A French Mistral
amphibious assault/helicopter carrier: Under pressure
from the U.S. and NATO, France has postponed sale
of two such vessels
to Russia indefinitely. Researcher Olivier Zajec calls the delay 'impolitic,
masochistic and discrediting.'
to Deliver Mistrals to Russia 'Impolitic and Masochistic' (Marianne, France)
François Hollande has decided that there
is no question, for the moment, of delivering the Mistral amphibious assault
ships to Russia. It is an 'impolitic, masochistic and discrediting' decision,
according to Olivier Zajec, head of research at the
French Institute of Strategy and Conflict. Especially as, in the current
geopolitical context and notably in Syria, to block the Islamic State, 'the
West needs Moscow to reach a solution.'
An Interview with Olivier Zajec*
Sentiments Gathered By Foreign
Affairs Editor RégisSoubrouillard
has suspended indefinitely delivery of the Mistral-class amphibious assault
ship Vladivostok to Russia. What do you
think of this decision and how do you see the strategic and economic
consequences of not delivering these ships?
Olivier Zajec: I support delivery of this ship, and I fear that
the postponement decided November 25 is at the same time impolitic, masochistic
and discredits us. Impolitic because we have a long term interest in a more
mature relationship with Russia, and going back on our word will not achieve
that; masochistic, because we are weakening our defense industry - one of our
most solid industrial assets; discrediting, because the added value of the
French armaments available on the export market lies precisely in it being an
alternative to American technological and normative subservience. This is what a
customer like India is looking for. With this decision, which delights the paleo-Atlanticists, we are demonstrating our submission to
strategic posturing that doesn't serve our interests (and I do not speak
exclusively of France, but of Europe).
Delivery of the Mistral would by no means prevent France
from playing its role in the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, which absolutely must
be resolved. On the contrary, in fact this demonstration of independence would
give her the role of a third party, which would allow her to arbitrate on the
grotesque brawl between those nostalgic for the USSR which one sometimes
encounters at the Kremlin, and the hysterical Russophobes who seem to be in the
ascendency at NATO. We should note all the same that many of those who have spoken
out against this sale are the same ones who danced with joy at the American
entry into Baghdad in 2003. In the absence of other qualities, we must
recognize a certain consistency in their blindness.
Marianne: How do
you assess the impact of the falling out with Moscow, notably with regard to negotiations
with Iran or on Syria?
Olivier Zajec: Whether one rejoices in it or regrets it, Moscow
is a major player in the Middle East game. Given the complexity of the regional
puzzle and following the American impetus, François Hollande is on the verge, however
ungracefully, of becoming a realist on the Iranian issue, which would have been
out of the question just a short time ago. Since this welcome lucidity now applies
to Tehran, which has again become an interlocutor, why not apply it - even for
the time being - to Damascus, given the nature of our common enemy? Bashar
al-Assad is not the immediate threat. Supplying arms to the Syrian Islamists
was a major mistake of our diplomacy. Acting strategically means setting
priorities and coordinating fronts: what would happen if today the Syrian
regime collapsed? One need only look at post-Qaddafi Libya to understand.
Military intervention may be a solution - it should never be excluded a priori,
but on the condition that we never lose sight of the context of the engagement.
"Air strikes" are not an end in themselves, but a timely and
controlled prerequisite to a new and unstable balance of political forces.
The Islamic State has not emerged so well-armed out of the
hell of so-called "global terrorism." It is not a phenomenon of
spontaneous generation. It emerged out of a long history rooted in the failure
of secular Arab nationalism. This failure has internal causes, starting with
the hatred that separates Sunnis and Shiites and the clannish reflexes of Arab
elites. Butitalso has external causes, in particular the incredible
thoughtlessness with which certain powers (first of all the United States)
have, for decades, destroyed the fragile equilibrium in the region by playing oil-rich
obscurantism against secular authoritarianism, and Wahhabism against Iranian
power. Westerners, from this point of view, also need Moscow to reach a
solution on the ground, taking into account the interests of all the stakeholders.
