Why France failed in Ukraine

Book : Xavier Moreau, Pourquoi la France s’est trompée en Ukraine éditions du Rocher, 186 pages, septembre 2015.

We may be surprised by the disastrous manner in which France managed the Ukrainian crisis. The decisions taken often went against French interests, following American policy which was sometimes at odds with the French tradition. Implacable opposition to Russia proved counter-productive, weakening France’s voice in the Middle East and diminishing its influence in Syria. While this crisis could have been an opportunity for France to lead European diplomacy, it instead got bogged down and lost its way. Diplomatic efforts were guided by ideology rather than by pragmatism and reality, the result of which was that the local population consistently suffered.

Xavier Moreau, expert on Russia and Central Europe, devotes a book to this failure of French diplomacy. But his book also analyses the situation in Ukraine, which is much more complex than the portrayal conveyed by the pale images in the media. In this book, we discover an overlap of communities and cultural animosities, formed over the centuries, which emerge at a time when the Ukrainian state is weakening.

Article Translated from French

The original author was Jean-Baptiste Noé, writer and historian. He is an editor of the geopolitical magazine, Conflits, and is a columnist for l’Opinion.

Source: Contrepoints



The Unknown Theorist of Counter-Insurgency

Book : Mériadec Raffray, Général Jacques Hogard, Stratège de la contre-insurrection (General Jaques Hogard, the Strategy of Counter-Insurgency). Economica, coll. Stratégies & Doctrines, 2014

While the name of David Galuala, commanding officer in the French army and theorist of counter-insurgency operations, remains an international reference in the matter, that of general Jacques Hogard (1918-1999) is much less known. Though a veteran of the Second World War and of the French campaigns in Algeria and Indochina, he has developed theories that have not lost their relevance to an age with wars in Afghanistan and Mali. His work has contributed to Western understanding of the Communist concepts of revolutionary war.

In this book, Mériadec Raffray, journalist and renowned military expert, does him justice. A graduate from the prestigious Saint-Cyr French military college, a man of both theory and action, Jacques Hogard soon found himself faced with a new form of conflict resulting from the confrontation between the East and West: subversive warfare. Drawing on his military experience, he developed during his career a subtle and comprehensive analysis of counter-insurgency. He thus emphasizes the idea of using psychology as a weapon to obtain the civilian population’s moral support, the only real issue in a revolutionary war. This weapon consists of “opposing all forms of anti-national propaganda and to neutralise its authors”; the aim is to “counteract and thwart this propaganda using an efficient and objective counter-propaganda”.

Drawing on the lessons learnt from the French defeat in Indochina, Jacques Hogard lists the reasons for the failure: the inability to adapt to the country; defective intelligence; inadequate knowledge of both the enemy and revolutionary warfare; poor training owing to a lack of time; the obsolescence of the infantry coupled with physical weakness of officers, too old to successfully complete their missions. For each of these problems, he proposes several solutions based on a political and psychological training programme for all officers in order to teach them how to win the trust of the local population.

His method of pacification, when compared to that of general Lyautey, is a textbook case. It is based on a detailed knowledge of the enemy and his environment, and can adopt two strategies. The first, termed ‘superficial’, is based on the destruction of the adversary’s political infrastructure; this proves costly as it demands a large personnel. The second strategy consists of winning over the local population and arming them against the rebels – this is Hogard’s preferred option. He defines this strategy by an aphorism which summarises his theory: “Every operation, no matter how small, must have a political aim”

Article Translated from French

The original author was Tigrane Yégavian, journalist at Conflits magazine.

Source : Conflits


The Secret US-Saudi Axis

The New York Times* article on the links between the CIA and Saudi intelligence doesn’t reveal anything new. It is, however, the first time that this information has appeared in a major American newspaper, and the article’s publication comes at a time when the pro-Atlanticist press is publishing an ever increasing number of articles on Saudi crimes. It’s as if the United States is threatening to cut its ties with Saudi Arabia. As Manilo Dinucci highlights, the New York Times covers the current US-Saudi collaboration in the fight against Syrian government, but does not mention military cooperation in Yemen.

Code name “Timber Sycamore”: this is the name of the operation to arm and train Syrian “rebels”, a mission secretly authorised by President Obama in 2013. This is what is revealed by an investigation, published on Sunday by the New York Times.

When the president gave this secret mission to the CIA, “it already knew that it had a partner who was prepared to finance it: Saudi Arabia”. Along with Qatar, “it provided several millions of dollars, while the CIA directed the training of the rebels”.

