Little Big Power – France’ Strategic Objectives

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In a recent intervention before the press, Jean-Yves le Drian, French Minister of Defense, laid out the revised strategic and defense goals for France for 2015. This plan was supposed to be exposed early January, but the terrorist attacks against Charlie Hebdo changed the policy and ultimately the strategic agenda of France. In his introduction the Minister claimed that “never, in its recent history, France has known such a deep connection between the direct threats on its homeland and the ones multiplying outside of its borders.” Despite its economic difficulties, France has demonstrated this last decade its commitment to assuring the security of its territory and interests of the Nation, as well as projecting its military power in its perceived sphere of influence.

Threats and Challenges to France and Strategic Reactions

In his intervention, Jean-Yves le Drian underscored the threat represented by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) and Boko Haram. In the case of ISIL, it menace can be felt in Syria, Iraq and Libya and in Western homelands. Territories under control of terrorist networks form an ‘arc’ circling Europe. Their presence can be felt on the European continent considering their degree of attractivity for many European citizens as illustrated by the terrorist attacks conducted in France and Denmark.

In addition to the real menace of radical islamic terrorist networks, the war in Ukraine on463833570 the European continent completes the circle around Europe. War on the European continent has fostered serious fears in most European capitals. “War in Europe,” argued le Drian, “it is what everyone of us must fear when borders are being changed and when international law is being trampled.”

In order to address the challenges and threats confronting France and its interests, France has defined its national security and defense framework in the famous Livre Blanc. In the last decade, France saw the production of two Livres Blancs, one in 2008 under President Sarkozy and recently in 2013 under President Hollande. Historically, France has produced four Livres Blancs. The first one in 1972 looked at the strategic independence of France offered by the possession of its nuclear capabilities. The second one in 1994 sought to address the radical shifting regional and global order ensuing the collapse of the Soviet Union. The third one, in 2008, incorporates the lessons learned after 2001, the new world order, and the new threats facing the Nation.

The last one, produced in 2013, incorporates the new realities facing France such as the economic crisis and the financial constraints, the Arab Spring and the rising instabilities in European neighborhoods, the rise of new powers especially in Asia and cyberthreats. In this 160-page strategic document produced soon after the election of François Hollande, French defense experts laid out three strategic lines of conduct: protection, deterrence, and intervention.

French Foreign Hyper-Activity

Historically, France has always been an independent global actor. Its global rank ensuing World War two was boosted by General de Gaulle developing a maximalist and exceptionalist dimensions to France’s foreign and defense policies. France has been for several decades a second-rank superpower with its large standing army, nuclear weapons, and active military-industrial complex. France has been a reliable US partner even though it remained independent from NATO until 2009 when it rejoined NATO’s integrated military command structure.

In order to compete with NATO, France was favorable to the creation of an independent European military force. The most serious and effective decision took place in 1998 in Saint-Malo during a bilateral agreement with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. This agreement established the European Security and Defense Policy, becoming the Common Security and Defense Policy with the 2009 Treaty of Lisbon. France has been an active participant of CSDP missions, civilian and military combined, when it favored its national interests and usually when CSDP missions were deployed in its sphere of influence, Africa and the Middle East.

Since the turn of the century, France has stood against the US because of the 2003 war in Iraq and was vocal against the neo-conservative agenda of the Bush administration. The relations with the US changed with the arrival to power of President Obama in 2008, even though some warming up occurred in the last years of President Bush. In parallel of Obama’s arrival, the world and especially the European neighborhoods have developed new dynamics. Once elected in 2008, President Obama wanted to disengage the US from its Bushian wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and pivot to Asia. The US pivot was engaged leaving a certain power vacuum in the Mediterranean region and the Middle East. During the pivot, the Arab world faced a radical and quick transition caused by the Arab Spring, which no Western leaders saw coming and knew how to handle.

