Tag Archives: legitimacy

Invasion Z: Zombie Wars or Resource Wars?

What are the numerous movies, novels, TV series and video games declining the implacable struggle between human survivors and proliferating populations of zombies really about? These “chronicles” of the worldwide zombie invasion are so pervasive in our twenty-first century global culture, and they have reached a status of such importance that they have even inspired an actual training plan by the US Department of Defence in 2014, as well as a very real military training session in 2012.

What is the strategic issue played out through the very complex zombie charade in our contemporary framework, when socio-environmental changes are also strategic changes? In other terms, what are the existential, political, geopolitical and military dimensions of the zombie invasion?

Furthermore, is it possible to use the “zombie chronicles” in order to anticipate near future strategic scenarios?

Chronicles of invasion Z

It could be said that the complex of movies, books, comic books, and video-games about the zombie invasion composes a strange but vivid counterfactual or alternate history of the world. This vast political “thought experiment” interrogates the contemporary societies, governments and varied political, military and security authorities and individuals: “What if” a massive threat emerged and had the means to rapidly saturate defense capabilities?

171px-Night_of_the_Living_Dead_afficheThe zombie invasion first struck the United States in 1968, with “The Night of the Living dead”, followed in 1978 by “Zombie-Dawn of the Dead” and in 1985 “Day of the Dead”, as well as “Land of the dead” (2005) and “Diary of the dead” (2007), one after the other having been realized by George A. Romero, the godfather of the American zombie culture. This “first wave” of “zombie proliferation”, from the sixties to the eighties, was largely directed by George R. Romero and followed the codes of horror movies, with an undercurrent of social critic.

The current invasion really started in 2002 with the powerful “28 Days Later” (Danny Boyle), and its impressive sequel “28 weeks later” (Fresnadillo), in 2008. In the same time “Dawn of the dead”, the remake of the 1978 movie, (Snyder) is released in 2004. This “second wave”, started at the beginning of this century, is post “9/11” then post wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is also “post Romero”,  and is permeated by the will to have a “realistic” treatment of their object, especially regarding the way the destruction of societies goes hand in hand with new extremes of violence (Jared Diamond, Collapse, 2005), which brutalize people and communities, while degrading politics.

Graffiti_in_Shoreditch,_London_-_World_War_Z_by_Paul_Don_Smith_(9425007908)by Paul Don Smith These movies tell stories of whole communities and cities, even of whole countries, such as Great Britain and France that are overwhelmed by the zombie plague. Alas, very soon, the zombie invasion widens into a worldwide war, which different human, military and political aspects are chronicled by Max Brooks in its novel “World War Z”, a global success (e.g. Michael Vlahos, “The civilizational significance of Zombies“, The Atlantic, June 18, 2013) and adapted by Hollywood (Forster) in 2013.

Meanwhile, zombies are not only colonizing the alternate present and future, but also our alternate past: immense armies of living dead are surging from the North, “Beyond the Wall”, when “winter is coming”, according to Game of Thrones, the huge best seller book series by George R.R. Martin, turned into an extremely successful TV series by HBO.

 Some of these chronicles are following the rules of “micro-history”, as The Walking Dead, the terribly impressive comic books series by Robert Kirkman, adapted into a TV series by AMC, which follows the grueling struggle for survival of the little community led by Rick Grimes, a former cop turned survivalist strategist. A long list of movies, cable movies, books and comics could be added to these, but these works are forming the current major references of the “Z history”.

The real meaning of the zombie invasion

To understand the strategic meaning of the proliferating zombie culture, it must be noted that all of these stories involve characters emerging from the military or security forces, which are involved in survival or counter-attacking the ever-growing mass of living dead.

It seems that zombies are able of only two forms of actions: feeding on living humans and, through biting, contaminating humans, which are then turned into zombies. This form of reproduction gives zombies the advantage of number, because it allows their population to grow very quickly exponentially, and thus turning the majority of the human population into zombies or into food, while contaminating indiscriminately, and, in particular, members of the defence and security community.

Leviathan_-_Hobbes'_Leviathan_(1651),_title_page_-_BLAnd so, as in the darkest periods of war, civil war and plague, human life is again “poor, solitary, nasty, brutish and short”, as defined in The Leviathan, when the political and social order promoted by the legitimate political authority (in this case the state) collapses, which unleashes the “war of all against all” (Hobbes, The Leviathan, 1651).

The ever-repeating pattern of zombie stories is that the zombie proliferation triggers a rapid and extremely violent collapse of any kind of political authority and large social structures. What is left are small, fortified or semi-nomadic communities, under constant threat, fighting for access to the rare vital resources left – food, water, and drugs – to insure their “sustainable survival”. In the same time, those last few remains of the human species are themselves turned into “resources” by the zombies, or by other groups, which survive through predation.

SurvivorZeroLogo1These stories show us what could happen if a brutal shortage of resources were to happen: the obliteration of the social contract, and the collapse of the state and government, through the destruction of police and military forces.

Decoding this pattern leads us to understand that “zombie wars” are, in fact, nothing but extrapolations of what resource wars (Klare, Resource wars, 2002) could be, or become, at a very large-scale for our industrial-consumerist economics and societies (Benjamin Barber, Consumed, 2008), which rely on constant flows of raw commodities, fuel, electricity, functioning infrastructures, drugs, and on the legitimate use of force through minutely defined social control (Kunstler, The Long emergency, 2005).

So, the zombie invasion culture condenses three powerful strategic features that have deeply traumatized past and present societies: epidemic surge, civil war and large-scale slaughter through mass destruction.

From “Zombie wars” to the future of strategy?

It must be noted that in 2012, the US Army has conducted the training exercise “Zombie Apocalypse” in an island near San Diego. The scenario was urban combat against a zombie invasion (Mulrine, No prank: on Halloween US military forces train for zombie apocalypse,The Christian Science Monitor, October 31, 2012).

zombie, strategy, strategic foresight and warning, resource war

In 2014, the Strategic Command, in charge of nuclear deterrence and space power, has published the “CONOP 8888” to “counter zombie dominance”, which, in fact, is “a training tool used in an in-house training exercise, where students learn about the basic concepts of military plans and order development, through a fictional training scenario. The document is not a U.S. Strategic Command plan” (Stratcom, 2014, cited by Lubold, Exclusive: the Pentagon has a plan to stop the zombie apocalypse. SeriouslyForeign Policy, May 13, 2014).

