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

Letter from La Vigie dated 27 OCtober 2021

Strategic identity of France in 2022

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

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The German question

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

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Lorgnette: Diplomacy is a combat sport

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

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

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

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

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

Letter from La Vigie, September 29, 2021

AUKUS: the irremediable defiance

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

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Maritime environment: what is at stake?

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

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Lorgnette: Islamist backlash in the Maghreb

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

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

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

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

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La Vigie nr 174 (free) : Concerns and doubts | Afghanistan : reason to keep | Lorgnette: Year in Review and Year 8 | Table of publications 2020-2021

Letter from La Vigie, September 1, 2021 in free reading

Concerns and doubts

At the end of the summer, a deep inner anxiety is emerging in France. It is due to a new generation, the so-called Millennials, but also to a deep geographical fracture of the territory. The ambient malaise goes beyond the question of the health pass and finally awaits a new, homogeneous and coherent domestic strategy, giving meaning to our national community. Far from the declinism of some or simplistic slogans, France’s assets must be mobilised to rebuild cohesion.

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Afghanistan : reason to keep

The withdrawal from Afghanistan was logical and surprises only the candid. It is part of an American continuity that dates back to Obama. It does not constitute a profound decline of the United States which follows its strategic interests of the moment, as it has always done, which should not surprise Europeans.

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Lorgnette: Year in Review and Year 8

Attached is an analytical table of the issues and posts of La Vigie published in the last year.

We have published 118 texts this year, of which 31 were written by external authors: many thanks to our contributors who complement our analyses. This dynamic allows us to broaden our points of view and allows young or experienced authors to express themselves, thus fulfilling the vocation of La Vigie. In addition, we have published 46 additional articles for free reading (in addition to the Lorgnettes, various blog articles). In total, 71 texts can be read without subscription, even if they do not have the coherence sought by the fortnightly letter.

Of the 118 texts, 58 dealt with cross-cutting themes, 60 with specific geographical areas. 28 articles dealt with strategy (general, military or environmental), not to mention those on geopolitics or military deterrence. Let us point out a series on spatial strategy, thanks in particular to our intern, whom we thank here. There are also a few more general considerations (environment, religion, culture), obituaries and reading notes.

Europe has attracted our particular attention (with a series that will be grouped together in a dossier), as well as Africa (Sahel and Maghreb). Asia and the Middle East follow, while the Americas, the Arctic, Central and South Asia and Russia have received little attention.

We are entering our eighth year. More than ever, strategic fluidity is the order of the day and the upcoming economic crisis, the results of the American election or the beginnings of the French presidential campaign will accentuate the difficult high-level reading of our environment. More than ever, we will endeavour to present our analyses to you. We will soon be announcing some changes.

Until then, enjoy your reading… and have a good summer!

Table of publications 2020-2021

The table of publications published by La Vigie in recent months is attached to this issue. You can consult it by downloading the pdf issue here.

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La Vigie Nr 173 : On the front lines | Lorgnette : Geopolitical trip to MOrocco | Summer reading

Letter from La Vigie, August 4th 2021

On the front lines

While the “summer break” overshadows international news in France, serious business continues to be conducted elsewhere. Here is a series of strategic snapshots of the world’s frictions: Tunisia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Polynesia, Pegasus, Sahel.

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Lorgnette: Geopolitical trip to Morocco

Sea, mountain and desert, Morocco offers multiple faces. A sultanate and then a kingdom with a brilliant history and a rich heritage, it is a country to visit to understand the challenges of the Maghreb and Africa. Discover Morocco next November with Professor Kader Aberrahim and our partners from Conflits and Ictus Voyages. This is La Vigie’s first geopolitical study tour!

During this trip, you will be accompanied by French-speaking guides as well as Kader Abderrahim, professor at Science Po, associate director of research at La Vigie and author at Conflits. He has published Géopolitique du Maroc, which we have reported on (here). Two meetings with Moroccan personalities are planned, in Marrakech and Tangiers, to discuss the major geopolitical issues of the country. In addition to the historical sites of Morocco, a guided tour of Tangier Med, the first port in Africa, is also organised. Information and registration here.

Transport is by coach and overnight stays are in 4-star hotels.

Summer reading

For your summer, we suggest you read: Le versant du soleil (R. Frison-Roche) – It doesn’t take a hero (HN Schwarzkopf) – Unité 8200 (D. Alfon) – Quand la France commence-t-elle? (B. Lançon) – Guerres invisibles (Th. Gomart) – Non-retour (Jusseaume et alii).

