Revisiting Uranium Supply Security (1)

(Art direction and design: Jean-Dominique Lavoix-Carli)

In December 2023, twenty two governments and the nuclear industry decided to treble nuclear energy by 2050. If we are to meet this objective, then the corresponding uranium supply must be adequate.

Globally, there is enough uranium to see the aims met (see Uranium and the Renewal of Nuclear Energy). Now, each country must also have sufficient uranium supply in a timely manner, according to its plans to develop nuclear energy (The Future of Uranium Demand – China’s Surge).

We thus need to assess the present and future supply of each country, in the light of its current and planned future needs, in a political and geopolitical environment which is not anymore peaceful, as has been known since the end of the Cold War, but, on the contrary, increasingly tense and fraught with hostility.

In this article, we focus on assessing the potential supply available per country. First, we present a classical approach which is related to the producer versus consumer countries’ vision. To better understand the tensions that may be generated between countries, we add a third variable to this classical approach indicating the importance of uranium supply for each country.

Second, we explain, that, to understand what may happen in terms of supply of uranium, notably as far as politics and geopolitics are concerned, we need to consider the actors involved in uranium supply, i.e. not only countries but also and foremost uranium mining companies. We thus present the mining actors.

Finally, building upon the two first parts, we obtain a revisited outlook for uranium reserves and resources per country, including also uranium overseas holdings. This perspective offers a better comprehension of uranium supply security. It allows for better strategy and planning, including in terms of foreign relations, influence and future feedback impacts on domestic politics. Those should be of concern to all actors involved in the nuclear industry field.

A classical vision of uranium supply

When assessing the security of supply of uranium for a country, as resulting from the classical producers versus consumers model, we look at reserves and resources of uranium per country. Those are estimated according to the quantity of uranium in the mines that can be recovered in line with the price of uranium, and to the precision and certainty of knowledge one has about the deposit of uranium (e.g. Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA)/International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Uranium 2022: Resources, Production and Demand (Red Book), OECD Publishing, Paris, 2023; for the producer versus consumer model, see, for example, pp. 99-136).

Using the official international reference for uranium production, Uranium 2022: Resources, Production and Demand (Red Book) by the NEA/IAEA, this gives us, for the resources which are most certain, those called “Reasonably Assured Resources (RAR)” (see glossary below), at the highest price range, the following chart:

Then, those resources are then compared with countries’ yearly uranium requirements. As a result, some states are perceived as current and future importers, while others are exporters.

For example, Australia does not use nuclear energy, indeed the latter is legally prohibited despite regular debates on the issue (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation – CSIRO, “The question of nuclear in Australia’s energy sector“, 20 Dec 2023). Yet, the country produces uranium and has huge reserves, the first in the world. Hence, Australia was the second largest world exporter in 2020 and the fourth in 2021 and 2022 (2022 Red Book, pp. 77; WNA, “World Uranium Mining Production“, 16 May 2024). It is also very likely it will be a future very large net exporter, possibly the largest.

At the other end of the spectrum, France does not have any resources of uranium left on its territory. Yet, it is part of the major nuclear energy producers, indeed it is currently the 2nd in the world. In the future, according to our base case scenario it should move to the 3rd then 4th place (see Helene Lavoix, The Future of Uranium Demand – China’s Surge, The Red Team Analysis Society, 22 April 2024). As a result, currently, producing nuclear energy in France would require an estimated 8232 tU per year (WNA, Nuclear Fuel Report 2023, September 2023). In the classical view, France is thus a current and future net consumer of uranium. The only way forward to improve the situation would be technical, for example with fuel recycling.

If we are concerned about security, then we can improve this approach by looking at the importance of nuclear energy for a country. The most interesting indicator here is the share of nuclear energy in the electricity production of a country. Indeed, for example, if nuclear energy represents 1% of the electricity production of a country, then not much is at stake here. The higher the nuclear share of electricity generation, the higher the stake for all issues related to nuclear energy. For 2022, the shares of nuclear energy in electricity generation for the world are shown in the chart below (source IAEA-PRIS – 28/04/2024).

Thus, in 2022, France, had the world highest nuclear share of electricity generation, i.e. 62,6% (IAEA-PRIS – 28/04/2024), while being, according to classical analysis, a net current and future consumer of uranium. Uranium and more largely the whole nuclear industry will thus be highly sensitive issues in terms of security.

If we apply this approach to the world countries, we have the following two charts. The first uses a linear scale for the axes, and the second a logarithmic scale:

The first chart highlights varying situations. The U.S. is the largest consumer with little reserves but a relatively high stake in nuclear energy, compared with China, which is in a similar situation but with a lower current stake in nuclear energy. This means that China’s position is stronger. Russia, the EU without France, France and Korea constitute a second group, with Russia and the EU without France far better positioned in terms of reserves. Canada has a balanced and secure position, and Australia is possibly unconcerned despite its huge reserves.

Interestingly, three groups of countries clearly appear when we use a logarithmic scale. First, we have consumer countries for which nuclear energy represents a high or relatively high stake at the bottom of the chart. Then we have supplier countries for which nuclear energy is not a stake – of course not considering the importance of uranium in terms of trade – at the top left corner of the chart. Finally, we have countries for which nuclear energy is a stake but with a relatively secure position in the top right quarter of the chart.

