LV 243: Paris-Warsaw: Prelude or waltz? | A funeral dirge for international law | Lorgnette: the meaning of war

Letter from La Vigie, dated 29 May 2024

Paris-Warsaw: Prelude or waltz?

Poland has traditionally had difficulties with its two neighbours, Russia and Germany. The war in Ukraine is reshuffling the cards in its strategic equation and prompting it to take an interest in the new French discourse: is this the prelude to a lasting understanding or just a waltz?

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A funeral dirge for international law

The decision by Karim Khan, the ICC prosecutor, to ask for arrest warrants to be issued for Netanyahu and his defence minister has provoked strong reactions in the United States. Based on morality rather than law, they threaten one of the foundations of the international order, justifying in hindsight all the criticism of a law that would only target countries that are not aligned with the United States. If the threats against the ICC materialise, it could be the death knell of international law.

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Lorgnette: the meaning of war

Soldiers are starting to write: what was still the exception twenty years ago is now becoming commonplace. But let’s take a look at the themes covered in these works: history, ethics or personal accounts, in most cases. In the latter case, the war is described as an experience. The authors show its violence, its injustice and the trauma it caused. France, for example, has been at war for thirty years without realising it, because its soldiers have been under fire (here).

Of course, the reader is left in awe of the examples given, the underlying heroism, and the moral and psychological dimension of war. But they are also bothered by a major omission, that of the political dimension of war. War is not only the work of those who wage it. War has a cause before it has a meaning. It is the work of a society before it is the work of the men who lead it. War is not war because it is an experience, it is war because it is first and foremost a political object. France was not at war because it did not think of itself as being at war. This is, moreover, the criticism we have regularly levelled at recent external operations in which the enemy was not identified.

This confusion remains embarrassing.

JOVPN

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LV 242 : Decentralised Spain | Tenacious internal fragility | Lorgnette: The Ukrainian turn

Letter frm La Vigie, dated 15th May 2024

Decentralised Spain

A new stage in the rediscovery of France’s neighbours on land: Spain. It is a textbook example of a state where the tension between central government and the regions is critical. This political focus explains its strategic ambition, which bears no comparison with the empire it once was.

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Tenacious internal fragility

After leading to conflicts far away, the attacks of the 2010s brought attention back to the domestic front. But the return of war, particularly in Ukraine, is prompting people to look outside again. Yet the situation at home seems more fragile than ever, as many signs show. We must not forget the home front.

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Lorgnette: The Ukrainian turn

After the failure of the Ukrainian offensive in the summer of 2023, the fighting continued throughout the autumn and winter, with slow Russian pressure which, thanks to a very favourable fire ratio, gradually nibbled away at a few positions and crushed the Ukrainian forces. The symbol was the capture of Avdivka in February 2024 (LV 236), a large suburb of Donetsk where the Ukrainians had been fortifying themselves since 2014.

But after a pause in March, the Russians resumed their push more vigorously from April onwards, whether in Chasiv Yar (a suburb of Bakhmut) or to the west of Avdivka, managing to make clearer progress at a rate of 25km² per week. Since last Friday, in addition to recurring fighting along the entire front, they have launched a major push north of Kharkiv, pushing aside the Ukrainian forces and taking several dozen square kilometres. Ukraine is short of weapons, ammunition and manpower. Western aid remains at a low level and the military situation seems very compromised.

It seems that we are witnessing a military turning point on the ground, even though Moscow has not yet launched all its forces. A turning point is taking place and the words ‘collapse’ are being uttered more and more. Are we close to the end?

JOVPN

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LV 216: France as a heritage power | Fighting organised crime | Lorgnette : War in Sudan

Letter from La Vigie, dated 26 APR 2023

France as a heritage power

Controversies about the nature of France’s power continue. Far from its former glory, it is now only an inherited power, managed by expensive and arrogant heirs: it no longer inspires dreams, and the disaffection of its former colonies towards it has spread throughout Europe. Thus appears the real demarcation of the continent: between inherited powers and those who, robbed by the Soviets, have only their future to dream about.