This convergence between the zombie culture and military training reveals a profound and complicated difficulty known these days by the US national security establishment (Valantin, Hollywood, The Pentagon and Washington, 2003): the extreme struggle to establish a united strategic definition of “the” threat. If, during the Cold War, the threat was the Soviet Union, this definition evolved during the 1990s and became centered on the dire effects of failing states and on globalization, before the emergence of the terrorist threat after 9/11.


Nowadays, strategically defining the threat necessitates to take into account new ecological parameters and risks, such as new epidemics threatening to become pandemics (e.g. the current Ebola epidemic), global warming, economic vulnerability throughout the poor, the emergent and, also, the developed world, new forms of social unrest, from the worldwide new hunger urban riots to the Arab springs, as well as new cycles of ideological radicalization (John Gray, Black Mass, Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia, 2007).

Here, we shall call this the “coming strategic singularity”, which could install entire countries into a state of deep and violent disruption, and pit communities against each other in unending resource wars.

The “Zombie figure” appears thus as a powerful semantic tool to express the need to understand the emerging strategic monsters that are going to be the systems created by the potential convergences of different categories and scales of contingencies. This new breed of monsters has already started to spawn.

For example, the Fukushima catastrophe emerged from the meeting of a Tsunami, which is a well-known natural risk, with a nuclear plant (Union of Concerned scientists, Fukushima: history of a nuclear disaster, 2014). Prior to the Japanese tragedy, such a situation had simply never occurred in the history of mankind and of the Earth. Other strategic singularities may very well be created.

The zombie narrative symbolizes this current state of political and strategic anguish, and, as such, is a powerful warning signal regarding the way the convergence of complex tensions and built-in vulnerabilities may well threaten nations in their very fabric.

Dr Jean-Michel Valantin (PhD Paris) leads the Environment and Security Department of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. He is specialised in strategic studies and defense sociology with a focus on environmental geostrategy.

Featured image: Call of Duty XP 2011 – Zombies challenge By The Community – Pop Culture Geek from Los Angeles, CA, USA [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

War and Peace in Ukraine: The Separatists (1)

The war in Eastern Ukraine has killed from 15 April to 20 June an estimated number of “423 people, including servicemen and civilians,” (UN HCHR statement, 24 June 2014), which, compared with our own estimate of 99 deaths up to May 15 shows the rising violence of the ongoing fighting. Slavyansk 29 June, DPR, LPR, Donestk, Luhansk, People's Republics, UkraineRefugees and Internally Displaced People (IDPs) from the East now reach “nearly 34,600″ people,  with nearly half of the displacements – estimated to 15,200 within the Donetsk and Luhansk regions – taking place “over the last two weeks”, i.e. after 6 June 2014. Russia estimates that it now hosts 16,700 Ukrainian refugees on its territory, notably in the region of Rostov (Ria Novosti, 27 June; 14,000 on 25 June 2014Itar-Tass). This, again, shows an intensification of the war and fear of renewed fighting. 

On 20 June, Petro Poroshenko, President of Ukraine, commanded a unilateral ceasefire that would last from 22:00 that day to 27 June to allow for the implementation of his peace plan in Eastern Ukraine, of course reserving the right to retaliate, would troops be attacked (President of Ukraine, 20 June 2014 20:13).

On 23 June a first negotiation took place involving “Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov, two representatives of the OSCE, former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, the head of the public organization “Ukrainian choice” Medvedchuk, the Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of Donetsk Alexander Boroday, and the leader of the movement “South-East”, Oleg Tsarev”, which led the insurgents to agree to a ceasefire until 27 June (RFE/RL Live blog, 23 June 20:41; Ria Novosti23 June).

On 27 June, right before the expiration of the cease-fire, a second meeting including the same representatives plus Battle aftermath, DPR, LPR, Donestk, Luhansk, People's Republics, Ukrainethe Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) delegation – who were late on 23 June – led by Alexei Koriakin (President of the  Assembly) took place. There, an extension of the cease-fire until 30 June, besides the exchange of a list of prisoners and the final release of the OSCE hostages were agreed (LPR official website, 27 June 19:48). Later in the evening, President Poroshenko announced that the cease-fire was indeed extended until 30 June 22:00 on decision of Ukraine National Security and Defense Council – NSDC (President of Ukraine, 28 June 2014 00:27).

Are the cease-fire and the peace plan a window of opportunity opening, which will allow moving Ukraine outside crisis and war and towards peace? As peace can never be achieved without considering all parties, what is the perspective of the “insurgents”, the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR)? What is their situation, including in terms of international support, and in which direction is it likely to evolve (next post)? As a result, are we moving towards peace or intensified war?

Truce and fire

Over the first two days following Poroshenko announcement, combats went on, each side mutually accusing the other to initiate fighting (e.g. Ukraine Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 25 June 2014 statement; for the DPR and LPR side, see Novorossia News Agency).

After what could have been a very brief cease-fire on 24 June, the truce was broken by 16:00 according to Russian agency Ria Novosti, as Eastern cities were shelled. Gubarev, DPR, LPR, Donestk, Luhansk, People's Republics, UkraineAccording to Paul Gubarev (ex People’s Governor of the DPR) Facebook page, the truce had never held, fire being notably exchanged, for example, in the region Semyonovka. Exchange of prisoners nevertheless took place (e.g. @DNRPress, 25 June 11:48) and the DPR finally released first four OSCE observers it held (OSCE, 27 June 2014) then all the remaining hostages (RFE/RL 29 June, 11:55).

Yet, mutual accusations to break the truce went on, for example over an attack of a National Slavyansk 29 June, DPR, LPR, Donestk, Luhansk, People's Republics, UkraineGuard checkpoint near Slavyansk – Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) version (see RBC-Ukraine, 29 June 16:59) – and the heavy shelling of Slavyansk including residential areas – DPR and LPR version, as well as many inhabitants through Youtube videos (RT, “Slavyansk residential districts ‘a mess’ after Kiev troops’ shelling, at least 3 killed (VIDEO)“, 29 June). 