We note that the EU without France appears to have a better and more secure position than France, and is on a par with Russia. If Russia’s reserves are higher, nuclear energy is also more important for Russia.

However interesting, it would be misleading to stop here. Indeed, such a classical approach does not account for the way uranium is supplied. It does not consider the actors involved in mining.(1)

The unique world of those who mine uranium

Uranium is supplied to the world through mining and milling, which is done by companies. A few major mining companies dominate the world, alongside large entities part of very large nuclear groups and, finally, smaller mining companies.

These companies are either state-owned or private. Most often they will work through the creation of joint-ventures with other companies, one of them bringing in the mines, which belongs to the territory of its state, the other its know-how and technology in terms of exploration, mining, milling and sometimes also other steps of the fuel cycle (see H Lavoix, “Uranium and the Renewal of Nuclear Energy“, The Red Team Analysis Society, 9 April 2024).

As a result, mining companies own mines or part of them for the duration of the corresponding mining permit, and thus the uranium reserves and resources corresponding to these mines.

If we look at the consequences for a country, we can consider that the supply of uranium, including reserves, may be territorial or extraterritorial. It is territorial if the mines are located on its own territory. This is the classical and obvious understanding. However, it can also be extraterritorial if a company of the nationality of the country owns mining permits outside the country. The stronger the power of the said country over the company, the stronger the fact that uranium may be considered as a captive extraterritorial resource, by opposition to a resource available to all through market dynamics.

Three types of uranium mining companies

We have three types of mining companies.

First, we have very large ones, with western-style corporate structure.

Then, we have “smaller” mining companies compared with the previous type, but which are part of very large nuclear conglomerates, reminding somehow of the old Kombinat (Комбинат) model. Furthermore, the new Kombinats also include the use of financial incentives and cooperation packages in their operations. This is more or less the format for Russia and China.

On another note, the French company Orano is a state-owned company with many activities related to the whole nuclear fuel cycle, and with privileged links with other state-owned companies such as EDF (electricity provider) and Framatome (design and provision of equipment, services and fuel for nuclear power plants – 80,5% belongs to EDF), to say nothing of the Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA) (French state-owned organisation for research and innovation notably in energy). Thus it could be perceived as a middle way between or a synthesis of a Western corporation and a Kombinat. The recent purchase of shares of Westinghouse by Cameco (see below) highlights the interest of and in this approach.

Together, the companies belonging to these two categories – the western-style corporate structure and the Kombinat – are the major corporate actors for uranium mining. In the world, we only have seven of those.

Finally, we have much smaller companies, usually labelled as “junior mining companies”, often centred around a mine or project. Junior companies can also be held by bigger corporations, which, potentially could give them the power to develop. They may also become stakes in friendly or hostile takeovers.

It is difficult to rank mining companies as they have different activities and publish different data. Nonetheless, if we take uranium mining revenue for 2023 as main indicator, then the largest uranium mining company is Kazakh Kazatomprom, followed by Canadian Cameco then French Orano.

The revenues related to uranium mining from Russia or from China appear as being far smaller, yet important. However, where figures are available, they are probably not comparable. Then, we mention Uzbekistan although there is no specific data for uranium mining revenues.

If we look at uranium production per company and country in 2022 (see WNA, “World Uranium Mining Production“, 16 May 2024), we have the same ranking for the three largest mining companies, followed by China’s CGN – 4th – and CNNC – 7th, by Russia’s Uranium One – 5th – and ARMZ – 9th, by Uzbek Navoi – 6th, Australian BHP – 8th, and American General Atomics/Quasar – 10th. Quasar’s production represents 15% of Kazatomprom’s.

The largest uranium mining companies, “Western-style”

Kazatomprom (Kazakhstan)

National Atomic Company (NAC) Kazatomprom, created in 1997, is the national company of Kazakhstan, responsible for everything related to the nuclear industry, as well as rare metals. In 2018, a strategy of privatisation of NAC Kazatomprom was launched. In 2024, Kazakhstan’s National Wealth Fund, Samruk-Kazyna holds 75% of Kazatomprom, the remaining shares being traded on the London Stock Exchange and the Astana International Stock Exchange. Kazatomprom covers the whole nuclear fuel cycle through joint ventures with other companies.

In 2022, uranium mining represented 85% of the revenues of the company and in 2023 82% (2023 annual report p.47). Kazatomprom, in 2022, represented 22% of the mining market, with 11.373t U3O8 produced and, in 2023, 20% of the mining market with 11.169t U3O8 produced (Ibid. pp. 7-10). Its 2022 revenues amounted to KZT (Kazakhstani Tenge) 1.001.171 million ( USD 2.248,16 million ; EUR 2.109,35 million) and in 2023 KZT 1.434.635 million (USD 3.233,24 million ; EUR 3.001,77 million)(Ibid.).

Cameco (Canada / Saskatchewan)

Cameco is a privately-owned Canadian company. More exactly, it is a “privately-owned” company from Saskatchewan, with land-holdings and exploration permits located in majority in Northern Saskatchewan for their Canadian part. When Cameco was created in 1988, a special type of shares, “share B” were issued, “assigned $1 of share capital, [which] entitles the shareholder to vote separately as a class in respect of any proposal to locate the head office of Cameco to a place not in the province of Saskatchewan” (p. 147). This shows the very strong link between Cameco and the province of Saskatchewan, even though it is indeed privately-owned.

