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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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 143 : MBS the squanderer | Religion as a strategic factor | Lorgnette : Open skies closing in

Letter from La Vigie n° 143 of 27 May 2020

MBS, the squanderer

Mohamed ben Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and de facto master of the country to an extent unrivalled since his grandfather, founder of the dynasty, exercises power in an authoritarian manner, convinced that the country must be radically reformed. The results are hardly convincing, especially for his calamitous foreign policy, to the extent that he gives the feeling that he has made his country more fragile than prepared for the future.

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Religion as a strategic factor

While some considered that the religious fact would become marginal in the 21st century, the importance of religion remains paramount in many countries; it is therefore a strategic factor not to be neglected.

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Lorgnette: Open skies closing in

President Trump recently announced that his country will withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty in six months. This follows the withdrawal from the INF Treaty (LV 112) with the same type of argument (it is the Russians’ fault) and the same calculation: to find room for manoeuvre against the Chinese and above all to disengage from any arms control system. For the American President, he belongs to the old and multilateral world that hinders the freedom of the United States (cf. the withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran, LV 95).

For once, the Europeans are not happy… Eleven countries, including France and especially Germany, officially regret the American decision and declare to remain in the treaty (as does Russia). The Alliance is under strain. Eyes turn to the latest arms control treaty, New Start, which expires in 2021. The Americans would like to include the Chinese who do not see the point.

The Europeans can either preserve the European strategic theatre with local negotiation (assuming Moscow is willing to do so and Washington does not stand in the way), or follow the Americans in a general negotiation with Russians and Chinese, but where they would have little weight.

JOCV

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LV 142 : Europe and Covid | Otherness at its peak | Lorgnette : German Primacy

Letter from La Vigie n° 142 of 13 May 2020

Europe and Covid

Europe is the continent most affected by the pandemic. However, there are many disparities and these are not mainly due to different responses by the authorities. The unanimous trend towards national retrenchment, the weakness of the EU’s response and the unlikely budgetary solidarity can be observed. In fact, the crisis is the end of a long process of division that requires strategic aggiornamento.

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Otherness at its peak

The global health crisis is causing multiple tensions, both strategic distancing and tactical barrier gestures. The disruption is becoming more pronounced. What could be at stake in this brutal stiffening is the massive rejection of Western hard ways and the expiry of a Euro-Atlantic societal model whose fragility has been shown by the coronacrise. An antagonistic otherness defies the universal claim that governs the world. France must concern itself with a revival of the state of organization of the world to preserve its place in it.

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Lorgnette: German primacy

The recent decision of the German Constitutional Court surprised only the idealists. Indeed, by recalling that the ECB had to explain its quantitative easing programme and by considering that it is acting beyond its mandate, the Karlsruhe court reaffirms in law its constant doctrine: in 2009, it had explained (with regard to the Lisbon Treaty) that “The peoples of the European Union, which are constituted in their (respective) Member States, remain the holders of public authority, including the authority of the Union“. In other words, it affirmed the primacy of the German Constitution, including over the European treaties.

This contradicts a common opinion in France, that of the supposed primacy of the European treaties over the French Constitution. Of course, the latter has been extensively modified since its inception and even more so in the last two decades. No “shaking hand” to change it, then. But this French neglect of the law is not “the rule” in Germany, where the rule is held in high esteem.

This is not national egoism: just law. Whose source comes from the sovereign people.

JOCV

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LV 141 : Europe and its center | Resilience, that magic word | Lorgnette: European disagreements

Letter from La Vigie, 29 April 2020

Europe and its centre

Europe’s centre of gravity, if we refer to a strategic definition, lies in the great European backbone that traditionally ran from London to Milan, via the Rhine. The events of 2020 are changing the situation and brutally highlighting the German question, which will determine the future of Europe. Only a genuine partnership between France and Germany would make it possible to perpetuate a powerful Europe.

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Resilience, that magic word

The pandemic has prompted many calls for “resilience”. In fact, the French  military operation against Covid-19 has taken on this name. Behind the over-mediatization of the word, let us return to the foundations of what it means. Its introduction into the strategic vocabulary dates back to the White paper of 2008 in a context of the fight against terrorism, unsuited to the current crisis. Above all, resilience is built before the crisis: invoking it when the crisis occurs shows above all that one is powerless in the conduct of the crisis.