To some extent, France under the presidency of M. Sarkozy took the lead and initiated a period of hyper-activity starting with the 2011 mission against Libya sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 (2011) implementing a no-fly zone over Libya. This UNSCR was pushed to the limits by Western actors, France, Britain and the US, leading to the fall of the Gaddafi regime. Since the war in Libya, France is currently fighting battles on three exterior fronts and one interior front:

  • foreign theaters: in Central African Republic (CAR) with Operation Sangaris; in the Sahel region counting Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad under Operation Barkhane; in Mali with Operation Serval; and in Iraq with Operation Chammal fighting ISIL.
  • domestic theater: France has launched Operation Sentinelle in January 2015 until a scheduled review in June counting 10,000 soldiers to protect France’s homeland – public and religious sites – against possible attacks.
Operation Barkhane - Source: France24
Operation Barkhane – Source: France24

 Reactualization of the 2015 Objectives

In his speech, Jean-Yves le Drian announced five broad orientations for 2015. These orientations are made in accordance with the Military Programming Law (la loi de programmation militaire) from 2014-2019. Due to the terrorist attacks of January 2015, the Ministry of Defense is seeking to addressing some adjustments in the Military Programming Law (MPL), which holds two dispositions: first, material provisions such finance, equipments and budgets; second, normative provisions.

The new orientations for 2015 are as follow:

  1. review of the military effectives;
  2. reforming some of the priorities established in 2013 by developing special forces, a new cyber strategy, increasing the domain of intelligence (human and material capabilities);
  3. military-industrial complex, addressing some capabilities shortfalls of the French army (in drones, helicopters, arial transportation), while increasing the sale of French military equipments, namely the Rafale;
  4. financial resources for the MPL by guaranteeing the funding to the Ministry of Defense;
  5. a new relationship between the Army and the Nation.

A Call for More Europe

During the two-day informal Defense ministers meeting in Riga in February 2015, Jean-Yves le Drian underlined the importance for EU Member States to increase their commitments and support towards European security and defense. A month later, he continued his call for more European participation to the protection of Europe. In his march intervention, he said “we are 28 Member States in the EU, but how many are we to French-Security_reutersreally participate in the resolution of crises in our neighborhood?” He claimed that the distribution of labor is not evenly distributed, even though the threats directly threaten the EU and its 28 Member States as a whole. The attacks in Paris, Copenhagen and Tunis and the Russian expansionist war in Eastern Europe are a clear illustration.

The Defense Minister underlined the fact that European financial contributions to NATO (fixed at 2% of the GDP) are not met by most European members and in the case of the EU, the financial burden on common operations (under the CSDP, read here an article on the financing of CSDP missions) is not evenly distributed. “When France fight in the Sahel, Levant,” he said “she intervenes for the benefits of the security of all Europeans.”

Between the Le Drian’s comments, Juncker’s proposal for a EU army, and Solana’s call for a European Defense Union (EDU), the question of the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) is an important one of the many current European agendas. The global and regional realities with the ‘arc of fire’ all around the EU has caused great concerns to all EU-28. If Southern Members are more inclined to see the instabilities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) as a direct threat to their homelands, Eastern Members are feeling the heat from the war led by Russia on the Eastern front, and all Member States are seeing the rise of radical islamic terrorist activities domestically. The EU and the EU-28 are confronting serious external and internal threats requiring more cooperation and ultimately deeper integration. These threats are so diverse in their origins and nature that they cannot be solved independently. They require a united front.

The June Defense Summit will be an important moment in European security and defense cooperation. The French will be vocal and will want to increase European cooperation and burden-sharing in addressing the extremely volatile neighborhoods. Other EU Member States ought to join France in seriously addressing these threats.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

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Defense Matters, Redux?

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The two-day informal EU Defense ministers meeting in Riga sent an interesting signal to EU Member States and their commitments to European security and defense. This informal meeting consisted in discussing current issues and preparing the up-coming European Council discussion on defense in June 2015. The informal meeting permitted for EU defense ministers to look at a series of issues such as the EU’s fight against hybrid threats, strategic communications and the EU’s rapid response capacity.