Furthermore, Crown Investments Corporation is the holding company used by the Government of Saskatchewan to manage its financial and commercial Crown Corporations as well as its minority holdings in private-sector ventures. Crown Investments Corporation holds 0,15% of the capital of Cameco. Meanwhile, Cameco’s President and Chief Executive Officer, Tim S. Gitzel, comes from the university of Saskatchewan (and has also held direction positions with Orano).

Cameco’s activity covers the entire front-end of the nuclear fuel cycle, from exploration, mining and milling to fuel manufacturing through conversion and is part to the development of laser enrichment (not yet commercialised).

Its clients are nuclear utilities in 15 countries. Cameco represents 16% of the world production of uranium (total sales commitments of over 205 million pounds of U3O8) and has 21% of the world primary conversion facilities (total sales commitments to supply over 75 million kilograms of UF6). Furthermore, in November 2023, it completed the acquisition of 49% of Westinghouse. Its 2023 turnover (revenues in Canadian terms) was CAN$ 2.588 million (approx. US$ 1.887 million ; € 1.770 million), the produce of mining and milling representing 84,5% of their expected revenue for 2024 (Cameco 2023 Annual Report).

Orano (France)

Orano is a French state-owned company, created in 2017 out of the restructuration of defunct Areva, the latter resulting from the 2001 merger of Framatome, Cogema and Technicatome, all in turn stemming from French choices in terms of nuclear energy after World War II. Orano is active at all stages of the nuclear fuel cycle – front end, including enrichment, and back-end operations such as reprocessing and recycling as well as mines decommissioning – and in nuclear materials transport and logistics. The French state holds 90% of Orano, alongside Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited and and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries which holds 5% each (2023 Annual report, p.246).

Orano’s 2023 turnover (revenues) was EUR 4.775 million (USD 5.088 million). The mining sector represented 27,62% of the turnover (EUR 1.319 million; USD 1.405,55 million).

Navoi Mining and Metallurgical Company (Uzbekistan)

Navoi Mining and Metallurgical Company is the state company of Uzbekistan handling all mining and metallurgical matters. It focuses especially on gold but expressed a willingness to increasingly develop uranium mining (website).

It was incorporated as a joint stock venture in 2021, as part of an effort to reform the state enterprise.

For the year 2022, its revenue (all activities) were USD 5.095 million.

The Kombinats

Uranium One (Russia)

In 2007, Rosatom, the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation, was reorganised as a state corporation (K. Szulecki, I. “Overland, I. “Russian nuclear energy diplomacy and its implications for energy security in the context of the war in Ukraine“, Nat Energy 8, 413–421; 2023; Nikita Minin, Tomáš Vlček, “Determinants and considerations of Rosatom’s external strategy“, Energy Strategy Reviews, Vol. 17, 2017, pp. 37-44). It not only provides for all stages of the nuclear fuel cycle, but also builds and exports nuclear reactors, while offering financing packages (Ibid.).

Rosatom revenues reached USD 27.300 million in 2023 (Tass).

Rosatom holds 100% of the voting shares of Joint-Stock Company Atomic Energy Power Corporation (JSC Atomenergoprom). JSC Atomenergoprom holds shares in 222 companies. It covers the whole cycle of nuclear production from mining up to electricity generation. According to its financial statements, in 2022, it ranked second in terms or uranium production with 14% of the market. In 2022, its total revenue reached RUB 1396,5 bn (“equivalent to” USD 19979,77 million at average exchange rate for 2022 1 USD = 69.8957 RUB), and the mining revenue, including but not limited to uranium, was RUB 24,7 bn (“equivalent to” USD 353,38 million at average exchange rate for 2022), out of which RUB 8,9 bn (“equivalent to” USD 127,33 million) were sold to “external customers (p. 59 and 17).

Its main mining companies are JSC AtomRedMetZoloto (ARMZ), directly held at 84,52%(the remaining shares belonging to Rosatom and TVEL JSC) and Uranium One Group. ARMZ represents mainly the domestic mining “division” and all Russian uranium producers are part of ARMZ (Interfax, “Rosatom plans to start commercial mining of uranium in Tanzania in several years“, 22 Nov 2022). In 2022, the revenues of ARMZ labelled as “the mining division of Rosatom” reached RUB 24,7 bn (“equivalent to” USD 353,38 million at average exchange rate for 2022 1 USD = 69.8957 RUB). Uranium One Group is “responsible for … uranium production outside the Russian Federation and is the world’s fourth-largest uranium producer” (Website). Uranium One Inc, originally Canadian, is an indirect subsidiary through Uranium One Group. In 2019 (latest financial statements available), Uranium One Inc. revenues were USD 394 million. So far, it operates mainly in Kazakhstan.

ARMZ has also handled overseas mining. In 2011, in Tanzania, ARMZ Uranium Holding Co acquired the Mkuju River deposit through the take over of Mantra Resources. The asset was then transferred to Uranium One Inc (Interfax, “Rosatom plans to start commercial mining of uranium in Tanzania in several years“, 22 Nov 2022). 

