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.'



French Failure 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 Régis Soubrouillard


Translated By Martyn Fog


December 5, 2014


France - Marianne – Original Article (French)

Marianne: France 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. But it also 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?


Olivier Zajec: Most 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.


Marianne: Many 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'analyse géopolitique – Histoire, outils, methods' (Introduction to geopolitical analysis – History, tools, methods – Argos May 2013), 'La nouvelle impuissance américaine - Essai sur dix années d'autodissolution stratégique' (The new American Powerlessness - Essay on Ten years of Strategic Self-Dissolution – Editions de l'œuvre, 2011).



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