But France’s Defense Minister, Jean-Yves le Drian, did more than simply seat and listen, he called his European counterparts for greater burden-sharing, responsability and help in the war against radical Islamists in Africa and the Middle East.

Defense matters?

The question of European defense, under the umbrella of the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP), has been an area of low motivation from European capitals. Historically, the interest in European defense has come and gone (read here a review on a book on the CSDP). The last serious defense meeting took place in December 2013, three years after the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty (read here, here, and here analyses on the Defense summit). The large European Council meeting agreed on three axes in order to boost cooperation and ultimately strengthen the CSDP:

  • increasing the effectiveness, visibility and impact of the CSDP
  • enhancing the development of military capabilities
  • strengthening Europe’s defense industry.

The 2013 European Council’s conclusions ended by a call to evaluate the progress during the European Council’s meeting in June 2015. At the time of the Council’s meeting, the message from European leaders was simple, ‘Defense matters.’

France’s Call for Solidarity and Burden-Sharing

In his declaration ensuing the meeting, French Defense minister, Jean-Yves le Drian made some alarming comments about the lack of urgency of his European partners in recognizing the environing threats and addressing them accordingly. He declared that “I came in order to bring a message of emergency to my European partners and friends. An alert about the risk that we won’t be present. We are facing a multiplication without any precedents of challenges and threats for the security of our European citizens.”

Aside from the urgency of the threats, Jean-Yves le Drian asked a fundamental question: “We are 28 States within the European Union, but how many are we to really tackle in solving crises in our neighborhood?” He went on arguing that “the weigh of the European security is not equally distributed. France will continue to take care of his share of the burden, but only its share. We are waiting for our partners to join us.”

Challenges and Threats to EU Security

“In the current security environment in which we are faced with new and complex threats,” said Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, “unity is required more than ever.” The European neighborhoods require a clear attention, agreement on strategies, and implementation of clear policies.

Since 2011, the French have been very active and led the Europeans in their efforts to promote peace and stability south of Europe. The war in Libya, military interventions in Mali and Central African Republic (CAR), the large counterterrorist operation Barkhane, and airstrikes in Iraq are the most obvious illustrations. The rise of the Islamic State (IS) continues to occur and destabilize the region of the Middle East and now North Africa. The arrival of IS in Libya is changing regional geopolitics. Egypt feels threatened and started airstrikes against IS (and recently bought 24 Rafale combat jet to France. However, both events may not be related) in Libya. With IS on the shore of the Mediterranean, Europe is directly threatened.

On the Eastern border, Ukraine has become a battlefield between the West and Russia. A week after the February Minsk agreement, the combats are still raging, which are a clear violation of the cease-fire. The hopes ensuing the Minsk agreement seemed to have been short-lived as the tensions and conflict in Eastern Ukraine continue. The EU and its Member States are unprepared to now addressing Russia and certainly fight over control of territories. In a very critical 128-page report, titled The EU and Russia: before and beyond the crisis in Ukraine, produced by the House of Lords’ EU Committee (and published on February 20th, 2015), the British Parliament analyzed the shortfalls and failures of the UK and EU to tackle the Russian challenge. Several points can be underscored: first, the Committee claims that “Russia has been gradually turning away from Europe.” The report highlights two reasons linked to this shift: first, the EU failed to build an “institutional framework;” second, a continuous disagreement over the “shared neighborhood.” Additionally, the report takes a very critical tone against the EU and its Member States when writing:

“We also observe that there has been a strong element of ‘sleep-walking’ into the current crisis, with Member States being taken by surprise by events in Ukraine. Over the last decade, the EU has been slow to reappraise its policies in response to significant changes in Russia. A loss of collective analytical capacity has weakened Member States’ ability to read the political shifts in Russia and to offer an authoritative response. This lack of understanding and capacity was clearly evident during the Ukraine crisis, but even before that the EU had not taken into account the exceptional nature of Ukraine and its unique position in the shared neighborhood.”