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Lorgnette: European disagreements

The brutality of the pandemic is suddenly putting the European institutional edifice under strain. For more than a month now, in the Union’s area of economic competence, positions have been clashing very hard. In previous crises, the confrontation was “all against one” (Greece in 2012 during the euro crisis, Germany in 2015 during the migration crisis). This time we are witnessing the formation of two camps, fiercely opposed: the frugals (Germany, Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Finland) and the friends of cohesion (Spain, France, Italy).

At stake: the possibility of a common debt, in other words the technical transition to budgetary solidarity, with the richest paying for the least rich. The frugals refuse it, while others (France) see it as a way to progress towards European sovereignty: the “big step” method, so to speak. However, it is likely that the frugals will win because the European political and economic balance suits them. Otherwise, some (Italy) might be tempted to leave the euro. But if there is a transfer, others could leave it: Finland has already communicated to this effect.

This time the crisis is existential.

JOCV

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LV 138 : Virus and strategy | Europe and its West | War to virus ?

Letter from La Vigie Nr 138, dated 18 March 2020

Viruses and strategy

Covid-19 reminds us of forgotten notions, such as the “Bacteriological” of the CBRN. Various response strategies have been implemented (fixing, blocking, slowing down) that put in tension the normality of systems in the face of chaos. The crisis is accelerating the current turning point of globalization because, beyond the harsh economic crisis that is coming, new frameworks for a different regulation will have to be installed. The crisis is not only a health crisis, it brings us back to the essential.

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Europe and its West

Europe’s relationship with the West does not only concern the people living along the Atlantic seaboard, all European countries face the West with different strategies. The main issue in transatlantic relations is the relationship with Washington, beyond the Atlantic Alliance.

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Lorgnette: War on the virus?

During his televised speech on 16 March, the President of the Republic called for national mobilisation in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is not a question here of criticizing the exceptional measures that have been taken and which correspond to an extraordinary situation. On the other hand, the RP has declared on six occasions that “we are at war“, specifying only once that it was a health war. The search for a theatrical effect to mobilize the population can be irritating. It shows a lack of reflection on war.

At La Vigie, we regularly speak out against the abusive expression “war on terrorism“, imported without reflection from across the Atlantic and constantly used, because it fails to designate an enemy that is primarily political. In this case, the enemy is a virus! If we are at war, will the RP therefore call Parliament to implement Article 35 of the Constitution (The declaration of war is authorized by Parliament)? This is only emphasis, we will be told: a figure of speech. But war is neither a figure of speech nor an artifice of communication. Communication does not take the place of strategy.

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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LV 132 : AMR 2019 : Taking stock of the world to come | Europe and the East | Lorgnette: Christmas dream

Letter from La Vigie, dated 25 December 2019

AMR 2019 : Taking stock of the world to come

Our annual aide-memoire to the king takes up the year again : a neighbourhood in crisis, especially in the south, a belt of conflicts beyond, the end of the West and thus of the notion of world order, a pervasive rivalry between the United States and China, the maintenance of cross-cutting issues (nuclear, terrorism, armed crime) and the birth of new ones (awakening peoples), a passive Europe stuck between the EU and NATO, and a France on the verge of the clarifications that we must now pursue and ambition to achieve.

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Europe and the East

The relationship between Europe and the East is largely determined by the relationship between Europe and Russia. While the spectres of the 20th century still poison this relationship today, a reversal of perspectives may lead to a constructive win-win relationship.

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Lorgnette: Christmas dream

The Christmas period is often the occasion of a truce of the confectioners (trêve des confiseurs). This year, the truce will give way to a strike. Let’s make a dream come true: that of a country that would enforce its motto (Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité). Freedom in every sense of the word (freedom to move as freedom to strike or to demonstrate, the two having to be reconciled); equality (but, if we have understood correctly, this is the subject of the debate underlying the pension reform); and above all fraternity, which we vowed last January (LV 108).  Now, the peoples who are waking up are all calling for fraternity, under their calls for justice and equity. It is fraternity that binds the community together, makes the other one a fellow human being despite his differences, the equal of a brother with whom we share the desire to live together, in an organized society, to live a community of destiny. This stranger that I meet in the street, beggar or beggar, is also this brother.

