more.

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La Vigie Nr 119 : Innovation and prospective | A European army ? | Lorgnette : changing era in Japan

La Vigie, Strategic Letter, Nr 119, 5 June 2019

Innovation and prospective

Innovation and prospective studies are two methods to understand the future. They contribute to the strategy in a different way. They are not exclusively technological, contrary to a common perception. Useful, they must also give way to a change in approach to strategic thinking: an innovation, in essence.

A European army ?

The European army generates interest again even if it remains a tight conjecture between NATO and EU. Despite multiple attempts, it will probably emerge only from a deep reflection on the European geostrategic space. But it could already begin with a local security neighborhood coordination within the flexible framework of a European guard.

Lorgnette : changing era in Japan

A calendar is also a representation of the world. Muslims date their years from the Hegira, the Japanese speak in eras… Thus, Japan has just changed imperial era on the occasion of the advent of the new emperor, Naruhito, who succeeded his father Akihito. The land of the rising sun thus passes from the Heisei era to the Reiwa era, which can be translated as “beautiful harmony”, which is intended to herald a new spring.

However, this change is still a challenge, given Japan’s seemingly unchanging nature. Having become the bridge between the Far East and the West, anchored in the Western camp, downgraded to 3rd world economic power (thanks to China’s rise and 30 years of unfavourable economic conditions), the leading conservatism keeps Japanese society very far from Western standards.

Paradoxically, it is in tune with the new international mood, which is undoubtedly very attentive to the roots to be preserved in the face of the standardization of globalization. This permanence goes hand in hand with advanced technology and a certain market economy. A formula to be observed because it may herald spring.

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La Vigie Nr 117 : China and the heart of the earth | A look at North Africa | Lorgnette : Spanish elections

La Vigie, Strategic letter, Nr 117 ( 8 MAY 2019)

China and the heart of the earth

China, which is re-emerging, is, in the eyes of the United States, the challenger. Yet, despite its need for revenge on unequal treaties imposed by “barbarians” and felt as a humiliation, it has no desire for power. Certainly, its “Belt and Roads” initiative to refocus across Asia is a major geo-economic ambition: it can be seen as a re-reading of the founders of Anglo-Saxon geopolitics and the intention to control the heartland. This requires us to renew our strategic calculations.

A look at North Africa

North Africa is a strategic area that is poorly identified and agitated by multiple rivalries. In the centre, torn Libya is experiencing a strong east-west push that is having a negative effect on the adjacent Maghreb. France must be careful not to encourage this perverse dynamic and promote an autonomous Maghreb area based on the MENA concept.

Lorgnette: Spanish elections

The Spanish general elections on 28 June did not quite resolve the country’s deep political crisis. Certainly, the Socialist Party comes first and if it allies itself with Podemos (radical left), it arrives at 11 seats of the majority necessary to govern. Faced with it, the Popular Party lost many seats, a loss badly compensated by Vox, a radical right-wing formation born of a split. This right-wing bloc is reportedly supported by the centrist, liberal and anti-independence party, Ciudadanos.

In other words, no “classic” left-wing majority is possible without the support of small parties. The Catalan secessionist parties obtained only 39% of the votes, which puts the independence issue into perspective in a context of electoral mobilization. P. Sanchez, the socialist leader, could rely on the ERC (Catalan left) or on a Basque party and some independents.

Nevertheless, P. Sanchez will not want to launch a referendum on the independence of Catalonia (even if we wait for the regional elections on 26 May to check the intensity of the independence movement, which fell on 28 June, see LV 94). It is to be hoped that the fragile coalition that will be put in place will help to cool the secessionist crisis.

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