So the EU and its Member States are confronted to a wide-array of issues, challenges and threats. “We [Europeans] have not the choice” claimed Maciek Popowski, a European diplomat. “We cannot cherry-pick a crisis over another. We must confront the threats from the East as from the South.” As opposed to other countries, the EU Member States have a solid advantage as they are 28 plus NATO. With 28 armies, 28 defense spendings, the EU should not be in a position of cherry-picking its crises, but rather addressing serious and rigorously all of them (especially with four Member States with some of the largest defense budgets in the world as illustrated below). The solution is in part burden-sharing.

Defense budget 2014

In his essay, L’Europe dans la tempête, Herman Van Rompuy, former President of the European Council, wrote about two principles when reflecting on his first days in office and in trying to save Greece from defaulting in 2010: responsibility and solidarity (p.9). This ‘shared responsibility,’ as he writes, does not solely apply to  monetary matters, it fits perfectly the case of defense policies and matters. Responsibility: EU Member States must address their defense shortfalls at the national and European level and be ready to act; Solidarity: EU Member States ought to think in terms of European interests and contribute to security efforts for the sake of the Union. Ultimately, Jean-Yves le Drian’s call for greater distribution of the burden and solidarity should not be perceived as a criticism, but rather as a wake-up call for Europe to address its challenges and guaranteeing the future of European defense and security.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Year in Review – A Relentless 2014

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2014 has certainly been a complex and eventful year for the world; and 2015 already started at full throttle with the recent terrorist attacks in France. The relentless year was marked by a succession of events affecting directly or indirectly the Euro-Atlantic community at every level of analysis imaginable: individual, domestic, national, regional and naturally international. This year Politipond has identified six axiomatic issues occurring in 2014 with likely future repercussions.

The election of the European Parliament – the European earthquake

Were the European Parliament elections in May 2014 a wake-up call for Europe? Or the beginning of a new direction for the Union? The elections underscored a trend in most EU Member States, a shift towards the extremes (right and left). Some EU Member States have seen an increasing attraction to extreme-left parties. Greece, which has been at the heart of the future of the Eurozone since 2009, is still experiencing considerable traumas caused by the austerity measures implemented as required by the terms of the bailout. Today, Greece is still facing political problems, which has been a blessing for Syriza, a far-left populist party led by Alexis Tsipras. In other EU Member States, the shift has been towards the extreme-right wing political parties. This is the case in several large EU Member States such as France (with the Front National led by Marine Le Pen), the United Kingdom (with UK Independence Party with Nigel Farage), the Netherlands (Party of Freedom with Geert Wilders), Austria (Freedom Party of Austria and Alliance for the Future of Austria with Heinz-Christian Strache and Josef Bucher), among others.

Among these parties, the Front National, UKIP and the Freedom Party have increased their visibility on the European stage and their influence on shaping national debates. In the case of the Front National, the party received the most votes in France for the 2014 EP elections with 25% of the votes representing an increase by 18.9% from the 2009 EP elections (read analysis on France here). Marine Le Pen even called her party the first one of France. The graph below illustrates the votes received by extreme-right wing parties in the 2014 EP elections.

Graph by Alexandre Afonso
Graph by Alexandre Afonso

The 2014 EP elections were certainly a political earthquake in Europe as large EU Member States fell to extreme parties. However, institutionally, the influence of right-wing parties at the EP remains minor as they only have 52 seats out of the 751. At the end of the day, the EP remains in the hands of the EPP (Social Democrats) and the S&D (Socialists). But the increase of votes received by extreme-right parties underlined several aspects: a high discontentment with the EU; a misunderstanding of the EU; nationalist feelings; and the permanent anger towards immigrants. During Pope Francis’ speech before the EP in December, he described the EU as an “elderly and haggard” Europe. Europe needs to reconnect with its citizens, and it won’t be with the help of its radical parties.