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Fighting organised crime: a strategic priority

In the event of conflict, the capabilities of deliberately infiltrated agents are often mentioned: espionage, sabotage and subversion are part of their panoply. However, there is a drawback to their use: if they have not been infiltrated early enough, they risk being recognised quickly. On the other hand, organised crime, which has the same range of actions, knows the country and its weaknesses perfectly well, because it takes advantage of them. It is therefore strategic to fight against these criminal organisations in peacetime.

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Lorgnette: War in Sudan

Civil war has broken out in Sudan and already civilian casualties are in the hundreds, with evacuations taking place in a chaotic manner as the fighting rages and no ceasefire holds. The country had raised some hopes after a popular revolt that led to the departure of Omar al-Bashir (LV 155). Some people are surprised that these clashes are not between a government and a democratic opposition that is rebelling, but between two forces within the government. Should we see the action of the Russians and their naval base in Port Sudan (LV 123)? That would be giving them too much influence. Is it then ethnic unrest, like that which led to the secession of South Sudan? Or is it religious unrest with Islamists on one side and “pagans” (animists or Christians) on the other? Probably not.Perhaps there are some of these elements, but the background is even crueller: it is the opposition of two similar forces, the RSF (ex janjawid, these tribal militias of Darfur, see post) and the so-called regular armed forces. Two men are fighting for power and if they have foreign support, they want above all to take precedence over the other.

JOCVP

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LV 214: The Second 21st Century: An Inventory Essay | The end of the American dream | Lorgnette: street violence

Letter from La Vige, dated 29 March 2023

The Second 21st Century: An Inventory Essay

Here is a first attempt at an inventory of the global governance that prevails after the change of strategic era caused by the Russian aggression in Ukraine. What has disappeared, what remains, what is emerging, what we do not know, the consequences for France … Uncertainties and vigilance

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The end of the American dream

America has lost its soft power and now only shows its hard power. Disinterested in the world’s margins, no longer able to influence the whole planet, it is pulling its European ally into its anti-China obsession, without seeing that the rest of the world is organising itself without it.

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Lorgnette: street violence

The successive demonstrations in France show a level of violence that is increasing. The precedents of the Notre-Dame des Landes ZAD and the Yellow Vests have indeed convinced many radicals that violence can change the course of things these days. The governmental retreats of the past authorise current audacities, which are all the more vivid because political life is sluggish. Whatever the legality of the political representations given by the institutions, the authorities have lost their majesty and therefore the auctoritas that accompanied them, and hence their legitimacy. But the disaffection with political power may go back further, when the 2005 referendum was disavowed two years later by a reform made on the sly.

Let us note that the democratic crisis is general, in Europe (Great Britain, Germany) or elsewhere (huge demonstrations in Israel). Elections do not guarantee democracy. Unfortunately, demonstrations rarely prevail, see the recent examples of Iran (LV 202), Sri Lanka (LV 190) or Algeria (file 11).

Political disorder leads to disorder in the streets. Politics needs to be refounded.

JOCVP

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LV 213 / Africa farewell ! | New nuclear issues | Lorgnette : Arab-Persian deal

Letter from La Vigie dated 15 March 2023

Africa farewell!

From the Ouagadougou speech in 2017 to the one in Paris in 2023, one constant appears: the non-existence of France’s African policy. Added to this is the delicate relationship that we see in undiplomatic gestures. Faced with this observation, are we condemned to say: Africa farewell?

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New nuclear issues

Obsessed with the war in Ukraine, we fail to see the profound strategic changes that are taking place elsewhere, for example in the nuclear field: the end of the ballistic monopoly, the ambiguity of carriers, aggressive sanctuarisation, the death of arms control, the questioning of non-proliferation are all issues that are retroacting on the European theatre.

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Lorgnette: Arab-Persian deal

The recent announcement of an Iranian-Saudi agreement, concluded under the auspices of China, sounded like a thunderclap. Arabia had been announcing for some time that it wanted to break away from the Quincy Pact (LV 205). It did not sign the Abrahamic agreements between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain and the recent Israeli stiffening should not reassure it. As for Iran, the continuation of uranium enrichment despite sanctions and the JCPOA negotiations, the agreement with Russia and the recent popular discontent favour a change in strategic posture.