Yet at the recent G20 Summit in Brisbane, Putin was unanimously
described by media as well as politicians as "isolated" on the
international stage. "If all the world is thinking
the same thing, someone isn't thinking." This unanimity on a subject this complex
is certainly not a good sign for French strategic thinking and policy. Vladimir
Putin is less isolated on the world stage than François Hollande is on the European stage. It's
all a question of focus, of analytical scales and in this case, a persistent
myopia that characterises Western journalistic commentary.
Marianne: At the recent
Summit of APEC
(Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation), Moscow and Beijing, for their part, took pleasure
in staging their rapprochement
as "isolated states" on the international scene. Is this merger
viable and can it mark a major change in the international balance of power?
certainly - but it's important not to overstate this rapprochement. Beijing and
Moscow are wary of one another. However, on this issue as on others (space
policy, energy, defence of the principle of non-interference in international
relations), Russians and Chinese seem to be pushed toward one another by a
certain moralistic Western unilateralism.
commentators believe that Putin's objective is to restore the Soviet empire. Equally
one finds a lot of discussion about Russia's supposed "Cold War reflexes."
How do you perceive the turmoil over this specter of a new Cold War?
Olivier Zajec: I discern in it a sign that the software of certain
experts froze up in 1984, and that their diplomatic apprehensions are what
prevailed under Ronald Reagan.
Mr. McCain's outbursts
are typical of this generational block: "We must rearm ourselves morally
and intellectually," he says, "to prevent the darkness of Mr. Putin's
world from befalling more of humanity." Without denying the vigor of the
Russian reaction in Ukraine, we must put things into context, because this
crisis stems from elements of a different nature: the profound corruption of
the Ukrainian elite, pro- and anti-Russian combined; the over twenty-year uninterrupted
expansion of NATO toward the borders of Russia when a helping hand is what was needed;
the atavistic suspicion of the Baltic states and the Poles vis-à-vis Moscow, which would cease if the
Russians were part of NATO (and even then one cannot be sure); and finally, the
American propensity to play on European divisions. France and Germany, which
have everything to gain from peaceful relations with Russia, are the first
losers in we are witnessing - this bad remake of John le Carré's spy thriller.
Posted by Worldmeets.US
Marianne: What exactly
do you think of Europe's total absence of a strategic identity, if not its
blind alignment with Washington?
Olivier Zajec: I sincerely believe that words have meaning.
There is actually not, as such, a European "strategic identity."
We simply bring timely tactical support to operations relevant to an American
strategy in which Europe remains an object and not a subject of international
relations. This extended guardianship of its paralyzed allies allows Washington
to hide its own loss of global auctoritas.
More generally, the "Western" democracies seem to contrive to place
themselves in a state of short-term moral spasm rather than adopting a long-term
strategy. If it were otherwise, our decisions on the Ukrainian, Iraqi, Libyan
and Iranian files would have taken a different turn - less bombastic and more
realistic. To have a strategy one must have a political conscience. Europe as a
whole does not, unfortunately, have one. France, which is fortunate to have an
extremely professional army despite steadily declining budgets, proved in Mali
in 2013 and the Ivory Coast in 2002 that she could act efficaciously – and could
therefore still have a strategy. It is these models, measured and devoid of
hubris, that must be given top priority.
*Olivier Zajec is a lecturer in political science at the University
of Lyon 3. He is also the author of essays including 'Introduction à l'analysegéopolitique –
Histoire, outils, methods' (Introduction to
geopolitical analysis – History, tools, methods – Argos May 2013), 'La
nouvelle impuissance américaine - Essaisurdixannéesd'autodissolutionstratégique' (The new American Powerlessness - Essay on Ten
years of Strategic Self-Dissolution – Editions de l'œuvre,