A new EU leadership

2014 was the year of the renouveau in terms of changing personnel at leadership positions in the EU. This was the case for the High Representative (HR/VP), known as the EU foreign minister, the President of the Commission, and the President of the European Council. Ensuing the European elections for the European Parliament (EP) in May, the President of the EP remained the same, Martin Schulz. Considering the HRVP and the

Source: Getty
Source: Getty

President of the Commission, the latter went to former Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker (read here an article on the Juncker Commission) and to the former Italian Foreign Minister, Federiga Mogherini. These two individuals have been welcomed as they are expected to bring a new wind to Europe and their respective institutions. The José Manuel Barroso’s years have affected the dynamism of the Commission, especially in his last quinquennat; while, for his counterpart, Catherine Ashton, she never seemed at her ease leading the European foreign policy machine and the EEAS. However, Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council left the position to Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, in excellent standing. Herman Van Rompuy, undeniably discrete but efficient, was axiomatic in holding European unity especially during the period of tense negotiations to save the PIIGS and the Eurozone (read here one of the best peer-reviewed articles on Ashton and Van Rompuy).

Soon after his appointment Jean-Claude Juncker pledged before the EP that he would seek to reboost and/or reboot the European economic engine. Later this fall, he announced his strategy, known as the Juncker Plan, a €315bn investment fund program intended to kick-start the European economy/ies. The Commission argues that the Juncker plan could “create up to 1.3 million jobs with investment in broadband, energy networks and transport infrastructure, as well as education and research.” This public-private investment fund program (the Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) would create a €21bn reserve fund allowing the EIB to provide loans of a total of €63bn, while the bulk of the money, €252bn, would come from private investors) would allow to fund broad construction and renovation programs across Europe. Some experts argue that the Juncker plan is too little, in terms of the size of the investments, while EU Member States are reluctant to invest their shares in such program. In any case, it won’t start before mid-2015.

Sluggish negotiations around the TTIP

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), initiated in July 2013, has become a sluggish and complex series of negotiations between the EU and the US. At first this massive bilateral trade agreement was expected to be quickly completed and agreed. The TTIP consists in removing trade barriers in a wide range of economic sectors as well as harmonizing some rules, technical regulation, standards, and approval procedures. According to the European Commission, the TTIP is projected to boost the EU’s economy by €120 billion; the US economy by €90 billion; and the rest of the world by €100 billion. “The TTIP’s goal” argue Javier Solana and Carl Bildt, “is to unleash the power of the transatlantic economy, which remains by far the world’s largest and wealthiest market, accounting for three-quarters of global financial activity and more than half of world trade.”

Almost two years in, the negotiations on the TTIP are facing serious criticisms inside Europe. The TTIP has provided the arguments to anti-globalization movements, fear of decline of democratic foundations, declining national sovereignty, as well as destruction of national/regional identities and cultures. Nevertheless, as demonstrated below, a majority of European citizens are in favor of the TTIP at the exception of Austria.

Source: Eurobarometer
Source: Eurobarometer

The TTIP is seen as a way to relaunch the transatlantic economy, but mainly European economies stagnating since the financial crisis. The TTIP is as well a response to the other trade agreements, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and the rise of Asian economies. Economists and experts argue that a failure to conclude the TTIP in 2015 could lead to the collapse of the negotiations and leave the European economy in difficult position in the years/decade to come.

A Climate Deal for the Earth?

President Obama announced on November 11 the historical climate deal with his Chinese counterpart to control the level of pollution of the two nations. The US pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26% below the 2005 levels by 2025, while China committed to increase its share of power produced by non-carbon sources, nuclear and solar, to 20%. Nevertheless, China recognized that its greenhouse gas emissions will continue peaking until at least 2030.

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This climate pact between the two largest polluting nations was agreed weeks prior the Lima summit laying down groundwork for the comprehensive UN greenhouse gas reduction pact expected to be agreed at the 2015 Paris summit, known as the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCC COP21). The 2014 US-Chinese climate pact is an important stepping-stone prior the 2015 climate summit in Paris. The 2015 Paris summit may be a turning point for the EU and the EU-28 to lead on this question after the 2009 Copenhagen fiasco.