A first possible and logical explanation for continuing and renewed fighting is, besides plain bad faith from any or all parties, that both sides attempted to use the cease-fire to move troops to better tactical and strategic positions, thus planning ahead for the end of the cease-fire. Obviously, the other side cannot let such move happen. A secondtweet Maidan 29 June, DPR, LPR, Donestk, Luhansk, People's Republics, Ukraine explanation is that peace-spoilers exist. Finally, and in a related way, we must also envision the possibility that Poroshenko may have less authority on the various elements composing the Ukrainian attacking forces than expected, and that he is under pressure to demonstrate Ukrainian strength, as shown by protests in Kiev demanding an end to the cease-fire, meanwhile also displaying anti-European sentiments  (e.g.  RFL/RE liveblog, 30 June 12:53 to 15:49).

The underlying logic is that the two parties do not really want peace: what they want if to achieve their objectives.

In any case, the continuing fighting underlines the high difficulty, if not impossibility, to implement a truce – or a peace plan – without the presence of many impartial observers, trusted by all parties, as underlined by  former President Kuchma on 26 June morning

“Unless we urgently ensure monitoring there, by observers from the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe), Russia and so on, each side will be blaming the other, and nothing will come out of it.” (Interfax-Ukraine, 26 June 2014)

Without proper monitoring, as a result of continuing fighting, distrust increases, which actually questions the very idea of a true window of opportunity towards peace in Ukraine that could be emerging. Indeed on both sides feelings are exacerbated.

However, the existing meetings also allow for progress and, among the points that were agreed during the 27 June consultations, we find that the situation on the ground during the cease-fire should be jointly monitored by OSCE observers (President of Ukraine, 28 June 2014 00:27), i.e. European and Russian observers (LPR official website, 27 June 19:48). It was obviously impossible to implement such a monitoring over a week-end, but should the cease-fire be extended, then we may start having proper conditions to see it being truly implemented.

New political entities fighting a foreign aggressor

From the start, when answering talks about the coming Ukrainian unilateral cease-fire to allow armed bands to disarm in the East, the Donetsk People’s Republic had emphasized it refused to lay down weapons, thinking it would be a “ploy” (Novorossia, 18 June 2014).

DPR Flag, LPR, Donestk, Luhansk, People's Republics, Ukraine LPR flag, DPR, LPR, Donestk, Luhansk, People's Republics, UkraineThe DPR and LPR perceive themselves as independent sovereign Republics. They see themselves as domestically legitimated by the 11 May 2014 referendum (see Setting the stage), even though they are aware that they still lack the international component of legitimacy. They have indeed started working towards obtaining it, first writing to the UN then sending a request to fourteen states for the LPR to two (Serbia and South Ossetia), besides Russia, for the DPR, so far without much success, as only South-Ossetia, itself only internationally recognized by four states, accepted to recognize the LPR on 18 June (see LPR Official website, 23 June; 19 May;  for a summary, see ITAR-TASS, 20 June 2014 ) .

Thus, from their point of view, they are facing an invasion by a foreign state and when or if negotiating do so from an equal footing. As a result, they answered to Kiev’s 15 point peace plan with their own 7 conditions (see below for the full text of the two statements). They also reiterated during the 27 June negotiations that the creation of a full delegation to negotiate that should follow the 30 June deadline could only happen if there was a full withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from their territories (LPR official website, 27 June 19:48), which will obviously not take place. Note, that the list of exigence that are to be met by 30 June spelled out by President Poroshenko and the NSDC is as unrealistic, especially in 3 days (President of Ukraine, 28 June 2014 00:27), and underlines again how far apart both sides have grown.

Internationally, the position of the two People’s Republics is not that different from the claims held by various independency movements in the post-1945 world, during the period of self-determination.

The Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics’s evolving structure

Politically (and militarily), the two People’s Republics are structured as shown in the graph Donetsk, Luhansk, Ukraine, Peoples' Republic, DPR, LPR, Donestk, Luhansk, People's Republics, Ukraine(click here or on image for a larger graph). It has been constructed out of documents and statements stemming from the official DPR (not up to date) and LPR websites, twitter thread (@dnrpress DPR), Novorossia news agency to which were added mentions found on various actors’ FB pages, or emanating from Russian news agency (Itar Tass and Ria Novosti) in their Russian version as the English ones are often different. Considering the fluidity of the situation, changes are to be expected.

Donetsk, Luhansk, Ukraine, Peoples' Republic, DPR, LPR, Donestk, Luhansk, People's Republics, UkraineCurrently the DPR and LPR have decided to create a confederate Union of People’s Republics (UPR – Союз народных республик – СНР), which is a smart move to facilitate organization and fighting. The Union was adopted by the Supreme Council of the DPR on 24 June 2014 (Ria Novosti) and by the Supreme Council of the LPR on 25 June. It was ratified in Donetsk by the Union Parliament on 26 June (Novorossia). The overall population of the UPR would be estimated to 6.56 million (4.33 million for the Donestk region and 2.23 million for Luhansk region – Ukrstat, 2014).

Motorolla, DPR, LPR, Donestk, Luhansk, People's Republics, UkraineAccording to Itar-Tass (infographics, no date), but no other source could confirm or infirm those data, militarily, they would have between 1800 and 3500 fighters for the DPR and between 3000 and 4000 fighters, including a 500 women support and logistic battalion for the LPR. The UPR forces would thus count between 4800 and 7500 fighters. Note also that on 20 June the creation of a new division of miners was announced by the DPR, while mobilization is ongoing (Ria Novosti, 24 June).

For the sake of comparison and everything being equal, ISIS – or rather the new “Islamic State” – would fight in Iraq with 5000-6000 of its own fighters to which should be added “4000 from allied Iraqi Sunni groups” (Rubin & Godon, 22 June 2014, New York Times). Its fighters benefit notably from the experience of the war in Syria.

A detailed list – that would need to be confirmed by other sources -of weapons available to the two Republics can be found on the Russian Wikipedia pages for the DPR and the Army of South East (LPR – section not updated), with possible origin for each weapon. Hurricane, Nona, DPR, LPR, Donestk, Luhansk, People's Republics, UkraineSmall arms and light weapons are most probably readily available and, according to the 24 June 2014 UN HCHR statement, “there is an increase in arms”. We do not know however which type of arms nor if they have been taken from the opposite force or come from other sources.

