France’s two traditional major parties are rejected by the vast majority of French society. Many people in France are willing to move beyond the dichotomy between the Left and the Right. They want to leave behind mutual unfruitful accusations and pick up some solutions from both sides simultaneously. Nowadays, we can witness similar trends in other European countries. But if we consider the traditional parties in France (the Socialist Party and the Republicans), it is important to emphasize the strong divergence among leaders within each political force. There is quite nothing in common between the platform of the winner of the Socialist Party’s nomination Benoit Hamon, who represents the left-wing side of the party, and someone like Manuel Valls (former Prime Minister of France) who appears to be a social-democrat. At the same time, if we consider the Republicans, there are quite nothing in common between strong right leaders Francois Fillon and Nicolas Sarkozy on the one hand and Alain Juppe (former Prime Minister) who is more centrist, on the other hand. Those divisions are visible to the naked eye.
Furthermore, it is quite important to mention that the right side of the Republicans, the far right Front National and the radical left Jean-Luc Melenchon are both supporting the Kremlin’s position and pasting its propaganda on Ukraine and Syria. When it comes to the economic and social issues, the left side of the Socialist Party has found some common ground with the left populist Jean-Luc Melenchon. Obviously, such strong polarization is inherent to the society as well as to the political elite of France.
Meanwhile, if you consider people who are backing Emmanuel Macron, it appears to be more common between moderate-left, moderate-right and centrist viewpoints. It is significant that Macron’s supporters share the same liberal values and understanding of social problems such as gay marriage or the refugee crisis. But the biggest part of the electorate may rally around the concrete political program that opens a real opportunity to boost the economy and reach social welfare without radical measures called for by left-wing or right-wing politicians.
Hacking attack against Macron as a facet of hybrid warfare
When it comes to foreign policy, most people of the center-right and center-left are blaming Putin for what he did in Ukraine and Syria. They are standing up to Putin’s illiberal vision of the social order because they appreciate the role of law in international relations, the compliance with human rights and the need of efficient international organizations that Putin is aiming at dismantling.
Macron and the people around him are considering that an aggressive Russian foreign policy is the main threat for stability and peace process in Ukraine, Syria and any other part of the world. They are even more aware since Macron’s campaign website has been hacked, disinformation and attacks ar1e spreading out on social media and lastly, a few hours after the official campaign ended, WikiLeaks disclosed some email of Macron’s team, including some fakes. So Macron will confront with to Putin on those issues and already has strong stance against him while saying that Russia’s values are not ours. Of course, we don’t have to break up diplomatic relations. But it is crucial that French authorities come forward with very clear position and more ambitious view of what EU could do in foreign policy to ensure the security of the region. In my opinion, the best way to do that is to strengthen the French-German axis. By the way, Macron’s victory will probably lay the groundwork for implementation of common agenda in the European Union’s foreign policy. His aim is to restore credibility of the EU, which is at the very core center of his international program.
It is worth noting that Russian cyber-attacks aimed at skewing domestic elections in the U.S., Germany and France. They are appreciable dimension of hybrid warfare against the West. We are witnessing a lot of pro-Russian agents in social networks with a complicity of some French people. Their activity consists in advocating Kremlin’s policy and spreading fake news. That is very damaging to our democracy, so the legal tools should be found (in France as well as in many other European countries) to prevent this sort of attacks. French government really has to do more in the information sphere. So the fact that Macron aims to counter these challenges is a positive factor for French security. In his speech on defense policy, he says his commitment to reinforce cybersecurity.
France’s foreign policy priorities in the context of hybrid threats
Trump’s rhetoric fuels the feeling of unpredictability in international relations because his strategy towards Russia remains still unclear. On the one hand, Secretary of State Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Mattis, the U.S. envoy to the UN Nikki Haley and National Security Adviser McMaster have shown a strong resolve in combating Russia’s threat in Europe and in the Middle-East; Trump’s decision not to let unpunished Assad’s chemical attacks on Syria is also an important signal, even if not tough enough. On the other hand, there is no clarity of a Trump’s doctrine vis-à-vis Russia and Russian interferences still cannot be underestimated. From an ideological point of view, European governments should keep an eye on illiberal tendencies inside the U.S. that speak volumes and may be predictive on dangerous trends. The protectionist views of the new administration may also herald some retreat that could be dangerous for both Europe and the Alliance in spite of Mike Pence and general Mattis reassuring words. That is why France and Germany cannot act separately in most fields of external policy.