A Terrorist Triad: ISIL, Boko Harm, and Al-Shabaab

Terrorism has always existed and will continue to live on. However, the type of terrorism faced by the Euro-Atlantic community since the mid-1990s has been principally based on radical islamic terrorism. The principal group on top of Western lists was Al-Qaeda, which has lost some of its grandeur since the assassination of its leader Ben Laden. The year 2014 was important as three groups have shaped Western foreign policies: the new comer, Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL, also now referred as the Islamic State, IS), and two more established groups, Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab. Each group does fall under a similar category of being inspired by Islam, but have different agendas and different radiance.

In the case of Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab, both groups are located on the African continents. Boko Haram, an Islamic sect, recognized by the US in 2013 as a foreign terrorist organization, seeks to create an Islamic state in Nigeria. Boko Haram became a familiar house-name in 2014 with the kidnapping of hundreds of school girls creating an outcry in the US. In the case of Al-Shabaad, a somali islamic terrorist group, is an Al-Qaeda militant group fighting for the creation of an Islamic state in Somalia. The group has started to increase its attacks outside of Somalia’s borders and especially against Uganda and Kenya (remember the terrorist attack on a Nairobi Mall in 2013) as both states are actively involved in fighting Al-Shabaad.

The last terrorist group, ISIL, is more recent. It has risen from the rubbles of the Syrian civil war, ensuing the Arab Spring. Prior its existence as ISIL, it was identified as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and emerged during the US campaign against Saddam Hussein. The group became ISIL in 2012 when the ambition of the group became regional and some fighters moved their fight to Syria. Even though Western governments were aware of its existence, ISIL became a top priority for Western citizens – regardless of its real threat to Western homelands – in June 2014 after several victories in overtaking large Iraqi cities like Mosul and Fallujah. ISIL has progressively begun a territorial warfare in order to create its own state, a caliphate, over parts of Syria and Iraq.

Sources: Jasmine Opperman, Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium; Hisham Alhashimi. Photograph by The Associated Press.
Sources: Jasmine Opperman, Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium; Hisham Alhashimi. Photograph by The Associated Press. Published in the New York Times on September 16, 2014

The core distinction between ISIL and the two other groups lays in their soft power. ISIL has been extremely attractive to many Europeans and Americans citizens, while Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab have remained more local/regional in their recruiting efforts. A large number of Western citizens, mainly from France, Belgium and the UK, have decided to join the fight aside ISIL fighters in Syria. These fighters have been perceived as a real threat to homeland security (as proven by the January 7th attacks in France against Charlie Hebdo).

Published in the Economist of August 30, 2014
Published in the Economist of August 30, 2014

Ultimately, these three terrorist organizations will keep their importance on influencing Western foreign and defense policies as the US and some of its European allies are already involved in military actions in Iraq and Syria. In the case of Europe, France is actively fighting terrorist networks in the region of the Sahel (Operation Barkhane, read here a previous analysis) and other African nations like in Mali (Operation Serval).

Russia Unchecked?

On the European chessboard, 2014 belongs to Russia. Russia brought back the European continent to traditional warfare with territorial invasions and other types of military provocations unseen since the Cold War (including the destruction of an airliner above Ukraine). 2014 started with the ‘invasion‘ of Crimea by the Russian army leading to its annexation to Russia validated by a referendum. By mid-Spring 2014, Ukraine had lost a part of its territory without any actions by the members of the Euro-Atlantic community. The West started to act against Russia during the summer once reports revealed the presence of ‘green men’ in Eastern Ukraine and movement of military equipments across the border.

During the summer, EU Member States agreed on a series of sanctions against Russian individuals and some financial institutions. At first, many experts thought that20141122_FBC287 the sanctions were too little too late, but in late 2014 the Russian economy was showing serious signs of weakness. However, one needs to underscore that the slowdown of the Russian economy is related to the collapse of the oil prices and a decrease in consumer spendings. In almost one year, the rouble has lost 30% of its value and the Russian economy is on the verge of recession. As reported by the Economist, “Banks have been cut off from Western capital markets, and the price of oil—Russia’s most important export commodity—has fallen hard.”