With the forthcoming post, next week, we shall continue examining the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, focusing on their situation, which is quite challenging. We shall evaluate if it is conducive to war or to peace.


15 points versus 7 conditions

Peaceful plan of the President of Ukraine on the settlement of the situation in eastern regions of Ukraine

  1. Security guarantees for all the participants of negotiations.
  2. Amnesty for those who laid down weapons and didn’t commit serious crimes.
  3. Liberation of hostages.
  4. Establishment of 10 km long buffer zone on the Ukrainian-Russian border. Withdrawal of illegal armed formations.
  5. Secure corridor for the escape of Russian and Ukrainian mercenaries.
  6. Disarmament.
  7. Establishment of units for joint patrolling in the structure of the MIA.
  8. Liberation of illegally seized administrative premises in Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
  9. Restoration of functioning of local government.
  10. Restoration of central television and radio broadcasting in Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
  11. Decentralization of power (through the election of executive committees, protection of Russian language; draft amendments to the Constitution).
  12. Coordination of governors with representatives of the Donbas before the elections (in case of the approval of single candidature, in case of discrepancies – the decision is taken by the President).
  13. Early local and parliamentary elections.
  14. Program of creating jobs in the region.
  15. Restoration of industrial objects and objects of social infrastructure.” (President of Ukraine, 20.06.2014 20:30).

For their part, the leaders of the two People’s Republic, as well as the movement “People’s Front” set seven conditions that should be respected to see the start of “substantive negotiations”.

Seven Conditions for the Start of Substantive Negotiations

  1. Withdrawal from the territory of the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republic of the national guards, illegal armed groups and groups of Kolomoiski and right sector, as well as the Ukrainian army units responsible for the killings of civilians.
  2. Payments by Kiev of compensation to the bereaved families of civilians.
  3. Payments by Kiev to the residents of the Republics compensation for destroyed homes.
  4. Kiev compensation payments to municipalities for damage to utility infrastructure made by Ukrainian troops.
  5. Payments by Kiev of compensation to owners of destroyed industrial facilities.
  6. Agreement by the Ukrainian President and the Parliament on the draft Constitutional Act, defining the status of the People’s Republic.
  7. Amnesty to all participants of the militia and to all political prisoners who are in Ukrainian prisons.” (Central News Agency Novorossia Novorus.info, Statement Oleg Tsarov, decided on Friday 20 June see Ria Novosti, 23 June – translation Google)

Egypt and Climate Security

Since 2008, when massive food riots took place, followed by the “Arab spring revolution” in 2011, Egypt has become a land of political, religious and social conflicts (Krista Mahr, “Bread is life: food and protest in Egypt“, Time Magazine, January 31, 2011; Georges Corm, Le Proche-Orient éclaté, 2012), some of them between armed militant and religious factions on the one hand, the police, the military and the secret services, on the other. Meanwhile the civil society strongly emerges.

Beyond spectacular events, the causes of these domestic political and religious conflicts are rooted, among other factors, into international and climate change dynamics.


In effect, Egypt’s society and politics are deeply affected by the entanglement of economic, political, environmental and climate change trends (Werrell and Femia, The Arab Spring and Climate Change, 2013). The current political, religious and security tensions reveal what might be the greatest challenge Egypt, as a country and as a civilization, has ever had to face: the emergence of climate change and the way it could endanger the very fabric of Egyptian society.

Today, Egypt, as all countries and as all the living beings on this planet, is entering a new era, defined by the strengthening of climate change dynamics and their deeply transformative consequences on its national and international security.

The new plagues of Egypt?

The current political life of Egypt seems dominated not by climate change, but by the complex interactions between the military, an emerging civil society (Nicola Brooks, “Egyptians form grassroots movements to tackle urban issues“, Al Arabiya news, 13 April 2014), and religious militants movements and Islamist terrorists (Corm, ibid). In fact, this tense situation is deeply rooted in the dangerous combination of the fragile social, economic, infrastructural realities and the national and international effects of climate change.

The extreme weather events that affected the international cereals market in 2010 and 2011 are a good example of this new global threat, because Egypt is the EGypTarticleLargefirst importer of wheat in the world and suffered economically and politically of the ensuing food rising prices (Valantin, “Sustainability and security: the future of Egypt?” 2014). This combination has powerful political effects, as it puts the poorest people on the verge of hunger, thus feeds political and religious dynamics of radicalization and violence (Klare, The Coming Global Explosion, 2013).

Another climate related emerging threat lies in the way geography determines the repartition of 80% of Nile_River_and_delta_from_orbitthe population, which protects itself from the desert by living in Cairo and in the narrow Nile Delta. The littoral of the Delta is almost at the level of the sea, and only 240 km long. This geo-social reality could become a major trap in the years to come, according to the World Bank and the IPCC, because of the expected rise of the Mediterranean Sea of at least 30 centimetres during the next eighty years (World Bank, The impact of sea level rise on developing countries: A comparative analysis, policy research paper 4136, 2007; IPCC fifth assessment, Climate change, impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, 2014).

This risk of submersion is reinforced by the way the ground of the Nile Delta is literally sinking, the river not bringing enough sediment any more, as it is blocked 700 kilometers upstream by the giant Aswan dam, built in 1973.

The rising sea and the sinking ground are thus transforming the Nile Delta into a “topographic danger zone” (Hélène Lavoix, 2014). For more than forty years, the Delta has known a high demographic growth and urban densification, while remaining the main agricultural region of the country. According to the World Bank (ibid), if the sea rises of one meter between today and 2100, more than 10% of the population, mainly in the Delta, would be impacted, and it would hit 12.5% of the agricultural production, knowing that Egypt must already import half of its food.

In other terms, 8 to 10 million people (the Egyptian population is 80 million strong today, and expected to keep on growing) could become inner climate refugees, Security_was_especially_tight_after_a_series_of_bombings_ripped_through_Cairo_on_24th_January_2014_-_25-Jan-2014in a country where the available living space is already saturated and, even worse, shrinking because of the growing demographic pressure. This is happening in a country where some radicalized faith-based movements are committed to armed violence (The Guardian, “6 Egyptian military police killed as gunmen attack checkpoint“, 15 March 2014).

