The French have found themselves caught between a rock and a hard place, and a coup in Niger happens to be the catalyst for this predicament. To be clear, we’re only talking about Niger because of what it means for the French.
We all know the storied past of the British and French colonies, and a keen history buff would know France set up shop in the Sahel and West Africa. Well, this coup in Niger could mark the end for the French in this region.
There are a couple of options on the table. France could make the political decision to go in and kick out Wagner (who is a major foreign backer), which would be a roundabout way of attacking Russia. Or the French could pack up and march back to Europe, where they would also have to duke it out with the Russians, given the EU’s stance on the Ukraine War.
The French have long had their hands in many different pots, made easier by their geographic degree of separation from any rivals. However, it appears that the French will be making moves against Russia regardless of how they handle the situation in Niger…and that’s what makes this coup so important.
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Hey everybody. Peter Zeihan here coming to you from the front range foothills above Denver. And today we’re going to talk about the French and what they’re gonna be doing in the next several months. Specifically, the trigger is a coup that occurred in the African state of Niger, which is roughly at the intersection of no. And where people are trying to rack their brains about why Niger is important.
And let’s be very specific about this. Economically, it is not. Yes, it is a uranium source for the French, but uranium is not rare. Kazakhstan and Australia and Canada are three of the world’s fourth largest producers, and all three of those are increasing their output. So it’s not like this is going to cause a huge shock to the international system in any meaningful way.
The withdrawal of Russia from the uranium market would be far more substantial, and that hasn’t happened yet anyway. Why it matters is because it matters to the French. During the Imperial era, the British and the French were basically duking it out and competing for this or that colony wherever it happened to be. And the Brits were very, very smart about it.
They would look for places where there were natural markets or even better transport nodes, such as rivers that allowed them to take control of a local trade system without controlling all of the surrounding countryside. And that left all the countryside largely available for the French. And the French looked at it as a national ego issue and a size issue.
And so for them, the Sahel in West Africa was great because it was these huge expanses of territory. Well, you fast forward today and the Brits have the Commonwealth, which allows them to maintain some of those trade links. And the French are basically looking out for a number of countries that don’t like them very much, that are broadly economically worthless and difficult to defend throughout the Sahel and West Africa.
You have jihadist insurgencies because a lot of those areas near desert and it’s very difficult for the local countries to build capacity. And so they have to invite the French in to try to maintain a degree of security order. The problem with that strategy is when you have very low population density and very fragile systems, coups happen. And this is not the first coup in the region.
There’s already been one in Mali and Burkina Faso, which are two other former French outposts where the French troops have had to withdraw. Now, if Niger goes the same way, that’s pretty much the end of the French post-colonial jihadist era anti-insurgency operations throughout the region. It really is what’s left. It is the linchpin for what’s left. So the French now have to make a decision.
Well, let me give you the two options. Number one is they go in hard and kill or capture the losers. This is something that would be dramatic. Now, the French have the capacity. Nobody’s doubting that in terms of bullets for bullets, soldier for soldier, you’re talking about a force that is on par with American special forces. Probably don’t tell the special forces that.
And with a lot fewer political restrictions on their mode for action. So when they go in, they go in very hard. I have no doubt they could do that. The problem the problem is that the computers in Burkina Faso, in Mali and probably now in Niger are in part successful because of their links to Russia’s Wagner Group. Now, if you guys remember Wagner, that was the group that threw their little abortive coup a few weeks ago and were basically purged from the military system in Ukraine.
And the question is where they do now. Looks like a lot of them maintain operations within the African landmass because honestly, the routes are a little bit more flexible there. And if Wagner is in Africa, then they’re not in Moscow. There are are some operations in Moscow to take over Wagner directly to purge it of some of the senior leadership that might be more amenable to throwing a coup back home.
But part and parcel pieces of it will still remain active in Africa. The question is, what does everyone do about that? Wagner has been accused quite accurately of war crimes and crimes against humanity. And now that we know it’s the Russian state and has been all along. States are going to treat it differently. And this is an opportunity for France a very, very capable country, in an area that is near and dear to its heart to actually do something.
So we very well way see the French and the Russians going at it in Africa. And that would be a situation where the Russians would be eviscerated because Russian logistics are completely dependent on international trade and shipments. And France has an expeditionary navy in addition to some of the world’s best special forces. So that would be delightful to see.
But it’s a French political decision that would have to be made to pull the trigger. They can either have imperial retreat and the humiliation that they perceive that goes along with that, or they can take the fight to the Russians, which is a country that they attempted to not break relations with completely. Not an easy choice. Option two They suck it up and they go home.
One of the things that makes France. France is that it is far enough away from all of the global hotspots, whether it’s East Asia or Ukraine, that they have the flexibility to have fingers in a lot of pots. The quintessential statement is France has no enemies, no allies, only interests. And there’s a lot of truth to that. Well, if an entire region, Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, specifically, all of a sudden is a no go zone for the French, then they have a significantly lower number of interests in their neighborhood, and that will force them to focus on the ones that remain.
And if they can’t project power to West Africa, the idea that they can project power to a place like East Asia is kind of silly. So all of a sudden Europe becomes a lot more important to them, and Europe is involved in a war with the Russians. So one way or another, Paris is about to decide or be forced into circumstances where it’s going to be taking a lot more direct action against all things Russian, whether that’s in Ukraine or Africa, doesn’t really matter.
And that is something we have not seen the sort of lockstep agreement in the Western world is pretty rare, historically speaking, to have a cultural group form an alliance that’s already rare and it’s already been significant. But France has always been a bit of an outlier. And what we’re going to see over the rest of this year is that’s going to be a lot less true.
And that’s a real problem if you’re Russian because, you know, say what you will about the French. They are not shy and they are very capable and they’re about to throw in their lot. It’s going to be fun to watch. All right. Take care.