CNNC, CGN and their satellites (China)

Two major companies operate for China and are both state-owned.

China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) oversees all Chinese civilian and military nuclear programs. CNNC is a participant in the Belt and Road Initiative and develops cooperation in this framework (CNNC, “CNNC contributes to the Belt and Road Initiative“).

It is the only company supplying domestic uranium (WNA, “China’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle“, 25 April 2024). It operates the mines in China through its subsidiary China Uranium Corporation Limited (CUC or CNUC, also Sino-U), which is also responsible to develop projects overseas (Ibid., CNNC Int Ltd “Corporate Information“).

CUC notably holds as wholly-owned subsidiary CNNC Overseas Uranium Holding Limited (“CNNC Overseas”), which in turn holds 66,72% of CNNC Int Ltd (Ibid.). The latter owns as an indirect wholly-owned subsidiary formerly Canadian Western Prospector Group Ltd. Western Prospector’s projects (uranium and coal) are located in Mongolia (Ibid.). CNNC Overseas transferred to CNNC Ltd notably the mines of Somina (Azelik Mines) in Niger. CNNC LtD is exchanged on the Hong Kong Stock exchange (Ibid). CNNC Int Ltd also acts as a trader in Uranium including for CNUC.(2) In 2022 CNNC Int Ltd revenues reached HK$ 567, 9 million (USD 72,61 million)

CUC/CNUC holds various mines and has different projects overseas through joint ventures or directly, notably Rössing in Namibia (Rossing Uranium CNUC Hand-over information 25 July 2019).

China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) under the direction of State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) of the State Council of China owns China General Nuclear Power Co (CGNP). The latter is the Chinese platform for nuclear power generation. It owns CGN Mining Co Ltd (CGNM), which acquired CGN Global Uranium Ltd (CGNGU) in 2019 and also holds 100 % of CGNM UK Ltd. CGNGU trades CGN’s uranium resources on the international market. CGNM UK Ltd through a joint venture with Kazatomprom set the Mining Company Ortalyk LLP, founded in 2011, which holds the permits and exploits mines at the Central Mynkuduk and Zhalpak fields in Kazakhstan.

For 2022, the Group China General Nuclear Power Co recorded revenue of approximately RMB 82.822 million (USD 11.431 million). In December 2023, CGN Mining Co Ltd revenue was HKD 2.210 million (USD 282 million, Euro 263 million).

Besides holding and exploiting mines, China also complements its supply through purchases of uranium. For example, “in May 2014 China’s CGN agreed to buy $800 million of uranium through to 2021” to Uzbekistan (WNA, “Uranium in Uzbekistan,” 2 April 2024). Reportedly according to Chinese customs, Uzbekistan was “second only to Kazakhstan as a uranium supplier to the country” (Ibid.). In 2018, Orano was also an important supplier of natural uranium for the CGNP (Orano China website).

We should also mention a company such as Beijing Zhongxing Joy Investment Co., Ltd (ZXXJOY invest), located in Beijing, which is specialised on international mining projects including uranium mining but not solely focused on that mineral. ZXJOY invest is linked to ZTE, a partially state-owned telecommunication company (Management of ZXJOY invest; Raphaël Rossignol, “Uranium Nigerien, Le Coup De Maître De La Russie“, Forbes, March 2024). It notably participates in uranium mining projects in Niger (mine of Arlit – see below, third part) and Zimbabwe.

A new Klondike rush? Junior uranium companies and projects

The U.S. does not have any major mining uranium company and appears to be, so far, little involved with operating mines abroad (EIA, Uranium Marketing Annual Report, 2023; WNA, “US Uranium Mining and Exploration“, Nov 2021; Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA)/International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Uranium 2022: Resources, Production and Demand (Red Book), OECD Publishing, Paris, 2023). By 2023, the major exception is private company Quasar Resources (Australia – Four Mile Uranium Mine) belonging to Heathgate Resources Pty Ltd, a uranium mining Australian company (Beverley Mine), which is actually held by General Atomics, a privately-held very large American energy and defense corporation. In 2023, GA ranked 197 in Forbes’America’s Largest Private Companies (2023) with a revenue of USD 3.1 bn.

Australian companies are smaller and operate mainly in Australia or in Namibia. We have notably BHP Group Limited, a multinational mining and metals company exploiting, among other, uranium as a by-product of copper in Australia. BHP Group Limited is not a junior company, but its uranium mining activity, compared to the largest actors, may be considered as such.

Paladin Energy is an Australian company in the process of restarting the Langer Heinrich mine in Namibia. The latter should start production during the first quarter 2024. Paladin Energy had no revenue in 2022 and 2023 (see 2023 financial statements p.71). Australian Bannerman Energy develops the Etango Project in Namibia, and, as a result, does not earn any significant revenue besides interests (2023 financial statements).

We also find two smaller Canadian companies, Global Atomic Corporation – Canada (GAC) and GoviEx, active in Niger. In 2023, GAC had a revenue of CAN $ 0,689 million (USD 0,5 million) and GoviEx had not yet engaged in commercial production, being still focused on exploration and projects’ developments (financial statements for 2022, p.13 ).

