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Introducing Le Rubicon

When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River with his legions in arms in 49 BC, he crossed the border between Roman Italy and Cisalpine Gaul, violating a law that forbade crossing it in arms. Measuring the gravity and significance of his act, it is here that he is said to have pronounced his famous “Alea jacta est” (the die is cast). This moment in world history, now captured by the expression “crossing the Rubicon,” refers to the will to deliberately transgress, to a decisive and irreversible commitment, and to a risky gamble — all of which are still at the heart of international relations.

Nearly 2,000 years later, relations between states and other actors in international life are more normalized but still marked by a variety of disruptive behaviors, from the annexation of Crimea to the use of migrants as a weapon of hybrid warfare by Belarus against the European Union, to the American invasion of Iraq. Neither rivers nor seas are sufficient to contain pressures and ambitions: Everywhere, barriers and border walls are being erected. State practices remain characterized by decisive and sometimes adventurous choices, both in the way they respond to certain subversive actors (terrorist and/or criminal groups, militias, etc.) and in their positioning on the greater strategic chessboard (and its ongoing redistribution). More broadly, China’s rise is seen as irreversible, and some infer from this the inevitability of a confrontation with the United States (the famous but hotly debatedThucydides trap”).

In short, without crossing one every day, the ingredients of the Rubicon are there, and they characterize the volatility of contemporary international relations. Made more complex by several phenomena, including the diffusion of power, itself due to the multiplication of actors and the democratization of destructive and information technologies, these relations need more than ever to be understood and analyzed, in ways that are both rigorous, scientific, useful, and accessible to decision-makers and to the larger public. This is the ambition of Le Rubicon, a new publication run by Francophone institutions and in French.

Le Rubicon was born out of a need expressed by several observations. First, until now, there was no platform in France comparable to War on the Rocks, i.e., offering authors on international, defense, and security issues an outlet that is both reactive (allowing them to publish articles on a shorter timeline), of high quality (practicing peer review), and accessible (free). In French, scientific journals that use peer review have publication timelines measured by months or even a year. Specialized monthly magazines do not practice peer review and the general press does not always focus on international news. Moreover, those media generally use a paywall, limiting access. Yet, the critical mass of French-speaking authors and readers not only in France but throughout the world on these subjects is now sufficient to justify the creation of a medium that can address these three objectives: to publish quickly, well, and for all.

Second, with research centers and think tanks having their own publications, there is also a lack of an outside and common vector, a unifying project that cannot be reduced to the interests and editorial lines of one or the other. At a time of identity-based retrenchment, it is also important to go beyond national frames of reference, and thus to create a platform that is not French but Francophone. Faced with the growing influence of English, it is necessary to facilitate and make attractive strategic thinking in French, not only as a means of communication, but as a vector of realities and ways of thinking specific to its speakers, and as a tool of dissemination. Language is the bearer of law; it is also key to the understanding of political and strategic issues.

Welcome to Le Rubicon, a French-language platform for the analysis of international issues, mainly security and defense, but also foreign policy, with a particular interest in so-called hybrid warfare, cyber attacks, informational warfare, and armed conflicts. As a partner of War on the Rocks, Le Rubicon offers French-speaking authors an equivalent opportunity to publish in their own language. The articles it publishes, written by both academics and practitioners in the defense, national security, and foreign affairs communities, are all blindly peer reviewed. Le Rubicon does not defend any particular school of thought. It offers analyses that are deemed original and relevant to its field. Around three founding institutions — the Canadian Network for Strategic Analysis, which itself brings together several research centers, the Institute for Strategic Research (IRSEM), and the Thucydides Centre of the Université Panthéon-Assas — Le Rubicon brings together a team of about 50 experts, divided into a steering committee, an editorial committee, and a scientific council. This team will evolve and grow. Le Rubicon aims at the entire French-speaking community worldwide, which numbers in the hundreds of millions and can be found in Europe, North America, Africa, Asia, and elsewhere in the world.

What Le Rubicon has the potential to become also depends on you, who can contribute to this intellectual adventure not only by reading and sharing articles, but also by proposing themes and authors to the team, or even by writing yourself. The procedure to follow to submit a text is described on our website. Our goal is above all to be useful. We are fully aware that, like any new enterprise, Le Rubicon, and in particular its website, its organization, and its communication, can be perfected. We therefore also count on you to help us improve it, by sending your suggestions to a generic contact address.

We thank you for taking the time to read this and hope to see you frequently on Le Rubicon, as a reader or contributor.

Julian Fernandez is professor in public law at Université Panthéon-Assas and director of the Thucydides Centre. Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer is director of the Institute for Strategic Research (IRSEM). Justin Massie is professor of political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal and co-director of the Network for Strategic Analysis. 

Le Rubicon is launched on Dec. 9, 2021, at the opening of the NSA annual conference in Ottawa, in the presence of Justin Massie, Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer, and Ryan Evans. In addition to recognizing and assuming inspiration, the partnership with War on the Rocks aims more concretely to be able to translate and publish certain articles in both languages, and even co-publish at the same time. The first Rubicon articles, posted online on the day of the launch, focus on the post-AUKUS bilateral Franco-American relationship (by Célia Belin), cognitive warfare (by Col. David Pappalardo), and the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine (by Ryan Evans, a translation of an article recently published in War on the Rocks). More are planned in the days, weeks, and months to come.

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