The supply of arms to the “rebels” (including radical groups such as Al Qaida) had begun in 2012 when, via a network set up by the CIA, Saudi agents had bought thousands of Ak-47s in Croatia together with millions of bullets and the Qataris had smuggled over the Turkish border into Syria Chinese Fn-6 shoulder-fired missiles, bought on the international market.

As the supply of weapons was not properly organised, the CIA director, David Petraeus, summoned the allies to Jordan and imposed a tighter system of control on the whole operation. A few months later, in the spring of 2013, Obama authorised the CIA to both train the “rebels” in Jordan and in Qatar and to supply them with arms, including TOW anti-tank missiles. Again, using the billions of the “greatest contributor”, Saudi Arabia. This is standard procedure for this type of operation.

In the 70s and 80s, Saudi Arabia helped the CIA with a series of secret operations. In Angola the CIA, using Saudi funds, supported the rebel forces against the government, an ally of the Soviet Union. In Afghanistan:

“the Saudis helped arm the mujahedeen rebels to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan. The United States committed hundreds of millions of dollars each year to the mission, and the Saudis matched it, dollar for dollar via a CIA Swiss Bank Account.”

When the Reagan government launched a secret plan to support the Contras in Nicaragua, the Saudis, via a bank in the Cayman Islands, gave 32 million dollars to support the operation. It was through these secret operations and others like this, including the current one in Syria, that the long-standing relationship between the CIA and Saudi intelligence was forged.

Despite the resumption of diplomatic relations with Iran, a development which did not please Riyad, “the alliance persists, kept afloat on a sea of Saudi money and a recognition of mutual self-interest”.

This explains why the US has been reluctant to openly criticize Saudi Arabia for its human rights abuses, its treatment of women and its support for the extreme strain of Islam, Wahhabism, which has inspired many of the terrorist groups the United States is fighting.

It also explains why:

“The Obama administration did not publicly condemn Saudi Arabia’s beheading this month of a dissident Shiite cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who had challenged the royal family.”

Added to this, and this is something the New York Times does not mention, is the fact the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, on his visit to Riyad on 23 January, had reaffirmed that in Yemen, where the Houthi insurgency threatens Saudi Arabia, “the US stands with our friends in Saudi Arabia”.

Friends who, for almost a year now, have been massacring civilians in Yemen, by bombing even hospitals. The US helps them by providing them with intelligence (that is to say, they indicate which targets to strike), weapons (including cluster bombs) and logistical support (which includes aerial refuelling of Saudi bombers).

Last November, these same friends held a meeting in Riyad with the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, who promised to support their military efforts and supply them with weapons “in the fight against terrorism”.

*U.S. Relies Heavily on Saudi Money to Support Syrian Rebels”, Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzojan, The New York Times, January 23, 2016.


Article Translated from French

The original author was Manlio Dinucci, a geopolitical analyst and geographer. His latest publications include: Laboratorio di geografia, Zanichelli 2014 ; Geocommunity (en trois tomes) Ed. Zanichelli 2013 ; Escalation. Anatomia della guerra infinita, Ed. DeriveApprodi 2005.

Source: Réseau Voltaire




Syria – Why the West Got it Wrong

Book: Syrie. Pourquoi l’Occident s’est trompé (Syria. Why the West Got it Wrong) Frédéric Pichon, Éditions du Rocher

The publication of this book, which pulls no punches, caused much controversy and created a precedent. Founding member of the magazine Conflits and author of a PhD thesis on the Syrian Christians in Ma’loula, the geopolitical analyst, Frédéric Pichon, has written a savage critique which goes against the current emotional style of many books written today on the situation in Syria.

The author condemns the disastrous management of the Syrian conflict by western governments, French diplomats being the first to blame. While the French government distinguished itself at the very outbreak of the crisis in March 2011 by taking a clearly offensive line, its tendency to take action on all fronts, combining moral outrage with verbal aggression, its military weakness and its faint-hearted attitude led to the consequences that we know today.

Intoxicated by the media euphoria of the so-called “Arab Springs”, France took over a year to reluctantly admit that its negotiating partners, the foreign-based National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, was found wanting in face of the unstoppable rise of the Islamic extremists.

Worse still, France, which wasn’t unaware of the power struggles within this motley opposition group, continually discouraged peace initiatives coming from other Syrian groups opposed to the regime. Working in collaboration with its Saudi and Qatari allies, France apparently did all it could in January 2012 to thwart the Arab League’s mission, mistakenly counting on a rapid overthrow of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The tragedy of Syria, whose landscape has been transformed into a battlefield for the world’s Islamic extremists, is also one of media excess and biased coverage of the conflict. Frédéric Pichon shows us that the story is more than one of appalling ignorance. Three years after the declaration of this war waged for others, a war which has claimed a 150,000 lives, he gives us an account of an historical blunder by a France humbled by mistakes and contradictions.