Many more companies will most probably emerge with time and discoveries. For example, on 9 November 2023, Canadian company NexGen Energy Ltd received ministerial approval under the Environmental Assessment Act of Saskatchewan for the Rook I Project. According to the company, the mine could “represent over 23 per cent of the world’s uranium production in the first few years of production” (Pratyush Dayal, “Sask. government approval brings new biggest uranium project in Canada closer to reality,” CBC News, 28 Nov 2023).

A new outlook for uranium potential supply

As a result, if we want to assess the supply situation for a country, we need not only to look at countries but also at national and foreign companies that hold reserves and resources, according to their joint ventures and mining permits, on a territory.

If we consider uranium resources according to reserves’ and resources’ holders, national or foreign, we obtain a vision of uranium resources per country, as shown in the charts below, which is different compared with the classical outlook we saw previously.

Methodology, sources and discrepancies

The overall uranium reserves and resources for a country will be composed of:

  • the reserves and resources on the country’s territory held
    • either by the state or national companies,
    • or by foreign companies. This share of reserves and resources actually cannot be used by the state except if contracts are terminated in one way or another.
  • the reserves and resources held by national companies abroad. In that case, the status and links of the national company operating abroad to the state will strengthen the capacity of the state to use the reserves held abroad and thus the security of supply. However, this type of supply is obviously less secure as those held by a state on its own territory, because contracts can be broken, expropriation can take place, etc. Nonetheless, they are reserves and resources available for supply.

For Kazatomprom, Cameco and Orano, as well as for corresponding countries where they operate, we used proven and probable reserves and measured and indicated resources (see glossary), then inferred resources as given in their respective 2023 annual reports.

However, we should note that the treatment of ore reserves and resources vary according to auditing companies. For example, when CRIRSCO (see Glossary) specifies that ore reserves should not be included in resources, a company such as SRK consulting, auditing mines for Kazatomprom, on the contrary highlights that “SRK’s audited Mineral Resource statements are reported inclusive of those Mineral Resources converted to Ore Reserves. The audited Ore Reserve is therefore a subset of the Mineral Resource and should not therefore be considered as additional to this” (SRK Consulting (UK) Limited, 2020 auditing report, p.23). On the contrary, Cameco follows CRIRSCO guidelines and reserves are reported besides resources (2023 Annual report, p. 104). Orano, for its part, only mentions its follows CRIRSCO in terms of reporting, thus logically rexcluding reserves from resources (2023 Annual report, p.34).

Furthermore the way future uranium prices are assessed strongly influences reserves and resources estimates, to say nothing of anticipating future exchange rates. For example, SRK Consulting for Kazatomprom estimates future yearly prices with precision for its assessment of reserves and resources. For its part, the NEA/IAEA presents resources according to price range.

Hence we have discrepancies stemming from multiple factors when seeking to assess the future of supply per country.

We exemplify this difference in the chart below comparing data provided by Kazatomprom and SRK Consulting (UK) Limited, for reserves and resources at the end of 2020 (pp. 23, 24, 29), and data from the NEA/IAEA 2022 Red Book, which correspond to the same period.

The differences between the Kazakh estimates and the international agencies’ assessment are wide and vary from minus 19.800 tU when comparing Kazatomprom 2020 to NEA/IAEA Recoverable resources <USD 80/kgU (less Uranium for the NEA/IAEA), to 239.000 tU, when comparing Kazatomprom 2020 to NEA/IAEA in situ(3) resources <USD 260/kgU (less uranium for Kazatomprom).

In the worst case, the difference corresponds approximately to 13 years of 2024 estimated uranium requirements for the U.S., 18 years for China, and 29 years for France (see, for the yearly estimates, Helene Lavoix, “The Future of Uranium Demand – China’s Surge“, The Red Team Analysis Society, 22 April 2024).

Considering the complexity of the methodologies at work to estimate each type of reserves and resources, and differing types of reporting, it is impossible to reconcile easily et perfectly all statistics.(4)


The classification of uranium resources varies according to actors.

For the NEA/IAEA:

“Conventional resources, as well as unconventional resources when sufficient data are available, are further divided according to different confidence levels of occurrence into four categories:

  1. Reasonably assured resources (RAR)
  2. Inferred resources (IR)
  3. Prognosticated resources (PR)
  4. Speculative resources (SR)”

The correspondance between systems varying according to countries is as follows, according to the NEA/IAEA, “Figure A3.1. Approximate correlation of terms used in major resources classification systems”, Uranium 2022: Resources, Production and Demand, OECD 2023.