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La Vigie Nr 172 : The need for foresight | Spanish restraint | Lorgnette : Olympic Truce

Letter from La Vigie, dated 21th July 2021

The need for foresight

The DNA of the military naturally leads them to foresight and to translate it into action through operational planning procedures. Planning is a virtue and foresight remains more necessary than ever at a time when long-term orientation, a traditionally very Western cultural trait, is being questioned.

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Spanish restraint

Spain is the heir to a long history that began under the Romans, continued through the Visigothic empire before experiencing the long cycle of the Muslim invasion and the Reconquista. At the end of the Middle Ages, a world power was built, combining a European power with the Habsburgs and a colonial power with Latin America. Centuries of long decline and a painful 20th century followed, leaving a democratic Spain in reconstruction, having made a Western choice and more concerned with itself than with its obvious but little used international assets.

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Lorgnette: Olympic Truce

On 23 July the Games of the 32nd Olympiad will open in Tokyo. Restored by Pierre de Coubertin, bringing together every four years the world’s best athletes to compete in a fair joust, celebrating youth, friendship between peoples and the universal values of sport, they usually offer an opportunity for a truce in the development of world tensions and conflicts. This truce should be very brief.

The global politicisation of the Covid-19 pandemic, the virulent rise of nationalist discourses thought to be a thing of the past, the questioning of international law and order, pessimistic editorials heralding the Chaos Games, and the fracturing of most national societies along these lines are among the reasons given. In spite of reinforced health protection measures excluding all spectators from the venues, the Games are expected to attract nearly 4 billion viewers and become the most watched in history. After August 9 and the commemoration of the nuclear holocausts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, regional geopolitics, usually animated during the summer when Europe is on holiday, will resume its rights.

Long live the athletes and long live Olympism!

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La Vigie Nr 171 : Providing France with a grand strategy | The games of war and chance | Lorgnette :Iran and negotiations

Letter from La Vigie, dated 7 July 2021

Providing France with a grand strategy

The discontinuity in the global trajectory caused by the pandemic invites France to rethink the strategic framework of its current action; in the absence of sufficient European coherence, it must adopt a long-term national vision and define the axes of a major long-term strategy for which six key factors to be prioritised and combined are proposed to the reader.

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The games of war and chance

Strategy is too serious a matter not to devote all one’s time to it. Games are an abundant means of doing so. In these times when we are constantly being surprised by our environment, it is time to get serious and finally play.

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Lorgnette: Iran and negotiations

In Iran, Ebrahim Raissi was elected President of the Republic on 19 June, after a soft campaign that resulted in a record abstention, a sign of voter disaffection and perhaps the sidelining of all reformist candidates. The press labelled him an ultraconservative. The system probably selected him first for his ability to maintain: he is conservative in the first sense. The fact remains that this impoverished and corrupt country is suffering from the sanctions imposed by D. Trump and that during his campaign, Mr. Raissi constantly affirmed his desire to obtain the lifting of the sanctions.

This is the subject of the Vienna negotiations, which are the focus of the new US president’s attention (LV 168). So we should not be surprised by the latest IAEA report which states that Iran has “begun the necessary steps to produce enriched uranium metal“. This comes as no surprise to anyone, but it is a good way to put pressure on the Iranian authorities to negotiate.

Thus, a new Iranian leadership seems to be in a position to discuss with the new American leadership. Let’s hope that Mr. Raissi’s conservatism will give way to a fine pragmatism to compromise.

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La Vigie n°170: J. Biden’s European campaign | Strategic orientation and synthesis | Lorgnette: France and the Indian Ocean

Letter from La Vigie dated 23 June 2021

Joe Biden’s European campaign

The long experience of J. Biden has allowed the success of a meticulously prepared European tour, satisfying all parties (G7, EU, NATO but also V. Putin) while subordinating them to a more global objective, by means of carefully maintained ambiguities not always perceived by his interlocutors.

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Strategic orientation and synthesis

At a rare moment in history, the need to manage a complicated present is preventing policy makers from devoting the necessary time to finding solutions to tomorrow’s challenges. It is time to reintroduce the long time of reflection and strategy, within the State and society, to enable our country to pull its weight in the Great Game that is being set up. For this, the creation of a National Council for Strategic Orientation and Synthesis appears to be a necessity.