Despite the economic situation of Russia, at least until now, Vladimir Putin has maintained throughout 2014 a very strong domestic support and sky-high approval rating. Putin’s decision to invade and annex Crimea was highly popular in Russia (as illustrated below). Additionally, the anti-Western narratives advanced by Putin have been well received domestically. However, with the decline of the Russian economy the shift from Russian foreign prestige to more concrete concerns, like jobs, economic stability, and social conditions, may re-become of importance in the national debate.

PutinApproval2000-sept14

2015, Year of the Renouveau?

The economists seem very optimistic considering the forecast of the global economy. According to Les Echos (of December 30, 2014) 2014 was indeed an excellent year for world markets with record results for Shanghai (+49.7% since December 31, 2013), New York (+13.1% for S&P 500 since December 31, 2013), a modest result for Stoxx Europe (+4.9%), a stagnating French CAC40 (+0.5%), and a declining British FTSE (-1.7%). But with rising world markets, declining oil prices, increasing US gas production, and an increasing American growth, 2015 looks bright for the US, but remain mitigated for European economies.

The Grexit may be back on the table based on the elections of January 25th. With Syriza at the head of the polls, his leader has been calling for a renegotiation of Greece’s loan terms implemented by the Troika (IMF, Commission, and ECB). Neither Berlin nor Brussels want to go down this road. According to Der Spiegel, Berlin is willing to let Athens leave the European Monetary Union (EMU) if it decides to abandon the austerity measures. Two aspects can be underscored: on the one hand, some argues that Berlin is not worried anymore about a contagion to other European economies in case of a Grexit. While on the other, some others are claiming that it is part of a ‘tactical game’ played by Berlin in order to lower the chances of a Syriza victory at the end of the month. In any case, the question of the Euro and EU membership will remain throughout 2015.

Will the Brexit occur? In 2015, British subjects will be voting for the next Prime Minister. The elections are going to be closely monitored considering the possibilities of an eventual referendum on the future of the United Kingdom’s EU membership. The current PM, David Cameron, has been promising a referendum for 2017 if re-elected and has been a counter-productive force in Brussels. Additionally, Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), getting strong results at the 2014 EP elections seem a strong frontrunner for the post of PM. He has, as well, promised a referendum on the EU membership of the UK. The financial hub of Europe, the City, has been concerned about the financial and economic repercussions of a Brexit. The City’s argument is that by being outside a powerful club, the EU, the UK won’t be able to influence its decision-making and direction. In a recent poll, 56% of British citizens are favorable in staying within the Union.

Last but not least, 2015 may be the year of another large debate in Europe about terrorism versus immigration, freedom versus security and the solidification of the rise of anti-immigrants parties. The terrorist attacks of January 7th, 2015 in Paris will change the national and European debate about counterterrorism, social-economic policies, domestic political narratives, and naturally foreign policies towards the Arab world.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Operation Barkhane – France Returns to Africa

Source: AFP
Source: AFP

The French are back in Africa, and apparently ready to stay. With the recent agreement announced, Operation Barkhane will began early August and take over the precedent French mission in Mali, Operation Serval. Operation Barkhane, named after a crescent-shaped dune in the Sahara desert, is to become the french pillar of counterterrorism in the Sahel region. French will use and deploy a 3,000-strong counterterrorism forces over five countries, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. The purpose of Operation Barkhane seeks at  ‘regionalizing‘ the counterterrorism efforts in the Sahel.