The agreement gives the impression of a simple restoration of diplomatic relations between Riyadh and Tehran. It seems to include a security dimension, the implementation of which will be seen in Yemen, where the Saudis seem to be negotiating while the UAE and the Americans are refusing. Basically, Arabia seems to want to diversify its sources of security and no longer relies solely on the United States. Washington, which has lost interest in the Middle East, is thus paying for its abstention and loss of credit. As for China, it has two of the main suppliers of hydrocarbons: that is enough for it.

The puzzle is moving in the region…

JOCVP

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LV 212: Lost illusions | Luxembourg outside the walls | Lorgnette : One year of war

Letter from La Vigie dated 1st March 2023

Lost illusions

France’s foreign policy is facing a field of ruins: all European ambitions are shattered by the realignment caused by the war in Ukraine, our situation in Africa is devastated, our ambitions in the wider world are confused and misunderstood. So this is the perfect time to stop talking out of turn, to reflect and to choose.

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Luxembourg outside the walls

Let’s continue the tour of the French marches by studying its land neighbours, this time the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. How is it that a country with no strategic depth has managed to have the highest gross domestic product per capita in the world and to be a key player in Europe? Thanks to an influence strategy of extraterritoriality.

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Lorgnette: One year of war

The end of February marked one year of war in Ukraine, or more precisely nine if we consider the beginning of the conflict in 2014. But the intensity, the harshness, the length of the fighting and the breadth of the front make it an exceptional war and a mostly industrial war, both classic and contemporary. We have described it at length on our site, whether in our articles or in the weekly situation reports, but also in the book War in Ukraine published in November (here).

But this war can still last. We do not believe in the victory of one of the two, so much so that this term is a misleading word (LV 208). Given the progress made here and there and the tenacity of the parties, this is a war that is not frozen, the outcome of which is still undetermined. The longer the conflict goes on, the less possible it seems that negotiations on an equal footing are possible, as neither of the two belligerents is willing to settle their losses with a bad compromise. The consequences of the war would be long-lasting: a thorn in Europe’s side for decades to come. In addition to the losses, the wounded and the injured, in addition to the massive destruction, it is a European balance that must be rebuilt as quickly as possible.

JOCVP

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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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JOCV

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La Vigie Nr 179 : France in 2050 | The American question | Lorgnette : Forgotten Bosnia

Letter from La Vigie dated November 10th 2021

France in 2050

The news is always quick to emphasise the crises of the moment and the seemingly insurmountable challenges: let’s reverse the point of view and consider what assets France has at its disposal to still be what it is in 2050. The picture is less bleak than is often assumed.

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The American question

Trumpism did not disappear after the last presidential election. Just as the Democrats refused to accept Trump’s victory five years ago, the Republicans refuse to accept Biden’s victory. He was badly elected and is struggling to implement his reforms and to unify the Democrats, divided between radicals and conservatives. A defeat in the next elections (mid-term, presidential 2024) is therefore highly likely. A second Trump presidency would deepen the fragmentation of the country.

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Lorgnette: Forgotten Bosnia

Who still remembers Bosnia-Herzegovina? This small country, born in 1995 from the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, has never found a political balance. This meeting between a “Muslim-Croat federation” and a “Republika Srpska” has never worked. It is under the supervision of the European Union, which is no longer interested in it. So we see the Serbian leader gradually acting in favour of separation (and eventually the reunion of the Serbian part with Serbia in Belgrade). The population is talking about a possible return to war.

However, this does not worry the international community, especially Europe, which is content with a black hole in the Balkans and has no prospects to offer. The Union is struggling to promote a negotiated solution between Kosovo and Serbia. It is not even certain that a secession of the Bosnian Serb part would be violent. In fact, some may think that this separation is a logical option and that 25 years later, with the help of fatigue, what was considered inadmissible at the time is admitted. But this would open the Pandora’s box of border rectifications in Europe. Which it does not need.

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JOCV

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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 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.

JOCV

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