If one is to define four possible types of war in the future, we would have from the more violent one to more pernicious: nuclear war, conventional war, small guerrilla-type wars, and cyber warfare. War against terrorism is a war without end, and there is no victory against terror, unless the total extermination of mankind.
The speed of geopolitical events has continued to accelerate since 1989, leaving the feeling of a big void. And this vacuum is sometimes filled with fear, sometimes with indifference. As the Valdai Club report implies, the globalization coincided with the enormous technical progress, but technical progress is certainly not the progress of humanity. Our societies are eaten away by the news, they are slaves of the moment and amnesic. They lose the perspective of history without which the Twenty-first century cannot be thought. The man of the future is incomprehensible if one does not understand the man of the past. The past is never closed; it’s a past to come (Please re-read Tolstoy’s Resurrection …).
So, the Valdai Club report invites us to make a pause to reflect and think over the war in the twenty-first century: because we all here, in the West as in the East, forgot the war and think about peace, lulling us into the illusive idealism of a return to the sacred world order based on the externality of Evil.
Below I offer three points: Clausewitz in the Twenty-first century, the continuation of History (echoing the small essay by Hubert Védrine), and some questions about the future and what is called war against terrorism.
1. Clausewitz in the XXI century
Thinking about war, we must disengage ourselves from our dependence on the opium of the news media and return to the roots. Thucydides teaches us that infernal couple Peace/War is subject to reason and unreason. Clausewitz seems to be in the center of our debate, as his exegetes, Raymond Aron and Lenin. Lenin had a lot to explore the grammar of the work by former Prussian officer and designer of the popular war. The two main principles of Clausewitz are, firstly, the war as the continuation of state policy by other means or by a mixture of other means, and, secondly, the rise of violence to extremes. I will pass quickly over the first principle, widely practiced in the states in the international community, that the army is a means of political service and politics determines the organization and the type of war. With the aim of imposing its will on the enemy.
The concept of extreme violence is much richer because it fits perfectly with the 2016 world map. Here is the passion that causes a rise to extremes and gives the war a dynamism, sometimes uncontrollable. In war, there are hostile intentions, but often there is media background that leads people to ignite on: think of the implosion in the Balkans, or Ukraine. The law of war is then abused by those who think for us what is good and evil, and what is civilization or barbarism. Behind the war and all conflicts, especially in Syria, there is indeed the foundation of Clausewitz triangle between the interest, passion and power.
Today the formula of Clausewitz tends to be reversed in the wake of the carnage of the Second World War: so if you want peace, prepare for war, war and peace becoming two modalities of a more general and vague concept called “conflict.” But do not play with words. What is the rise to extremes today? Is it possible to go to nuclear war? I personally do not fear nuclear annihilation because our enemies, I mean those that strike us to the hearts of Paris, Beslan or New York, practice asymmetry. And if one is to define four possible types of war in the future, we would have from the more violent one to more pernicious: nuclear war, conventional war, small guerrilla-type wars, and cyber warfare.
Last lesson to be learned from Clausewitz and that appeared in the Valdai Club report between the lines, is that the reason of the strongest is always the best. But to be stronger, it is important to have an enemy. The disappearance of the mutual enemy after 1991 downplayed the power, then it became impossible to discern good from evil, impossible to know who is or becomes the Thug State. Why hide this, regardless of whether this is good or not good: the United States is now the superpower that has all the levers of power in the world. So it is they who decree what is Good, Evil and Just. It is they, as beautifully written by linguist Claude Hagège, who continue to impose Globish. In Paris and Moscow, anglicisms bloom here and there.
That is why, in my opinion, multipolarity remains a myth, a goal still far to be reached.
2. History Continued
When Fyodor Lukyanov opened several years ago a newspaper column calling it “The worlds are changing,” he knew that nothing changed. There is always a tacit rendezvous between past generations and our own. The XXI century was experienced by mistake as a deprogramming, “reset the counters to zero”. In Russia, the arrival of Vladimir Putin has been described as a break with Yeltsin whereas, in my opinion, Putin is only the second elected president of the Russian Federation and in this sense, the legitimate successor of history in motion.
Francis Fukuyama, great historian, knew perfectly well that his End of History was only a hypothesis. Because history is constantly repeated. And today, to understand current conflicts (Syria, Libya, Sahel, Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Yemen …), we need to open the atlas before 1914, because our beautiful political constructions after 1945 have been well and truly shattered. Yes, power relations are changing, but what remains unchanged is the alienation of the desire for power; and this is why the construction of a world order as Kissinger dreamed in his brilliant essay “Diplomacy” remains to be built. This desire for power passes through the recognition of the Other, sometimes friend, sometimes enemy; this is Mars against Venus, Hobbes’ Leviathan: it is the same desire to want who created the conflict; and this is because we are defending a perception that it is necessarily good. In Syria, Russia proposed a grand coalition, knowing in advance that it would not work because there was already a Western coalition, where Russia would fail to be integrated.
Here the ratio presented as a form of misunderstanding between the West and Russia, was explained many times by leading historians but always seems too nebulous … ” Not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor to hate them, but to understand them…. “, Spinoza wrote. Well, it’s not so simple in case of Russia, where nobody questions its opinion before brandishing a certainty: Russia is twisted in net prejudices … It’s a pity.
But in France, we are also under the American power, then what to do? This raises the question of the West and what it actually covers: an alliance between the Old World and the New World seeking to export its model. A fascination for the leader of this ensemble, the United States; I remember that phrase of Valéry: “Yankee go home … but take me with you …”. And detestation too.
The relationship between Russia and the West in the XXI century will depend largely on US foreign policy where I distinguished three priorities: safeguarding the security of the American people, Americans won’t be engaged into the ground operations and disputes alone, only as members of a selected coalition, and the refusal of a great strategy of containment in favor of a strategy of influence à la carte.
3. What future, what system, what outcome of war against terrorism?
Sorry to disappoint you, but in this war against terrorism, we will lose. Just because this is a war without end, and there is no victory against terror, unless the total extermination of mankind. Iraq, Syria, Sahel are war zones but we conduct there a war against perfectly identified armed elements, not against terrorism.
What worries me more for our future system is the trend toward readable refeudalisation of the United Nations, with their fiefs and baronies. This is Europe’s return to borders and walls. This is human and digital tribalisation in response to globalization.
In this world there is an existential problem of recovered history. Turkey recalls that it was the Ottoman Empire, it was Iran’s powerful Persia, the former USSR was Russia, Europe … and for Europe the situation is more complicated because it offloads its past without looking at the others. And in front of us there are ISIS and others, companies of Belief; they do not expect the election results, they are in no hurry. And in Europe, migration creates social convulsions, fueling identity movements. The Cultural Atlas takes precedence over politics. Ukraine, which did not exist in the politically correct environment ends up with a return to the dividing Riga-Split line. Europe lived with politics as its engine. Then, after two world wars, it was the economy that was wished to bring peace. Then it is religion that becomes a policy. It is a return to the ethno-confessional system against the Nation State. The newest (Nation State) always gives way to the oldest (culture, confession, symbol).
To find an international balance, it is necessary to think about war, to think about geopolitics not just as indigestible matrices but as they are, in reality as reality and not as representation.
This article is based on the speech delivered by the author in Paris at the presentation of the Valdai Discussion Club report “War and Peace in the 21st century. International stability and balance of the new type” on February 10, 2016.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club’s, unless explicitly stated otherwise.