Identified resourcesUndiscovered resources
NEA/IAEAReasonably assuredInferredPrognosticatedSpeculative
Canada (NRCan)MeasuredIndicatedInferredPrognosticatedSpeculative
United States (DOE, USGS)Reasonably assuredInferredUndiscovered
Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, UzbekistanA+B+C1C2C2+P1P1P2 / P3
NEA/IAEA, Uranium 2022: Resources, Production and Demand, OECD 2023, pp. 537-538

For companies, such as Kazatomprom, Cameco and Orano, for example, the Committee for Mineral Reserves International Reporting Standards (CRIRSCO) establishes out of worldwide best practices and recommends the reporting international standard for estimates of mineral resources and calculations of mining reserves. Reserves and resources are explained in detail in the International Reporting Template (latest edition 2019):

  • Reserves: “A Mineral Reserve is the economically mineable part of a Measured and/or Indicated Mineral Resource…. Studies to Pre-Feasibility or Feasibility level, as appropriate, will have been carried out prior to determination of the Mineral Reserves.” (p. 25).
    • Probable reserves: “A Probable Mineral Reserve is the economically mineable part of an Indicated, and in some circumstances, a Measured Mineral Resource. The confidence in the Modifying Factors applying to a Probable Mineral Reserve is lower than that applying to a Proved Mineral Reserve.” (p. 26).
    • Proved reserves: “A Proved Mineral Reserve is the economically mineable part of a Measured Mineral Resource. A Proved Mineral Reserve implies a high degree of confidence in the Modifying Factors.” (p. 26).
  • Resources (not aggregated with reserves): “A Mineral Resource is a concentration or occurrence of solid material of economic interest in or on the Earth’s crust in such form, grade or quality and quantity that there are reasonable prospects for eventual economic extraction.
    The location, quantity, grade or quality, continuity and other geological characteristics of a Mineral Resource are known, estimated or interpreted from specific geological evidence and knowledge, including sampling.
    Mineral Resources are subdivided, in order of increasing geological confidence into Inferred, Indicated and Measured categories.” (p. 19).
    • Measured resources: “quantity, grade or quality, densities, shape, and physical characteristics are estimated with confidence sufficient to allow the application of Modifying Factors to support detailed mine planning and final evaluation of the economic viability of the deposit…” (p. 21).
    • Indicated resources: “quantity, grade or quality, densities, shape and physical characteristics are estimated with sufficient confidence to allow the application of Modifying Factors in sufficient detail to support mine planning and evaluation of the economic viability of the deposit…” (p. 21).
    • Inferred resources: “quantity and grade or quality are estimated on the basis of limited geological evidence and sampling…” (p. 20).
CRIRSCO, International Reporting Template (latest edition 2019)

To have a better grasp of industry’s reserves and resources, as much as possible, when available, we tried to use corporate data as per the Committee for Mineral Reserves International Reporting Standards (CRIRSCO) (see glossary) for 2023. We used those data as well as for all or parts of the reserves and resources of countries, to have an idea of countries’ reserves. For want of another way, when not available, we cross-referenced available sources using RAR, as given in the 2022 Red Book, the WNA and companies’ websites. For 2023, when not all resources in a country are estimated, then we used the NEA/IEA RAR of the 2022 Red Book, which corresponds to the year 2020. We then decreased this amount by either the known production for each year (2021, 2022, 2023) or an estimated yearly production according to available data, most often the WNA figure for the 2022 production, used for the three years.

The results obtained are estimates, furthermore evaluated according to different methodologies. Thus, the consequent biases should be kept in mind.

Nonetheless, the results obtained remain interesting, even more though in terms of international security, because they convey a very different picture from what we are used to see, and one that may be closer to reality.

A different outlook for uranium supply

Nota: considering the methodological difficulties highlighted above, this should be considered as “work in progress”.

In the two charts below we display the results showing assessments of reserves and resources according to their holders. The first chart focuses on more certain reserves and resources, to which are added in the second chart “inferred resources” (see glossary).

If we look at availability of supply through this prism, then the ranking changes for many countries, compared with the classical approach to reserves and resources.

Australia still comes first. The reserves and resources its companies hold abroad almost compensate for those foreigners hold on its territory.

It is closely followed by Canada with its active foreign operations, then by Kazakhstan, and its joint-ventures policy.

The small part of Australian reserves and resources held by foreign companies could suggest that despite estimated very large resources, Australia is less ready to become concretely a very large global uranium supplier than imagined. Canada, on the contrary, considering the extensive experience of Canadian mining companies and foreign companies mining in Canada could be in a far better position. Kazakhstan would benefit of Kazatomprom extensive experience in dealing with foreign companies.

As a result, in geopolitical terms, uranium reserves and resources would be far less equally shared throughout the world than thought. For example, if the uranium-poor U.S. (see below) were thinking about relying on its close allies Australia and Canada for uranium supply, it could find that supply is far less readily available than hoped. It may take time to bring Australia resources to become exploitable. Meanwhile, Canadian influence in the world would also have the potential to be greatly enhanced, with consequences on Northern America.

Without taking into account inferred resources, we then have Russia, with more than half of its reserves and resources coming from foreign mining. When including inferred resources, then Russia takes the third rank before Kazakhstan. It is likely that knowing the amount of domestic available reserves could change the overall uranium available relatively rapidly for supply to Russia. Unfortunately, the annual reports of the Russian mining divisions and holdings does not give this amount. Further research are needed.