Basically, fraternity is a vision, not a demand; a prerequisite, not an objective. In this Christmas season, whether you are with your family or on mission, at home or abroad, we wish you a beautiful and soothing fraternity.

JOCV

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La Vigie Nr 129 (Free) : Europe and the North – Dead NATO – Lorgnette : Social and geopolitics

Letter from La Vigie, posted on 13 Novembre 2019 (free reading)

Europe and the North

The margins of Northern Europe are an area that is not well known in France and yet essential for European balance. We analyse the Nordic countries’ tension between Washington and Moscow as they try to maintain a European foothold. This area is of interest to France in the development of its Arctic strategy and towards Russia, but also and above all in the context of its European strategy.

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Dead NATO

President Macron’s interview with The Economist has the merit of saying out loud what was being whispered in small circles: at least the next Alliance summit in London next month will be interesting. These words are thoughtful and not just a short sentence: they are the result of a thoughtful diagnosis of the transatlantic link and Europe’s raison d’être. E. Macron can be blamed for a very French arrogance: but this is perhaps still the French exception, that of saying necessary things even if they seem unpleasant.

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Lorgnette: Social and geopolitics

What does WhatsApp have in common with a metro ticket? Not much: the proposed tax on the former has triggered the largest protest movement in Lebanon in years; the increase in the latter has had the same result in Chile. We have talked a lot about revolts (Algeria, LV 112 and DS 11; Sudan: LV 115 and 123) or social movements (Brazil LV 104; Yellow jackets: LV 106 and 109). Everywhere, demonstrations are mobilizing crowds who no longer have confidence in their governments: in addition to the examples cited, let us mention the cases of Hong Kong, Iraq, Guinea, Ecuador and Catalonia.

There are many reasons for this: the fight against corruption or the rejection of an oppressive system, they all have in common a willingness to be listened and the search for the common good, which the elites in power are accused of not wanting (or being able) to develop.

Let us note a globalization of demonstrations, for various reasons but with mobilizations that are not drying up and that time or repression are having difficulty extinguishing. This is a new factor that cannot be overlooked.

JOCV

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La Vigie Nr 127 : The incredible Mr Trump – Europe, a continent? Lorgnette: Face to face

La Vigie Nr 127 : 16 October 2019

The incredible Mr. Trump

the American political scene has been shaken for several weeks by cases originating in the country’s foreign policy: here the “Ukrainian case”, there the Turkish offensive in northern Syria. Each time, an initiative of President Trump that provokes uproar inside: a procedure of dismissal is thus launched while the Republican Party is deeply moved by the betrayal against the Kurds. No one knows yet whether this is a turning point, but these events demonstrate the deep distrust of the United States, torn between its interests and its values.

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Europe, a continent?

At a time when the future of the European institutions is more uncertain than ever with the looming Brexit crisis, we are wondering what defines Europe’s geopolitical uniqueness. Europe is not the result of chance, it is determined by constants and France is representative of this Continent which transcends the ups and downs of current events.

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The Lorgnette: Face to Face

The face becomes a geopolitical object. Indeed, many contemporary debates raise the question of the visibility of the face. First of all, here is the question of the Islamic veil and in particular the veil hiding the face, the burka. In an open society, can you hide your face on the street? No,” replied the Hong Kong leaders, who are facing massive demonstrations in which opponents of the pro-Chinese government veil their faces in the name of their democratic struggle: can hiding their faces be a sign of oppression, a sign of freedom?

The question is all the more difficult because, beyond this question of public order, there is another question: that of governments’ control over the social life of citizens. This is basically the debate that Mr Cedric O, Secretary of State for Digital Technology, is asking when he says that manufacturers must experiment with facial recognition and that, at the same time, we need safeguards.

Once again, technology appears to be ahead of the law and there are abuses of civil liberties in China that it could allow.

The face is a subject of freedom.

JOCV