La Vigie Nr 182 : France and the full strategic exercise | New Caledonia: what now? | Lorgnette: sustainable coexistence

Letter from La Vigie dated 22nd Dec 2021

France and the full strategic exercise

To close this year and feed the strategic debate of the presidential elections, here are the four logics that structure the strategic posture of France at the end of 2021: the neighbours, the competitions, the frictions and the cold wars. In the post-Covid world that is opening up, should we keep this outdated 20th century software? Can we explore a new one to enable France in Europe and Europe in the world to propose another point of balance, free from the rivalry between the United States and China? Will the year 2022 be a milestone in France’s strategic history or a reactivation of its previous actions?

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New Caledonia: what now?

The last referendum logically – and legitimately – decided to keep New Caledonia in the French nation. However, there is still a destiny to be built, as the rock remains divided: these divisions resemble many others, including in metropolitan France. Beyond that, it is a Pacific strategy for France that must be built.

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Lorgnette: sustainable coexistence

The experience of peoples forges the social capital that allows them to be governed. America comes from the conquest of the West and prosperity, China from the idealised Tianxia and prescribed harmony, Europe from the banishment of internal struggles after devastating tragedies. The result is three strategic trajectories that are not convergent today, even if an essential model of Western governance is seen as universal. The Asian model is therefore seen as alternative and therefore antagonistic. But what humanity would gain from political unification would deprive it of the pluralism whose richness comes from accepted diversity.

Here is a lesson from Jean Marie Guéhenno’s latest book, “Le premier XXIe siècle” (here) that LV recommends. His groping but rigorous approach denounces the harebrained triumphalism of a democratic West today in a deep identity crisis that is blinded by a Chinese obsession and wants to unify the world. Just as China wanted to take the best of the West to keep the best of China, should the West not take the best of China to save the best of the West, which is assumed pluralism? To be explored and meditated upon.

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La Vigie Nr 181 : On civil war | Azerbaijan in turmoil | Lorgnette : pre-2022 strategic debate

Letter from La Vigie, December 8, 2021

On civil war

Civil war is a conflict between parties in a constituted political unit. Its causes have varied throughout history, but like external warfare, it contributes powerfully to the constitution of the state (or to its dissolution). Today, it seems much more frequent than external war, even if it seems unlikely in France.

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Azerbaijan in turmoil

One year after the end of the second Nagorno-Karabakh war, sporadic clashes have resumed. Let us begin a cycle of in-depth analysis of the Transcaucasus and start with Azerbaijan, reviewing its delicate game of alliances and its place in the regional balance.

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Lorgnette : pre-2022 strategic debate

The preparation of the 2022 electoral scene continues with new candidates. Preliminary debates focus on issues of purchasing power, immigration and internal security (see above). They address the domestic issues that are crucial in a presidential election. Yet the prospect of the upcoming French presidency of the European Union opens the door to debates on the posture of the European Union and its strategic autonomy in the current world disorder. French arms export successes underline the rearmament of Middle Eastern countries, the volatility of power relations in West Asia (see above) and the ongoing technological competition. The Sino-American rivalry is more about Taiwan than the New Caledonia referendum and France’s interests in the Asia-Pacific.

The debate of the electoral campaign should, however, seriously address the strategic questions of the ambient conflict, France’s military commitments, France’s place in Europe and Europe’s place in the world, and the means to be devoted to the country’s security.

LV is preparing to contribute to this.

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La Vigie Nr 180 : Air and space environments: displaying power | FR CHOD strategic vision | Spain : party of the void

Letter from La Vigie, November 24, 2021

Air and space environments: displaying power

Air power implies mastering technology, which has led to certain excesses in the thinking of the air and space community that are now being questioned. The need for a return to deployable mass and the contribution of drones seems to be a method for achieving this. But the Franco-German projects (SCAF) are uncertain. Finally, the air environment has logically extended to space which is becoming a demanding environment where challenges abound.

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FR CHOD Strategic Vision

The public launch of the new Chief of Defence Staff’s strategic vision is a good opportunity to give the military a voice to specify their contribution to the country’s security. Three sensitive issues emerge: high intensity confrontation, strategic surprise and the need for a global security policy for France.

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Lorgnette: Spain, party of the void

Contemporary Spain (LV 172) is, like Italy, adept at political innovation. It had invented Podemos, a far-left party. Founded in 2014, it obtained 20% of the vote in 2015 and has participated in a coalition government since 2019. Ciudadanos, a liberal party, originally Catalan, spread throughout Spain from 2014. But these good electoral results of 2015 and 2016 have not been confirmed. These political parties want to get out of the alternative between PSOE, PP and independents.

A new attempt is emerging, that of the Party of Emptiness (España Vaciada: Emptied Spain), formed in September. A poll already promises it 15 deputies. It brings together the neglected territories, neither capital nor rich coastal region (i.e. Catalonia and the Basque Country). They are disconnected from the networks (motorways, TGV, high-speed Internet). They are reminiscent of the Yellow Vests, but above all of the French “Diagonal of Emptiness”, that scarf of underdevelopment crossing the hexagon from the North-East to the South-West.