We may expect, considering the ever heightening international tension, as well as the May 2024 American sanctions banning imports of Russian uranium products, that Russia may strengthen its operations abroad, would it be only to deny or complicate uranium supply to the U.S. and its allies (“Congress Passes Legislation to Ban Imports of Russian Uranium“, Morgan Lewis, 13 May 2024). Russia could also seek to act on uranium long-term prices, making sure they are at a level that benefits Russia and its allies, while disrupting others’ strategies. The strong statements Russian and Chinese Presidents issued during the mid-May 2024 state visit of Russian President Putin in China, specifically mentioning energy cooperation, that “extends beyond hydrocarbons to encompass the peaceful use of nuclear energy” are another important signal enhancing the probability to see geopolitical tensions impacting and even shaping uranium mining (Website of the President of Russia, “Media statement following Russia-China talks“, 16 May 2024; Bernard Orr, Guy Faulconbridge and Andrew Osborn, “Putin and Xi pledge a new era and condemn the United States“, Reuters, 17 May 2024). Further research and analysis, as well as scenarios are more than warranted.

The EU then ranks five, thanks to France and Orano’s mining expertise and portfolio overseas and to the untapped European resources. France, for its part ranks 8th and the EU without France 13th. France’s position is thus considerably changed, moving from an apparent absence in the world of suppliers to a rather strong place, even though overseas reserves and resources are less secure than those held on one’s territory. This should lead to a foreign policy and strategy considering the necessity to both secure these key supplies and develop them. Meanwhile, Europe should, in the light of the aim to triple nuclear energy production by 2050, starts developing its mines. In any case, ranking five worldwide for Europe further legitimates the March 2024 creation of the EU Nuclear Alliance (Declaration of the EU Nuclear Alliance, meeting of March 4th, 2024). Europe here could play a strong card in terms not only of energy security but also of international influence. Thanks to uranium, it could notably find back a leverage with the U.S., which could help the old continent win back its independence.

We then have Niger and Namibia with similar uranium reserves and resources and policies, i.e. letting foreigners developing their mines. The mines in Namibia are operated mainly by China and Australian junior companies.

Mines in Niger are mainly developed by France, Canada, and China. As a further sign of the importance of strengthening supply, on 13 May 2024, Niger’s government announced the decision to reopen the mine of Azelik held by the joint venture Somina, itself owned at 37.2% by CNUC (China) and at 24.8% by ZXJOY invest (China) and closed since 2014 (e.g. Le Monde, “Au Niger, une entreprise chinoise va reprendre l’extraction d’uranium après dix ans d’interruption“, 14 May 2024). Beforehand, on 10 May 2024, ZXJOY invest had met with Niger Ambassador highlighting “future opportunities for investors between China and Niger” (ZXJOY CEO Met with Niger Ambassador, website). That decision had been prepared in June 2023 through an agreement between CNUC and Niger’s government planning for the reopening of the mine (Ibid.).

The coup in Niger could also further upset the current state of play, as already seen in the Nigerien decision to end military cooperation with the U.S. following American reaction to Nigerien desire to sell uranium to Iran (Le Monde, “Au Niger, la question de l’uranium à l’origine de la discorde avec les Etats-Unis, selon le premier ministre“, 14 May 2024).

China then ranks 9 without inferred resources and 7 with them. Considering the planned development of its nuclear energy production over the next decades and the related considerable increase in its yearly uranium requirements, will these resources be enough in terms of supply (see The Future of Uranium Demand – China’s Surge)? China has been active in developing overseas mining as seen, and we can expect it will further strengthen these efforts. What will be the consequences globally? China also has a policy to purchase uranium through long term contracts. Thus, will these purchases, alongside development of overseas mining, be able to continue and increase without denying supplies to other countries? Here again, further research and keeping the issue closely under watch is warranted.

Also noteworthy, the U.S. only ranks now 15. Not only its efforts to secure supply abroad are sparse, but part of its own uranium mines are operated by foreigners, mainly Canadian (note that Rosatom’s holdings of American mines were sold to Texas-based Uranium Energy Corp in Nov 2021, “UEC to buy Uranium One’s US uranium assets“, World Nuclear News, 9 Nov 2021).

Considering the U.S. current and future needs, we may wonder if the present apparent absence of interest and efforts overseas is strategically coherent. As highlighted above, hoping for Australian and Canadian supply may not be that secure. Furthermore, the cooperation between Russia and China in the peaceful use of nuclear energy, in the framework of China’s increasing needs in uranium, may strongly impact uranium availability. Further detailed and forward analysis needs to be done, considering also other actors needs and objectives.

To conclude, if we use the revisited perspective on uranium reserves and resources in the light of current uranium requirements and stakes regarding electricity production stemming from nuclear energy, we obtain the charts on the right hand side column below. For the sake of comparison we give the classical approach on the left hand side column.

The most staggering changes concern France, and of course, consequently, the EU with France, as well as Japan, thanks to its joint-ventures in Kazakhstan and to Japanese companies share in French Orano. We can see that the security of uranium supply for these three state and quasi-state is much stronger than initially thought. All move into the group of state actors with both important stakes in nuclear energy and a relatively balanced security in terms of supply and requirements.

The revisited approach reveals an improved situation for Russia and Canada, which already benefited from a secure and balance outlook. China’s situation also appears as better than thought.

By contrast, relatively, the U.S, appears as lagging behind the others.

Now, in this article, we have only looked at reserves and resources. Moving from reserves to production should add another layer of complexity to the issue.


(1) Similar approaches should also be developed for each stage of the fuel cycle to have an exhaustive vision of the field and its security.