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Lorgnette: France and the Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean, which is part of the Indo-Pacific, occupies a unique position for France. Bordering on the territory (Reunion, Mayotte, TAAF) and the sea (EEZ), it has both permanent sovereignty military forces and those pre-positioned abroad, by virtue of defence agreements concluded with partner countries (Djibouti, UAE), to ensure the protection of citizens and national interests and to contribute to regional peace and stability. It has strong strategic partnerships such as those with India, Australia and Indonesia.

In 2021, it will hold the annual presidency of the IOC, which brings together Mauritius, the Comoros, Madagascar and the Seychelles, whose recently elected SG is French for four years, as well as the two-year presidency of the Indian Ocean Chiefs of Navy Forum (IONS), whose plenary session will be held in La Reunion from 28 to 30 June. It is also a member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association. As the EU Member State that launched Operation ATALANTA to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia, France has valuable assets to guide the Union’s maritime ambitions during its EU Presidency in 2022.

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La Vigie Nr 169 (Free) : What is France ? | Staying on course | Lorgnette : Tchüss, Angèle

Letter from La Vigie, dated 9 June 2021

What is France?

To say France today is much less obvious and shared than in the past. There are many gaps between generations and populations. Beyond that, it is a common understanding of geography, history and the State, these three pillars of the person France, that seems no longer to be shared. Being aware of this is essential before launching any grand strategy project.

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Staying on course

In such a fluid strategic situation, how do you stay on course? How to conduct an effective manoeuvre? How to get rid of untimely strategic biases? From Europe to Africa, the practice is difficult, the difficulties follow one another and are similar.

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Lorgnette : Tchüss, Angèle

Angela Merkel is leaving office: we won’t miss her. This cold-blooded politician knew how to kill her political rivals. She was excellent at coming to and staying in power, but has been a disappointment since. It is true that her measured, nuanced and ‘proper’ side appealed to the French notable, who was impressed by this Germanic restraint which he took for healthy rigour. And yet… she systematically decided late, always taking the time to let situations rot before giving her opinion. The few times she has allowed herself to be guided by instinct, it has been catastrophic: whether it was the decision to stop nuclear power after Fukushima or the decision to welcome a million migrants in the middle of summer 2015.

Of course, her policies may not be bad for Germany, whose short-term interests and ageing, satisfied rentier ideal she has always preserved. Externally, it was worse. She is presented as pro-European: she was the most Germanolist of German leaders since the war. Worse: not a single French leader noticed.

Tschüss Angèle, we will not miss you.

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La Vigie 168 : New develoments in the Middle East | Deterrence reversed | Lorgnette : Rafales in rafales

Letter from La Vigie, 26 May 2021

New developments in the Middle East

The Middle East theatre is changing very quickly. Indeed, Saudi Arabia seems to be conducting a foreign policy reset, resuming its dialogue with Qatar and Syria, deepening its dialogue with Iraq and even opening bridges with Iran. Meanwhile, Joe Biden is cautiously moving forward with his resumption of negotiations with Tehran, while Israel is at a standstill.

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Deterrence reversed

French strategic thinking on nuclear deterrence has traditionally been dominated by an extremely realistic vision. Deterrence from the weak to the strong is effective and obvious. In reality, purely material calculations are not enough to explain the use, but especially the non-use, of the nuclear bomb since 1945. In particular, normative factors such as the “nuclear taboo” must be taken into account: who is really deterred from doing what? The question is more open than it seems.

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Lorgnette: Rafales in Rafales

Dassault has just sold another 30 Rafale fighters to Egypt, as well as a dozen to Croatia, while a forthcoming sale to Indonesia has been announced. This flurry of success is surprising, given the aircraft’s difficult commercial debut. Why is the aircraft selling so well today?

There has been a general upturn in military equipment around the world, especially as many countries need to renew their fleets, which was not the case 20 years ago. The Russian offer is less attractive and many countries have distanced themselves from the United States, following the excesses of D. Trump. Therefore, the European alternative appeals. The Rafale has several advantages: it is more expensive than the Gripen but has far greater capabilities, it was designed to be upgraded regularly and now offers a versatility that the Eurofighter does not.

A national aircraft can therefore find its commercial way and international cooperation is not necessarily an indispensable economic necessity: a reminder at a time of tough negotiations on the SCAF!

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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.

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