We have also to restore the credibility of international organizations, especially the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) which is damaged by unconstructive veto from Russia and until recently China. Significantly enough, China abstained for the last resolution on Syria and has shown a concern for the risk of weakening the international institutions. Moreover, the EU has to advocate more the OSCE’s role that Moscow also intends to neutralize. It has to be more vocal in promoting human rights on the world stage and strengthening international legal order that Putin is aiming as delegitimizing. If both the U.S. and the EU are not succeeding in restoring fundamental principles of peace and security in Europe and in other regions, tomorrow’s world would be for sure more dangerous and salvage.
France’s true priority in Syria is to overthrown Bashar al-Assad without of course abandoning the fight against ISIS. Because of the war crimes and the crimes against humanity that he openly committed, Assad cannot be considered as an acceptable solution even for the transition period. As far as he does not leave, there will be no possible solution to the conflict. Until Syrian government and its allies – Russian and Iranian troops and militias – are prevented to commit bloodshed, any negotiation is pure sham. There is still an illusion that we can put together all the people around the table. Not only ISIS and Al-Qaeda groups cannot be there, but Assad’s regime too – that must not be assimilated too to all the Alawites. In this regard, Syria’s sovereignty must be returned to Syrian people through a fair process of election under international control, that includes displaced people in Syria and Syrian refugees abroad. It will take time and the Assad regime would never accept it. Of course, the U.S. and the EU must push forwards the negotiation process and not leave the lead to Russia through the unacceptable Astana so-called peace talks. Negotiations will be able to start only as far as the Russians will perceive a stronger resolve of the Americans and the Europeans to use force. The U.S. airstrikes after the most recent chemical attack by Syrian regime must not be a one-shot policy.
Another source of concern for France are Kremlin’s attempts to expand Russian influence over Eastern Libya (according to Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the commander of the U.S. Africa Command, Kremlin has deployed troops to Egypt amid a strengthening of ties with General Khalifa Haftar, the warlord who controls the eastern part of Libya – CACDS). The security situation in Libya is deteriorating very quickly and not enough people in the West are taking the situation there seriously. At the same time the Sisi regime in nearby Egypt is not really mastering the security situation there and the crackdown on human rights dissimulates a strong incompetence of the power. The situation can inflame very quickly. We can also worry that Russia seems to be more and more influential in Cairo who has been in the past a strong ally of Western governments. The situation is even more difficult that no one could propose to reengage with Russia while turning a blind eye to the repression of the dissidents. So in terms of hybrid warfare, we have to deter Russia in the whole region and prevent its interference in Libya, Egypt and even Jordan.
Besides Russia, the West has to deter Iran and its regional actors (Hezbollah and other Iraqi and Iranian militias operating in Syria, and some radicalized Houthi groups in Yemen). Nevertheless, we have to consider the political and social situation in Iran. France has to stand form in its support to the Iran nuclear deal. If it is damaged because of the pressures of the U.S. Congress, only conservative forces in Tehran will triumph. The position of the so-called “hawks” in Washington is unconstructive because it would put an end to the movement towards more open society inside Iran.
Anyway the credibility of the West is very low after 2013, when the then President Obama decided not to stand to the red lines in Syria that he himself defined. Today, Syrian people feel abandoned by the Western powers, including the EU that did nothing on Syria. This moral and strategic collapse can only fuel many radicalized groups that are trying to attract young people and it can only reinforce terrorist threat in the Western countries.
Chairman of the Paris-based Centre for Study and Research for Political Decision (CERAP), editor of the journal Le Banquet