Translated from French

The original author was Tigrane Yégavian, journalist for Conflits magazine.

Source: Conflits



Russian Military Success in Syria

Russian and American military action assessed according to the criteria of “operational art”

Today the armed forces use “operational art”, a concept developed in the 1930s by the Alexandre Svechine. This Russian general, inspired by Clausewitz and Sigmund von Schlichting, had an illustrious career under both the Tsarist and Soviet regimes. He was executed under Stalin’s orders in 1938. Although it was only in 1970 that he was officially pardoned, he had influenced the victorious Russian generals of the Second World War.

Svechine’s achievement is to have understood and demonstrated that a military victory on the ground does not always allow the achievement of a political and strategic aim. We had the sad demonstration of this in Algeria.

Despite his brilliant victories at Austerlitz, Jena and Wagram, Napoleon did not fulfil his strategic objective: the destruction of England. He had badly chosen his course of action. The question today is: is it sufficient to pound Iraq and Syria with bombs in order eliminate the Islamic State (ISIL)?

“Operational art” allows military action on the ground to be tailored to the political and strategic aim. It aims to bridge a gap between these two levels of thought. It allows us to choose the plan of action best suited to the desired aims. When it produces no results, it should lead one to reconsider the political objectives.

The Americans discovered Alexander Svechin in the 1980s. They adopted the term “operational art” and based their military doctrine around his ideas. NATO’s Comprehensive Operations Planning Directive (COPD), the bible of our general staff and our military colleges, draws inspiration from his ideas. This in turn was adopted by the French armed forces in the form of the Methodological Guide to Operational Planning. If the term is new, the concept is not. Our military colleges and general staff have long practised operational art. They unintentionally practise operational art, much in the same way that Molière’s Mr Jourdain unwittingly wrote prose.

Marshal Foch’s question “What does this mean?” was the first step in a process of operational art.

What we termed “The Method” kept the following criteria to assess the effectiveness of military action:

Is it suitable?

Is it feasible?

Is it satisfactory?

We again find the same terms in the NATO COPD, but the Americans have made the procedure more complicated, perhaps to the detriment of reaction times in the command chain:

“Suitable”, that is to say does it allow the achievement of the goals fixed by the mission?

“Feasible”, that is to say compatible with available means, external support and the restrictions of time and space

“Satisfactory”, that is to say are the results acceptable when compared to the desired results?

The answer to these questions allows us to verify that the objective and the proposed action are coherent. We thought it was an interesting idea to ask these questions in order to assess Russian and American military action in Syria.

Of course, this is purely an academic exercise. While we know something about their tactics by observing what’s happening on the ground, we do not know the real political objectives. By confining ourselves to just these three questions, we are making only partial use of the operational art method.

The American course of action

The Americans, along with the French who are supporting them, clearly state their desire to destroy the Islamic State.

They claim to be engaged in a “battle of annihilation” (Clausewtiz’s Niederwerfung) against the Islamic State.

The first stage of their course of action consists of a small number of air strikes, using high-tech weapons. These air strikes are made from remote air-bases or from carriers and target military targets only. The second stage consists of the use of allied ground troops.

Is this action suitable ?

It would seem not because, even if this leads to heavy losses for the Islamic State, it has failed to stop their advance in Syria and Iraq. It doesn’t put their existence in any doubt. Rather it corresponds to a war of attrition (Clausewitz’s Ermattung).

In a conventional conflict, an army considers that a unit, having lost a quarter of its soldiers, is no longer viable. The same reasoning doesn’t apply to the Islamic State’s fanatical troops, who will continue jihad regardless of the losses inflicted by the air-strikes.

The Euphrates Valley, an essential route for the Islamic State’s economic survival and the central pillar for the group, has not been cut-off, despites the air –strikes on Racca.

The United States claims to be waging a total war against the Islamic State. But are they really? Given their course of action, we are entitled to have doubts.

The systematic destruction of oil facilities, cotton fields and the main roads would be an task for the American and allied air forces. This would deprive the Islamic State of its economic resources. The closure of the Turkish border would deprive the group of its lifeblood but this has not been done. The telecommunications networks are not being attacked.

The American course of action and the associated French course of action are not suitable.

Is this course of action feasible?

Yes, for the first phase of action, it would appear so: the bombs regularly hit their targets.