These dangerous life conditions meet the new power games, as explained in the previous post, centered on the sharing of the Nile water, the quasi-only source of water for Egypt (Franck Galland, Chroniques géopolitiques de l’eau, 2014). All of the upstream riparian countries, Uganda for the Blue Nile and Ethiopia for the White Nile, South Sudan and Sudan, need a larger share of the river, given the growth of their populations and, especially for Ethiopia, their economic development (Galland, ibid).

These new needs create political tensions between the riparian countries and Egypt that may only increase, knowing that, according to the IPCC, the rate of annual rain and thus of available surface water may decrease during the coming decades (IPCC fifth assessment, ibid).

However, in the same time, since 2013, Egypt benefits from a renewed political and strategic solidarity from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. This new solidarity helps the Egyptian government to cover its financial, food and energy needs and is politically motivated by a common strategy of prevention of any further degradation of the economic, social and political conditions of Egypt (Mada Masr, “Saudi aid expected to flow after the elections“, February 5, 2014).

This Saudi-Egyptian cooperation is hoped to prevent the poorest people to join religious radicalized movements, like the Muslim Brotherhood, in reaction to the degradation of the lives of their families. In other words, Saudi Arabia helps the state of Egypt to remain sustainable for strategic reasons, in order to weaken the social support to Islamist movements across the Arab world, movements that both the Saudi and Egyptian governments understand as being dangerous for their legitimacy and their stability (Jason Burke, 9/11 wars, 2011).

The coming politics and strategies of climate change?

These politics and strategies of security and sustainability constitute a first kind of reactions to problems induced by the social-demographic-economic-climate nexus (Fritzsche and Ruettinger, Environment, Climate Change and Security in the Southern Mediterranean, Review report, Adelphi, 2013). In this framework, one must remember that Egypt has built itself on politics and grand strategies elaborated to overcome that very kind of challenge (Jacques Berque, L’Egypte, Impérialisme et Révolution, 1967).


During antiquity, the Pharaonic political system was protecting society from inner struggles, foreign invasion and environmental disasters, such as the yearly Nile floods, turned into the main support for agriculture through vast irrigation works. Thus, the state was ensuring the vital crops that turned Egypt into a “Mediterranean wheat granary” during centuries (Berque, ibid).


Today, climate change and resources depletion pulls the world into a new era of forced adaptation (IPCC, ibid), which, in the case of Egypt, appears to be by now the only alternative to the collapse (Jared Diamond, Collapse, 2005) that could result from the synergy of food, water and sea level rise crises.

A national adaptation to these new and evolving conditions implies to renew the legitimacy relationship between the political authorities and the population, through strategies that are not “simply” of social control, security and defence, but involve the emergence of a common national purpose (Edward Luttwak, Strategy, the logic and war and peace, 2001).

Choosing a future?

As the new Constitution of the Republic of Egypt, approved in 2014, establishes, the state must protect the environment and the natural and economic resources, as well as the infrastructures that the society needs for its sustainability. In order to give Egypt a livable future, the Egyptian government will have to devise what we shall call a “grand strategy of adaptation to climate change”.


The ability or inability of the different political authorities, especially governments (the Mubarak government ousted by the “Arab Spring”, then Morsi’s, ousted by the Tamarod Movement and the military), define the way those political authorities can, or not, protect the population from the vital danger that a pronounced rise in the food and energy prices could bring, and thus, by the same token, these authorities’ very legitimacy. When this legitimacy and authority weaken, the means to protect the population decrease, while the risks of radicalization and violence increase (John Gray, Black Mass, Apocalyptic religion and the death of Utopia, 2007). 

Thus, the present political situation shows the importance for the very survival of the country of the way the Egyptian legitimate authorities will shift, or not, to “grand strategies of adaptation” over the next twenty years.

The current struggle between the government and religious extremist factions, while coping with a giant economic and food crisis (Reuters, “Egypt has less than 2 months imported wheat, says ex-minister”, Al Arabiya, 11 July 2013), and the renewed foreign policy that accompanies it, gives us some indications about the path to the future that is currently chosen, between renewed sustainability and collapse (Diamond, ibid). Even if it is in the midst of great difficulties (Fritzsche and Ruettinger, ibid), Egypt seems to be choosing sustainability.

The option toward sustainability permeates the current axes of the new Egyptian foreign policy. On the one hand, the Egyptian diplomacy develops new economic alliances with Arab countries. It also wages, on the other hand, an international advocacy campaign to keep 55% share of the Nile water for Egypt (Michael Klare, Resource wars, 2002), despite the ongoing building of the “Renaissance dam” of Ethiopia, which is going to lessen the downstream flow of water when the regional climate may become ever more arid (IPCC, ibid).

327px-River_Nile_mapThis international strategy will necessitate strong continuity between domestic and foreign policies, as well as the creation of regional ways and means to manage African and Middle Eastern interdependencies in the context of climate change.

These continuities from domestic national security issues to regional and international politics may produce a grand strategy that strengthens the present and future social cohesion of Egypt against the risk of further radicalization of domestic politics, even though the collective life conditions may increasingly be at risk.

The success, or not (Acemoglu and Robinson, Why nations fail, 2012), of this grand strategy, will be the political basis for the legitimacy of the government, and a very important tool to prevent radicalization and violent social chaos by guaranteeing the material and political basis of social cohesion.

Furthermore, a national grand strategy of adaptation to climate change could also be a way to unite the Egyptian people against the common and collectively experienced threat of climate change, as well as a common political unifying goal. 640px-Giza_pyramid01(js)The vast endeavours that it would imply, such as the creation of a dike system along the Delta littoral against the rising of the sea, could deeply resonate with the tradition of public works and environmental management, from the building of the ancient pyramids 5000 years ago to the great Aswan Dam.

In other words, and against all odds, climate adaptation could be an innovative way, rooted in its history, for the Egyptian civilization to protect and project itself in the future.

Dr Jean-Michel Valantin leads the environment and security division at The Red (Team) Analysis Society.

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly No139, 13 February 2014

Editorial – Storms and floods, harbinger of multifaceted changes: While the US knows a very cold winter, Western Europe is hit by the ninth storm since 17 December 2013, each bringing destruction and floods in its wake. This shows first, in a somehow novel way, that so-called “rich and developed”countries can be relentlessly hit by what is most probably a consequence of climate change. Here we are faced with storms and related floods, but other types of extreme weather events could also occur. Second, these storms start giving us an idea of how this vulnerability will most probably have multifaceted and mammoth impacts.