We must be attentive to this non-ideological but territorial political experiment, bringing together the “somewhere” against the “anywhere”. The return of the local (LV 94) will perhaps be the next surprise.

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La Vigie n° 177 : Uchronies 2100 | Finally alone ! | Lorgnette : Polish challenge

Letter from La Vigie dated October 13, 2021

Uchronies 2100

What are the major strategic paths on which France can embark? Where will we be in 2100? We propose three deliberately divergent uchronies to explore the consequences of our actions if nothing changes today. Let’s hope that they will fuel our reflection and help us imagine an enviable original option.

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Alone at last!

Solitude is a possible strategic choice, contrary to what we too often think. It abandons many flaws in the analysis of the current globalisation, and many fantasies of a solution as well. If it is well thought out, by choosing partners here or there on this or that subject, and by not hesitating to seek power relations elsewhere, it should make it possible to find new margins for manoeuvre in line with our long-term interests.

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Lorgnette: Polish challenge

The Polish Constitutional Court this week ruled that the Polish Constitution is superior to the EU treaties in certain cases. This is another stone thrown into the EU’s garden, after the turmoil of the Brexit. Some speak of a legal Polexit. Poland would remain in the Union but would opt out of some common legal rules. Denmark and Germany have said similar things (LV 142). This is a major challenge, since the Union is built on law. The Polish decision calls into question this essential foundation of the Union’s effectiveness (we do not dare use the word “power” in relation to the EU).

The case is eminently political. The threat of the end of subsidies will not scare Warsaw, which may be using this decision to establish a balance of power with Brussels. Other countries (Hungary and even the Czech Republic) will oppose any retaliation that is too serious. Once again, a Brussels certainty is being called into question: the ineluctability of European construction and its superstructure. So far, crises have been overcome, but with increasing difficulty. A road accident can be fatal.

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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.

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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 160 : Djibouti, a coveted strategic crossroads | Risks anc conflicts | Lorgnette : A new start

Letter from La Vigie dated 3 FEB 2021

Djibouti, a coveted strategic crossroads

As an established fulcrum at the convergence of the major maritime routes linking Asia and the Middle East on the one hand, and Africa and Europe on the other, which became a strategic crossroads during the Cold War, the Republic of Djibouti’s strategic dimension was strengthened as it entered the 21st century. The subject of massive economic investment from China and home to the military bases of six different foreign countries, with those of China and the United States surpassing those of France (former sovereign power on the territory), this tiny state has engaged in subtle and lucrative diplomacy, not without risks, in order to guarantee its political autonomy, security and development.

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Risks and conflicts

2021 will provide the basis for the 2022 election platforms. The recent publication of an Update to the 2017 Strategic Review is part of this framework. The exercise is classic, well-written and somewhat agreed upon, but it serves above all to justify capacity needs. It lacks boldness in the face of undiscerning risks and a new, ambivalent and below-threshold conflictuality, both external and internal. It does not outline a necessary integral strategy. This is a pity.

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Lorgnette: New start

As soon as he arrived, Joe Biden proposed a five-year extension of the New Start Treaty. Russia agreed immediately. This is good news. New Start was indeed the last arms control treaty in force. Bilateral, it linked Washington and Moscow to limit the number of their nuclear weapons. It was due to expire on 5 February and it is likely that a re-elected Donald Trump would have let the deadline pass, as he had withdrawn from other treaties. This was not the decision of his successor.

The extension means that the bilateral dialogue should resume in a more conventional way, which does not mean that tensions will ease. One recalls the Democratic Party’s obsession with “Russian fraud” and the suspicion of connivance between Mr Trump and Putin. J. Biden will have to take this fringe of his party into account. However, returning to international negotiations is a good signal. Above all, it reopens perspectives on nuclear issues: updating the JCPOA agreement with Iran or dealing with the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW cf. LV 87). We will follow this closely.

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LV 157 : Assessment of 2020 | Digital maneuvers | Lorgnette : Brexit, eventually

Letter n° 157 from La Vigie dated 23rd December 2020

AMR 2020: assessment of a year that put the world out of action

In one year a serious health accident overwhelmed the planet and put the whole world out of action. And the year 2020 will enter the list of the great strategic vintages of the century, alongside 1945, 1989 and 2001. Certainly the tensions that presided over the world before the pandemic have subsided, but the strategic situation has changed profoundly, new dialectics are emerging, but no possible balance is in sight on the horizon. Here is an end-of-year review of this extraordinary episode.