On the other hand, the second phase of the action plan is not feasible. Diplomatic efforts will not convince the so-called allies to deploy ground troops. The ideological symapthy between the Islamic State and the Saudis, as well as with President Erdogan of Turkey, runs too deep. Saudi Arabia is what the Islamic State would look like if it succeeded. Only the Kurds are playing the game, but they do not need to be convinced.

Is the American course of action satisfactory ?

The American army is rich. Nonetheless, the cost of air-strikes against the Islamic State seems to be high when compared to the results. If we add to the hourly flight cost the price of weapons, the logistic costs incurred by the deployment of units, we come to a staggering total: hundreds of thousands of dollars for each air-strike. Not far from a million, perhaps. It is too high to be published. The course of action is not satisfactory for the US, and even less so for France.

The Russian course of action

The Russians threw themselves into action in Syria with intermediate objectives which were precise and limited. As a first step, they want to restore the sovereignty to the part of the state that still functions, secure their naval base in Tartous in order to then be able to destroy the Islamic State group in Syria.

Is the Russian course of action suitable ?

Their action plan, like that of the Americans, is based on air-strikes and military action, carried out on the ground by their allies.

But the tempo of their attacks is more intense. The chief of the Russian armed forces, general Valeri Guerassimov, announced in early November that ever since the Russian military campaign in Syria was launched, the airforce has carried out 2,300 operations and destroyed 4,100 targets. Approximately 70 missions per day, often in support of Syrian government forces in order to allow them to gradually recover their national territory.

The Russian plan of military action is therefore suitable.

Is the Russian course of action feasible ?

Yes, each day the Russian course of action is proved to be feasible ex-post. The main road linking Damascus, Hama and Aleppo has been secured; pressure is increasing on the jihadi soldiers occupying the Al-Bab province; in the eastern region of the country loyalist forces are tightening their grip on Palmyra, and are preparing to end the closure of the main road from Damascus to Deir-Ez-Zor; in the north of the country, the Syrian army has lifted the siege of the Kuweires airbase, which was occupied for 35 months.

Is the Russian course of action satisfactory ?

It is difficult to precisely estimate the cost of Russian military operations. But we can see that: the Russians use old military equipment, paid for long ago, such as the Sukhoi 24, which dates from the 1970s; that they use low-tech munitions, of which they have a large stock; and that their airbase is located in Latakia, which reduces flight times as it is close to their targets.

It is best we do not know the difference in cost between a mission completed by a Rafale, taking off from the carrier Charles de Gaulle, and a mission carried out by a Russian Sukhoi 24, flying from the airbase in Latakia!

Suitable, feasible, satisfactory ?

It would seem that the Russians have better understood “operational art” than the Americans and the French.

Translated from French

The original author was Jean du Verdier, a general officer in the French air-force and author.

Source : ASAF – Association de Soutien à l’Armée Française


See also: Xavier Moreau, a geopolitical analyst at Stratpol (www.stratpol.com), explains how the Russian military intervention in Syria has been a success. We have provided English subtitles for this video.


Islamic State: Anatomy of the new Caliphate

Book:  L’État Islamique, Anatomie du nouveau Califat  (Islamic State: Anatomy of the new Caliphate) by Thomas Flichy and Olivier Hanne.

A truly remarkable achievement: publish a book on the Islamic State, less than six months after its dramatic appearance on the world stage. The text is enlivened by the addition of maps and charts to help readers understand and form their own opinion. What’s more, using their “geo-cultural” method, the two authors allow us to understand the mysterious psychology of this group, in a context where Arab Sunni Muslims in both Iraq and Syria are profoundly frustrated by regional political events. It is by referring to Islamic culture that we are able to understand its appearances, which are far from deranged, and its media communications.

L’État Islamique, Anatomie du nouveau Califat, de Thomas Flichy et Olivier Hanne

Moreover, the book is capable of taking a nuanced approach, in particular when it demonstrates the extent to which the disastrous American military intervention in 2003 pushed the Sunni Ba’athist officers into the hands of the terrorist group; their aggressive nationalism was thus exploited by the Islamic State’s eschatological vision.

Finally, the Islamic State is but a symptom, perhaps temporary, of the deep crisis that the region is suffering. The organisation forced its way into the history of the Middle East because of the unflinching determination of its members and its exhaustive ideological work. The authors conclude that: “The Islamic State is an accident of Islam and the Middle East, but it is a fatal accident”.

Translated from French

The original author was Frédéric Pichon, researcher at Stratpol (www.stratpol.com) and author of “Syrie: Pourquoi l’Occident s’est trompé” (Syria: Why did the West Get it Wrong)

Source: Conflits