Actually, this issue is far from being completely new. We have already underlined the high likelihood to see this issue coming to the fore in “A road to hell” and have explored with a scenario in The Chronicles of Everstate some of its potential  impact (read 2018 – 2023 EVT – Complex catastrophes and following posts). Yet, monitoring undeniable indications (signals) that the problem is happening here and now is a novelty.

The polemic that the floods in the UK generated, as reported by the Huffington Post in “Foreign Aid Or Flood Relief?“, as well as the very heated debates we can read in the comments following the article, exemplifies what is also most probably at stake here: a potential redefinition of foreign policy, notably in its aid and development component, and a change of the normative setting presiding to the world order.

As more people are directly impacted in their everyday lives by climate change, they will expect their political authorities to ensure their security first. As the overall resources of the state will also be hit by extreme weather events (would it be only through a loss of economic activity, to say nothing of the net loss of wealth) and as public deficit are already straining public policies, cut will have to be made in budgets, and aid and development is a very likely target for this.

Actors benefiting and living from the old order, not only people receiving aid but also IGOs, NGOs, consultants, experts, specific businesses, etc. will most certainly fight not to see their livelihood dwindle, which means that we shall see heated ideological debates and polarization. Short of a miracle or real black swan event, maybe of a grey swan event (and making one happen would be a smart strategy for those living of aid and cooperation), it is most likely that they will lose this battle, as the mission of political authorities is to ensure the security of their citizens, not of other countries’ populations. For example, in democracies, people will vote for those who will offer solutions to their problems, not for those who promise to help far away people.

As a result, the humanitarian norms that have been embedded in the international system will most probably change, assuming they are not just abandoned, which in turn will have strong impact on the way to define and conduct international policy.

Meanwhile, this week is also rich with signals on lasting, spreading or renewed issues, such as tension in East Asia, doubts on global financial health and related economic issues, crisis in Ukraine, Greece, Bosnia, and now Venezuela, war in Syria, etc. This is almost “business as usual”, although the piling up of signals, week after week, shows escalation and global instability.

Click on the image below to read on Paper.Li

Horizon scanning, risk, war, security, warning, signal

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly No129, 5 December 2013

Editorial – A window of opportunity to regain some legitimacy? What do Hansen’s new study on the inanity of the current goals of the international community to mitigate climate change and the Council of Europe report regarding the terrible impact of austerity measures on European citizens have in common? The answer is legitimacy, or rather illegitimacy and is emphasized by Hansen: “We started this paper to provide a basis for legal actions against governments in not doing their jobs in protecting the rights of young people and future generations,” he said.” Governments and state or quasi-state administrations have lost a large part of their legitimacy, and by the actions and decisions that led to this dire situation have started a worrying vicious spiral: lack of legitimacy means that it is increasingly difficult to govern and thus to be efficient in ensuring the security of citizens, which in turns leads to even less legitimacy. If this spiral is not stopped at some point, then even Hansen’s goal could “relatively quickly” become obsolete: to take a legal action against a government demands to use the judicial system, which is also part of the system that is being increasingly delegitimized. More constructively, Hansen’s threat and the Council of Europe’s report, by openly, clearly and loudly saying what so many citizens think also open a window of opportunity for governments and states to start working towards reconstructing the legitimacy they have lost, which will also means confronting divergent interests…  a difficult and challenging but also potentially mobilizing task.

Click on the image below to read on Paper.Li

horizon scanning, crisis detection, signal, national security

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly No127, 21 November 2013

Editorial – This week, three main themes stand out. They are unsurprising as we have been following them for a while, yet they show how difficult it may be to warn about an issue, i.e. to convince a client or an audience that a signal is neither noise nor anymore weak but strong (e.g. changes in the Middle-East for the U.S.), that warning may not be properly heard for self-interested reasons, but then with potentially more serious consequences (the crisis and legitimacy), and how (relatively) new signals may start emerging from older ones (e.g. Climate change, science and religion).
First of all, there is the Middle-East and the North-African region, which is definitely being redrawn, with an increasingly denounced blindness by the U.S. – which, of course, participates actively in the strategic evolution. I particularly recommend “Obama’s Middle East Debacle” by Michael Doran (Brookings). The uncertainties in Egypt and the increasingly worrying situation in Libya only add to the generalizing changes.
Then, we have the overall loss of legitimacy of the political elite and of governments that goes with the political aftermath of the financial crisis and the ongoing changes that were decided to answer it… despite ongoing beliefs that the crisis is over. This may well be the case, financially, both for a narrowing global class of happy few and for the enlarged, no less global, number of poor, as the two groups are now experiencing new opposite continuous realities. Yet, if the price to pay to obtain this new order was a loss of legitimacy, a new crisis, of a different kind, may well be looming, and the order may not last long.
Finally, there is climate change, extreme weather events, natural catastrophes and their multi-dimensional impacts, including – and this is where this week articles are so interesting – on the values and norms that are fundamentally legitimizing modernity, thus our political systems. The revival of religion versus, or maybe alongside, science is an important trend that should be integrated in our foresight and warning efforts, as a crucial factor.
Interestingly too, all of those themes interact and contribute to create the new strategic landscape in the making.

Click on the image below to read on Paper.Li

Red (Team) Analysis, horizon scanning, strategic warning, risk

Strategic Intelligence Assessment for Syria (4) – State of Play Part III

(see last update, 27 January 2014 for the Syrian Sunni Factions here – Note that major changes have taken place since the initial State of Play was written, hence reading also the update in crucial and 24 February 2014 for the Jihadis, here).

This post will be the last one that presents the current state of play and the five categories of actors fighting in and over Syria.

The rise of the two groups of factions presented below – the Syrian Sunni factions intending to install an Islamist state in Syria and the Sunni extremist factions with a global jihadi agenda – as well as their mobilization power has been, first, eased by the protracted quality of the conflict and the despair it implied among Syrian people. It was then facilitated by the initial inability of the moderates to find support in the West, thus to demonstrate their power.