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Digital maneuvers

This month of December sees several high-intensity cyber clashes crackle: whether sabotage, subversion or espionage, the powers are clashing in digital space, to a degree rarely known. Cyberspace is indeed in permanent conflict, but below the threshold. However, other confrontations are emerging, this time between States and powers deprived of digital technology: whether in the United States or in the European Union, legal initiatives aim to bring these new operators, with their inordinate means and unknown ambitions, into line.

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Lorgnette: Brexit, finally

Negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union on the modalities of Brexit have frustrated all the envisaged deadlines. We had been told that we could not go beyond October and then November with the cut-off date of 31 December. The two parties went much further, since the agreement has still not been pronounced on 22 December. This is impressive.

On the one hand, one can only admire Boris Johnson who knew how to hide his intention until the end: nobody really knew whether he wanted an agreement or just a pretext to justify a hard Brexit to his public opinion. Perhaps he hadn’t even made up his mind, waiting for the result of the American election to decide. The fact remains that he was able to preserve his freedom of manoeuvre to the end and therefore to constantly weigh on the content of the negotiations.

On the other hand, the strength of the EU is also remarkable. While London had hoped to be able to crack the European bloc, it held out against all odds and withstood British pressure. This shows proven collective nerves that are to be commended. As for Brexit, we shall see in ten years’ time what the real effects will be on both sides.

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LV 152 : What does Russia tell us ? | Disunited unities | Lorgnette : Free hostages

Letter from La Vigie Nr 152 (14 October 2020)

What does Russia tell us?

Russia thinks of itself as a power. Master of the land, it is implementing a strategy that knows how to take its time and skillfully play with the new configuration of the world structured by the confrontation between China and the United States and a deregulation of multilateralism. It is, however, a rough partner that does not know how to encourage dialogue, which is necessary for Europe if it does not want to fall prey to predators.

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Disunited Unities

The word unité (both unit and unity) has in French the particularity of designating both the elementary part of a set and the set itself. Depending on the fields to which it is applied, the duality of meaning leads to singularly different values of unity, particularly in terms of a state’s political philosophy or foreign policy. In the era of triumphant individualism, what meaning should be given to the unity of the Republic in a world in the midst of strategic recomposition?

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Lorgnette : Free Hostages

The release of the last French hostage last week has caused several controversies. Did France pay a ransom? Was her release worth the release of 200 prisoners? On these two points, we have few details, but the negotiations seem to have been conducted by the Malian government autonomously, without France. The question of the hostage would have come late, without any question of ransom. As for the terms of trade, some quickly concluded that they were Islamists, when the barter seems to have been based on intra-Malian considerations.

This largely explains the embarrassment of the authorities, faced with a fait accompli and not knowing what to say in the face of the hostage’s words, declaring that he had followed “a spiritual retreat”. Everyone was able to note there the limits of the curious tradition of a President of the Republic rushing to the airport to welcome the freed compatriot. Communication without a message is counterproductive. For all that, no matter the merit or the opinions of each hostage: national solidarity requires that they be sent home, according to the principle of “all for one”. This is basically our national raison d’être.

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LV 144 : Getting ahead of the game | Missing : scinetific authority | Bartering in the Sahara

Letter from La Vigie n° 144 of 10 June 2020

Getting ahead of the game

In order for France to cope with the current crisis as the health shock subsides, the strategist recommends that it should give a new, realistic strategic impetus and envisage an ambitious renewal of its national paradigm. These two axes are the keys to a long-term project.

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Missing: scientific authority

The pandemic is not a geopolitical turning point, but it is accelerating underlying trends. Among these, the collapse of the authorities continues. Scientific authority was one of the last remaining. However, the influence of scientists has lost much in the crisis, whether in the analysis of the virus or in the major debates on the different types of treatment for the disease. This does not mean the end of scientific progress, far from it. But the public authority of the word of scientists, thanks to their legitimacy and neutrality, has suffered from the interests they were able to defend. This further weakens the cohesion of societies.

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Lorgnette: Bartering in the Sahara

The death of Abdelmalek Droukdal, an Islamist leader of AQIM in Mali, may be just a tactical success. Perhaps it is also a sign of a broader movement. Indeed, things are moving in Mali as they are in Algeria. In Mali, the last legislative elections have apparently not changed the political balance. However, IBK, the Malian president, has understood that there is a need to move and to do so, to negotiate with both the Tuaregs and the Peuls.

In Algeria, the new President Tebboune has controlled the hirak. He has launched a constitutional amendment that allows Algeria to commit the army across the borders. This does not concern Morocco, but rather the borders to the east, because the situation in Libya is evolving in favour of Turkey’s protégés, which is worrying Algiers.

The south therefore had to be guaranteed. A Droukdal was not only Islamist but Algerian, and he wanted to prevent the subtle bartering in the south. So one can imagine that Algiers let him go, so as to stabilise the Sahara and have a free hand. The fact remains that IBK, the Malian president, has been too late and that large demonstrations are calling for his resignation. Not ideal for negotiating, perhaps enough to finally decide to move.

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