French Chief of General Staff: The world order is being reorganized around the U.S.-China competition, and all countries will be forced to take sides

In an interview with Francois Lecointre, chief of general staff of the French army, published in Le Figaro on May 22, the latter said, “We are heading toward a reorganization of the world order, which revolves around the rivalry between the United States and China. In this restructuring, all the countries of the world will be forced to choose their positions.” He said, “France and Europe must represent a balanced path by relying on strategic partners.”

In Lecointré’s view, the risk of conflict will increase by 2030. Tensions will be more serious than they are today, and the risk of escalation will be greater. He noted that “at the end of the Cold War, some naively believed that ‘history had ended’ and that there would be no more major conflicts. But in some developing countries, especially in the Arab-Muslim world, there are already seeds of internal frustration.” It also expressed its opposition to the Western world, which is seen as dominant and hegemonic. According to Lecointerre, “This frustration has led to a desire for revenge. We saw the consequences at the beginning of the 21st century, and then the attacks in France.” He said, “We will see them for a long time to come. This danger is immediately perceptible to our society because it manifests itself in the form of terrorism.”

According to Lecointerre, “Regional actors also base some of their demands on radicalized nationalism. In addition to these threats, there are other phenomena in Africa: demographic imbalances, climate change and the apparent difficulty of democratic institutions in most countries there. The weakness of the state has led to a growing number of crises. There is no reason to believe that this instability will end in ten or twenty years.” “In addition to these dangers, the re-emergence of unchecked powers that challenge stability and international law also contributes to the risk,” Lecointerre continued. These are obviously Russia and China first and foremost, but also regional powers such as Iran,” he said.

“We are moving toward a reorganization of the world order that revolves around the competition between the United States and China,” said Lecointerre. In this reorganization, he argued, “all countries in the world will be forced to choose positions. It will be very difficult, precisely because neither France nor Europe is interested in it. This is crucial even if there is no question of questioning our relationship with the United States; we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into a possible undifferentiated confrontation between China and the United States”. In his opinion, “France and Europe must represent a balanced path from there by relying on strategic partners”.

Lecointré spoke of Europe’s ongoing efforts to envision its strategic autonomy. He acknowledged that “indeed, it is very difficult. Europe is built on a single market and a single currency. Ultimately, it is a form of lowest common denominator.” He mentioned that “building a common political identity is certainly more difficult to achieve in the short term. We are at a turning point. Either Europe stays where it is and will eventually disappear from the international scene. Or, it will be able to respond to the security expectations of its citizens. Lecointré stressed that the next step for Europe will be in its defense efforts.”

Also on the question of how Russia poses a threat to Europe, Lecointré said, “First of all, there is the specific example of Ukraine. We have to take into account the fear of the Eastern European countries in the face of the reality of massive Russian rearmament. In submarines and in exo-atmospheric space, Russia, like China, is becoming an extremely fierce competitor. We need to find a way to get along.” He continued, “But today, we are at the stage of rejecting this provision. This confrontation is dangerous. However, Moscow continues to want to weaken our democratic model by acting in the area of digital technology and influence. This danger manifests itself in the national territory.”

Lekointre said, “It can also be seen where we have interests. Today, the presence of Russia, Turkey and China in Africa is worrisome and destabilizing. The attitude of the Chinese Communist Party is to conquer resources and take positions to influence the balance of the continent.” In response to the question of whether information warfare will become more important in this context, he said, “This is a central question.” Our enemies will do everything in their power to undermine the democratic basis of our national and international actions,” Lecointerre said. It added that recent events have shown that they do not hesitate to interfere in the electoral process or to spread false information about our military operations in the media and social networks. Faced with this situation, the military must be able to detect attacks and act when they involve its actions outside the national territory. We can respond by denouncing manipulation, restoring the truth or countering enemy propaganda, especially in the cyber domain.”

In response to a question about what the French Army’s objectives are in the hybrid warfare domain, Lecointré said, “Whenever a new domain opens up to human activity, it quickly becomes a domain of conflict. The use of hybrid strategies by our adversaries will certainly create a period of additional risk in about a decade.” In these new areas, he said, “it is difficult to characterize the aggressor and to set red lines. That’s why we must be able to autonomously observe, analyze and understand what’s happening there. We can’t have military activities without space to communicate, observe or locate.” He added, “A major challenge will be to maintain our freedom of maneuver in space in the face of certain powers, particularly China and Russia, developing the ability to disrupt, hinder or even destroy space assets. We must also maintain our freedom of maneuver in the deep sea.”

In the deep sea, said Lecointerre, “we must also retain our freedom of action. In cyber, we must be able to react, including offensively, and maintain permanent control of our increasingly digital combat assets.” He spoke of how “hybrid warfare is not limited to these areas. There is also the use of law as an instrument of power, the economic sphere, the social sphere …… Turkey, for example, uses the levers of migration as much as it uses the classic military tools. Our adversaries do not see any difference between peacetime and wartime.”

They see a continuity, a permanent confrontation,” said Lecointerre. One of the goals of the military planning law to increase the strength of our military, as requested by the President of the Republic, is to be able to assume power relations and fight in all these areas if necessary.” In the interview, Lecointerre also responded to questions about the military involvement and cooperation between French and European forces in the Sahel region and prospects, the recent incidents in which a number of retired French generals and military figures published a joint letter.