Syrian Sunni factions intending to install an Islamist state in Syria

The first nexus is composed of more extreme Islamist groups – compared with those seen previously – and of “Nationalist Salafis” groups – to use Lund (2013:14) terminology, noting that scholar of Jihad in Syria, Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi questions the very dichotomy between Nationalist Salafis and Jihadi Salafis (see below update 8 July).

Nationalist Salafis want to create an Islamic Sharia state in Syria. Lund (2013: 14) quotes Abdulrahman Alhaj, an expert on Syrian Islamism he interviewed in January 2013: Continue reading Strategic Intelligence Assessment for Syria (4) – State of Play Part III

Strategic Intelligence Assessment for Syria (3) – State of Play Part II – The Kurds

The Kurds in Syria

Syrian Kurds(Updated 10 February 2014 – click here to reach the update directly) The Kurds in Syria have their own agenda, which will determine their actions. As the other Kurdish communities in the region, their priority is to create a semi-autonomous Kurdistan where they live, notably in the NorthEast of Syria. Kurdish enclaves in Syria can also be found around Jarabulus – North – and Afrin – Northwest, North of Aleppo (Tejel, 2009: xiii). As analyzed by Spyer, their recent history tells the Kurds in Syria that mastering their own destiny is the only way to live decently and according to their own way of life, thus benefiting for once from the bounty of their land, in terms of oil and crops (Spyer, March 9 2013). The Syrian Kurds’ objective was again reasserted by Sipan Hamo, commander-in-chief of the People’s Protection Committees or People’s Defense Units (YPG – the armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), the main Kurdish political force in Syria, see below), in a statement on 4 April 2013: “We will not bargain with any side at the expense of the Kurdish people.” (van Wilgenburg, April 5 2013, AlMonitor).

The Syrian Kurds have already achieved an important part of their goal as they are largely Continue reading Strategic Intelligence Assessment for Syria (3) – State of Play Part II – The Kurds

Strategic Intelligence Assessment for Syria (2) – State of Play Part I – Pro-Assad Groups and Moderate Opposition Forces

(Last updates 24 February 2014 here for the Pro-Assad regime groups and  here for the NC)

Keeping in mind the complex and fluid character of the situation in Syria we addressed last week, this post and the next will present the current state of play and the various categories of actors fighting in and over Syria, namely the pro-Assad groups, the moderate opposition forces and the Muslim Brotherhood “related” groups, the Islamist groups fighting for an Islamist state in Syria, the groups linked to a global Jihadi Front, and, finally, the Kurds in Syria, without forgetting the external actors. Scenarios for the future will follow from this assessment. The scenarios will then evolve, notably in terms of likelihood, from changes on the battleground and in interactions between all actors.main actors 3


Pro-Assad regime groups

The regime and government of Bashar al-Assad has lost full domestic legitimacy (or there would not be a civil war) and a large part of international legitimacy, but it remains

Continue reading Strategic Intelligence Assessment for Syria (2) – State of Play Part I – Pro-Assad Groups and Moderate Opposition Forces

Stabilising a Protest Movement? Some Lessons from History (2)

Last week, we suggested that looking at a past protest movement, why it was born, how demonstrators mobilised and according to which space-time pattern, could help us understanding better what is happening nowadays in many countries. As the current protest movements spread, multiply and recur, it is most likely that we are faced with escalating situations. Understanding how political authorities, in the past, managed to stabilize a protest movement could shed light on the political decisions taken in the present. This knowledge gives us tools and indicators to assess and monitor various contemporary situations and evaluate their future dynamics.

Blind first response: escalating a protest movement

serment du jeu de Paume, David, escalation, protest movementThen, the political authorities initial feedback actions occurred as soon as the movement  appeared, in November 1915. They were not stabilising but escalating, as they did not end the protest but, on the contrary, increased it. Indeed, the answers dealt with only one part (the 1915 prestations) of the multiple motivations for escalation (all the issues that created the rising inequalities, as well as the related resentment and feelings of injustice), and were built upon the complete lack of understanding of the situation. They incorporated the belief in a potential plot, rather than considering the real causes for grievances.

This underlines that stabilising actions must be related to the reasons for escalation, and adds that partial solutions are not stabilising. It thus emphasises the crucial importance of understanding and the difficulty to obtain a realistic analysis when one is prey to biases and when one does not have time to reflect but must act immediately.

Stabilisation phase 1: Listening and immediate feasible redress

The first phase of the stabilising actions was to increase the authority’s understanding of the ‘opposition’ and of the situation, while taking immediate measures to show protestors they had been heard and taken seriously. Throughout January 1916, the peaceful and mainly non-violent demonstrations in Phnom Penh on the one hand, the dual authority willingness to listen and understand, on the other, allowed for real communication (i.e. exchange and listening truly to others, not communication campaigns created by advertisers and spin doctors) and consequent understanding to arise, with the exception of the Prey Veng Resident caught up in his anti-German fears. The authorities took note of the various reasons for discontent and gave immediate satisfaction to the protestors on the feasible and most urgent points, such as the buy-back of prestations done by a 22 January 1916 Royal Ordinance. By 1st February, the number of demonstrators reaching Phnom Penh had decreased to a few hundred.

Manifesto Real Democracy Now, protest movement, grievances

Nowadays, hardly anyone truly listens to demonstrators. At best, some quick anti-austerity, stimulus packages are constructed, according to old recipe, but demands and grievances are usually dismissed, when the protests are not completely ignored. The responses that are given are done according to the wishes of the most powerful actors and lobbyists, and following cognitive models that may not reflect anymore the entire reality.

Stabilisation phase 2: Rebuilding trust and asserting legitimate authority

The second phase was to increase the feeling of understanding and communication and to build trust to permit in-depth work towards reforms. The permanent commission of the council of ministers under leadership of the Résident Supérieur began to reflect on the peasants’ grievances. The King, after having condemned violence, abuse and the massive protests in Phnom Penh because they favoured unrest, issued a proclamation that detailed all grievances and announced that they would be seriously examined. Thus, by 10 February, the situation in Phnom Penh was judged normal.