It all started with the Libyan intervention in 2011. With the collapse of the Qaddafi regime, the Libyan borders became so porous that a large number of criminal and terrorist networks were able to spread across the region. The French intervened in emergency in 2012 in Mali in order to stop the jihadist incursion from Northern Mali to the Malian capital. Operation Barkhane will bring Operation Serval, in charge of fighting jihadists in Mali, to an end. President Hollande has argued that Operation Barkhane seeks to assist and help Africans to enforce their own security. In other words, French defense minister underscored (see in the video) that France assures its own security, Europe’ security and ultimately France is becoming the leader in fighting radical islamic terrorism.

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Source: RFI. 2014

The early involvements of French in Africa with Libya, Mali and Central African Republic are demonstrating the renouveau of French interests and implication in such strategic region for France.

Source: Le Point
Source: Le Point

President Hollande of France promised the French a quick Malian adventures and now France is looking at a long-term fight against terrorism in the Sahel region. The reason is that “there still is a major risk” announced French defense minister, Jean-Yves le Drian, “that jihadists develop in the area that runs from the Horn of Africa to Guinea-Bissau.” He added that the “aim [of the Operation] is to prevent what I call the highway of all forms of traffics to become a place of permanent passage, where jihadist groups between Libya and the Atlantic Ocean can rebuild themselves, which would lead to serious consequences for our security.”

In order to fight jihadists in this vast region, Operation Barkhane shall be seen as a reorganization of the forces already present in the region. It will be composed in terms of military and human capabilities of 3,000 military personnel, six fighter jets, 20 helicopters, 200 armored vehicles, 10 transport aircrafts, and three drones (as described by AllAfrica.com and RFI). Considering the number of countries the division of labor will be organized as such:

  • headquarters and air force in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena under the leadership of French Général Palasset;
  • a regional base in Gao, north Mali, with at least 1,000 men;
  • a special forces base in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou;
  • an intelligence base in Niger’s capital, Niamey, with over 300 men;
  • aside from the four permanent bases, several temporary bases will be created with an average of 30-50 men where required.

Several points shall be underlined concerning the success rate of such wide counterterrorist mission. First, as demonstrated in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Mali, without a solid state, composed of territorial-polity-society package (to retake the terms of Barry Buzan), the long-term success of any counterterrorist operation will be difficult. The fighting aspect of this mission could go endlessly without the inclusion and implementation of statebuilding dimension in the each country of the Sahel region. Who will undertake the lengthy, costly and complex task of statebuilding? the EU? the UN? the French? Enforcing security in the region with boots on the ground in order to assure the protection of the European homeland may only be a one dimensional strategy.

Second, in term of costs, how much is France willing to invest in this wide counterterrorist operation? The domestic economic situation of France is worrisome considering its slow economic and industrial engine. The French Defense minister confirmed that France has the required economic resources to lead this counterterrorist endeavor. It appears that the French President is giving the economic resources to the military in order to lead the mission to its end. Nevertheless, with a continuous inward looking public opinion and middle class hurt by the Eurozone crisis, it looks like a real political gamble for President Hollande. How will the French respond to such operation? The answer to such question may be easy. Considering the extremely low media coverage on the implementation of Operation Barkhane, the French government is doing it quietly in this period of holiday.

Third, aside from African cooperation, will the US and the EU contribute to the military efforts? After the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American public opinion has grown war-tired. A large majority of Americans are opposed to the idea that the US should play the role of the global policeman. Thus, President Obama has been in the business of bringing back troops, precise targeting and pivoting to Asia. The US may remain on the sideline, eventually providing some intelligence to the French. When it comes to the EU, the Union has already deployed some forces on the ground through one military CSDP mission in Mali (EUTM Mali) and two civilian CSDP missions (EUCAP Sahel Mali and EUCAP Sahel Niger). These CSDP missions may provide some assistance in training armed forces – police and army – of these countries in addressing counterterrorism tactics and strategies. The EU may additionally provide some aids to Sahel countries.

At the end of the day, France is starting a lengthy and risky military endeavor in a vast region with no end in sight. The question that has not be answered is quite simple: what is the endgame? When does France consider the mission accomplished? Fighting terrorism has become the Western windmills.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).