A reassertion of the authority’s monopoly of violence through selective and just use of force accompanied these two phases. In the provinces, as the authorities had understood the three phases of the movement, it had the possibility to discriminate between different kinds of leaders and to know where and how violence originated. Thus, the state could reassert its monopoly of violence in a selective and proper way. The central authority struggled against any provincial authorities’ unjustified use of violence and against excessive and unfair punishment (all intrinsically escalating) and penalised them when they happened.

Thus, the means of violence remained in the hands of the authorities, which prevented the perception of a waning authority that would have led to more escalation. For example, towards the end of the movement, the villagers helped the authorities to suppress agitation and arrest agitating leaders.

The fundamental beliefs of the population and the specific structure of religious institutions and practices were understood and considered. Escalating ways to take advantage of the latter were prevented: in agreement with the heads of the two Buddhist branches  (Mohanikay and Thommayut), all travels by monks to Siam were suspended and all pagodas informed of this measure to prevent rebellious leaders using Buddhist robes and Pagodas networks to escape the authorities.

In the meantime, from the second part of February 1916 onwards, the King and the ministers, representing respectively the symbolic and acting parts of the Kampuchean authority, toured the most agitated provinces, explaining the proclamation, and the reforms on the one hand, scolding villagers for their behaviour, on the other. These tours first reinforced the feeling of communication and understanding and second lent legitimacy to the authorities’ actions and declaration of future actions. Third, they contributed to ensure that potentially remaining demonstrators would not travel to Phnom Penh and that they would not drag along other villagers, thus decreasing opportunities for violence. Residents similarly toured the less agitated provinces.

By the end of February 1916, the movement had ended.

Compared with our present, the difference is that, in many countries, even if national, regional and international political authorities travel frequently, they do so without the first phase of stabilisation having taken place, without grievances having being heard and without true communication. The shell, the appearance of communication has been kept but is the substance still there?

Disregard for historically constructed beliefs and norms, including fundamental respect for others (see below the video produced by the Greek Omikron Project struggling against constant slights), as not only religious ideas must be considered, also have the potential for transforming what should have been stabilising in escalating actions, witness, for example, Mrs Lagarde outraging comment on Greek citizens, or, more recently, Mrs Merkel’s trip to Greece and Ireland. Even if reactions are not – or not yet – mainstream and widely shared, the fact that they already exist collectively is a signal that something is amiss, as the master work of political scientist James Scott emphasises.

The means of violence definitely remain in the hand of the political authorities, but is their use perceived as just and legitimate, considering the fact that the other stabilising elements tend, so far, to be lacking?

Then, symbolic and coercive power interacted, mutually reinforced each other and lent legitimacy to the authority-system. Now, they do not.

Stabilisation phase 3: in-depth reforms

In Cambodia, the third phase, in-depth reforms, could now begin, as promises had been made with the King’s proclamation that had to be held. The Résident Supérieur took immediate measures aimed at reducing abusive or erroneous practices in tax collection, prestations and requisitions. For example, he recommended that Residents get closer to the population by multiplying tours to ensure effective control of the lower levels of the Kampuchean administrative apparatus, while posters were put up in all villages to explain to the inhabitants which taxes were owed by whom. Meanwhile, the dual authority had to examine the validity of the other complaints and to propose reforms, that were studied, discussed, enacted and applied by the end of 1917.

Thus, we can see first that communication and pooling of resources at all levels of the politico-administrative apparatus in a bottom-up and horizontal fashion were necessary to permit stabilising actions. The authority worked in a dual fashion and, even if final decision-making power remained vested in the French, it still reflected joint work, as the Resident did not discard the suggestions of the Assembly, but incorporated most of them into the final decisions.

Second, the speed with which actions were taken and the visibility of the first phase of actions that compensated for those that had to be delayed probably strongly contributed to the stabilisation.

New deal, multi dimensional stabilisation program, stabilisation, protests

Finally, this case confirms the necessity of multi-dimensional actions truly addressing the grievances of the protestors, selective and fair use of force and the importance of sustained and persistent efforts. The dual authority had taken the measure of the discontent and consequent risks, persisted in its stabilising efforts, and thus stabilised the situation for the next twenty years.

Why is it not happening today?

Many factors come to mind. Among the most obvious, first, we must recall that the 1915-1916 Cambodian protests movement was very large, relatively, and thus the shock for and risk to the political authorities was important. Most movements nowadays do not meet this criteria (see previous post). The incentives to truly consider protestors’ grievances and to actively endeavour the various phases necessary for a stabilisation thus lack. Furthermore, many of the countries where the protests take place are liberal democracies. In the  shallow understanding of Democracy (contrasted with what Kant’s political writings taught us and that Doyle reminds us), the election process mainly, or even only, is understood as granting legitimacy to citizens’ representatives and the resulting government. The latter may thus believe it is enough to be elected or re-elected to be fully legitimate. As hypothesized earlier, the type of political regime into which protests take place may affect  the credibility of the movement and its dynamics.

Second, the Cambodian peasants showed their willingness to use violence. Currently, save, so far, for Syria and Libya, and for short outbursts of violence elsewhere, most of the movements are not only peaceful but also underline this aspect as one of their ideals. In terms of political dynamics, this begs the question of the possibility of successful completely peaceful political actions. To take an example further away from revolutions and escalation towards civil war, unions’ movements and actions involved much violence. The success of Gandhi non-violent movement springs to mind here, but it took place against the backdrop of other very violent actions, while the overall situation was largely different.

Estates-General of 1789, revolution, old, outdated orderLast but not least, we are probably in an overall escalating phase, where the various institutions that have been built in the past are not anymore fully adequate to deal with the reality of a transformed present, of a potential paradigm shift, of the multiple pressures that we must face while having largely contributed to create them. It is thus hardly surprising that actions grounded in the past lack a stabilizing character, as everything, from capacities to understanding and beliefs, must be adapted, transformed, sometimes created if we want to properly handle changes and be ready for the future. In this framework, protest movements are a constructive and crucial component of ours societies’ evolutions as it is only through the interactions they prompt, through the change they impose that a new better adapted system may hope to emerge.


See previous post for archival references.

Kant, Immanuel, Political Writings edited by Hans Reiss, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1991).

Doyle, Michael W. 1983. “Kant, Liberal Legacies and Foreign Affairs,” Part 1 and 2, Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 12, nos. 3-4 (Summer and Fall).

Scott, James, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. Yale University Press, 1985.