(2) Following various circulars and frameworks signed in 2022, the activities of CNNC Group Ltd are defined as follows:

“The Group agreed to

i) act as the prioritised supplier of CNUC Group for its short term demand for natural uranium products and the regional sole supplier of CNUC Group for its medium-to-long-term demand for natural uranium products; and

ii) act as the exclusive authorised distributor for the sale and distribution of uranium products produced by the Rössing uranium mine (being indirectly owned by CNUC as to approximately 68.62%), for on-sale to third party customers in all countries and regions around the world except the PRC.”

2023 Annual Report, p. 6

(3) According to the NEA/IAEA, “in situ resources are referring to the estimated amount of uranium in the ground” before considering way to recover resources (pp. 10, 17). The NEA/IAEA then applies recovery factor to get the recovered resources (Ibid.). Here, in the case of Kazakhstan, the factor applied is 88,38% and 88,18% to go from in situ resources to recoverable ones.

(4) The more recent German BGR Energiestudie 2023 (Feb 2024) does not either allow reconciling data easily if we take Kazakhstan as example.

The Future of Uranium Demand – China’s Surge

(Art direction and design: Jean-Dominique Lavoix-Carli)

The world is poised to make the effort to treble its nuclear energy capacity by 2050. Even though uranium reserves are meant to be abundant and widespread worldwide, the necessity of producing uranium from mines, with long timelines from exploration to extraction and milling, added to the fate of geography and to a volatile national, international and geopolitical context, let us expect that politics and geopolitics could soon become very important factors for uranium supply, thus to see demand met, and, as a result, for nuclear energy production (see Helene Lavoix, “Uranium and the Renewal of Nuclear Energy“, The Red Team Analysis Society, 9 April 2024).

To be able to assess further what could happen in the future, we need to go beyond, or rather beneath, the global level.

In this article, we look at uranium demand at country level, which is greatly determined by operating and planned nuclear plants. Thus, first we establish a base case scenario for the future of nuclear energy capacities, upon which the 2023 decision to treble nuclear energy and related policies will apply. We follow the evolution per country and notably China’s surge, which displaces America’s lead. We then highlight a direct geopolitical consequence of the multiplication of nuclear reactors on territories, as nuclear plants become essential elements in the theatres of war. Finally, we turn to the need for uranium per country.

Present and future nuclear energy capacity across the world

The demand for uranium obviously depends first on the nuclear energy produced by a country, which, in turn, depends on the operating nuclear reactors (Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA)/International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Uranium 2022: Resources, Production and Demand (Red Book), OECD Publishing, Paris, 2023).

If the world intends trebling the capacity to generate nuclear energy then we need to find out, per country, how many nuclear plants exist, how many are already planned and how many more need to be added. The existing and planned nuclear capacity on the one hand, the capabilities that need to be added to meet the trebling objective, on the other, will then determinate scenarios for the coming demand for uranium at country level.

However, as most decisions regarding nuclear capacities, thus related plans, were taken before the December 2023 decision for the renewal of nuclear energy, existing programs and projects will likely change. To consider this possibility, what we assess here, in terms of nuclear capacities, is a base case scenario.

From the American lead to the Chinese supremacy?

Nuclear energy production in 2024

In April 2024, the global nuclear energy production reached 375,57 GWe net (IAEA – PRIS, 14/04/2024). Compared with the assessment made by the NEA/IAEA for the start of 2021 with a net energy generating capacity of 393 GWe, we would thus have a decrease of 4,43% (Uranium 2022, p. 12). Considering the IAEA – PRIS, 14/04/2024 statistics, we would have an increase of 1,23% compared with 2022 from 370,99 GWe and of 2,39% compared with 2021 (year-end) from 366,79 GWe.

The nuclear energy generating capacity per country is shown on the chart below:

Countries’ share of nuclear generating capacity 2024 in the world
Source: IAEA PRIS 14/04/2024 

The largest producers of nuclear energy are, by order of importance, the United States, followed by France, China, Russia, the Republic of Korea, Canada and Ukraine, as shown on the pie chart. All together they represent 80% of the world production.

From present to future nuclear energy capacities

Considering the time needed to build a nuclear plant, as well as the stringent regulations surrounding the nuclear industry, we have a pretty good idea of tomorrow’s nuclear generating capacity landscape for classical plants, i.e. excluding small modular reactors (SMR) and advanced modular reactors (AMR).

On top of current operating plants, we need to look at reactors in construction (known until 2030), then at those planned (up to 15 years in the future), and finally to those proposed (not yet planned, with an uncertain timeline) (World Nuclear Association, “Plans For New Reactors Worldwide“, April 2024).

Nonetheless, we should add to the base case scenario a variation according to the number of reactors that could be shutdown, or on the contrary, that could be subjected to extended operations. In 2023, the World Nuclear Association (WNA) estimated that “Upwards of 140 reactors could be subject to extended operation in the period to 2040” (Global Scenarios for Demand and Supply Availability 2023-2040, 21st edition, Sept 2023). Otherwise, it appraised in its 2023 reference scenario that 66 reactors would close by 2040 (WNA, Notes in “World Nuclear Power Reactors & Uranium Requirements“, April 2024).

By 2030 China overtakes France in nuclear energy production

If we add to the current capacity the reactors in construction we obtain the nuclear capacity for the year 2030

For the base case scenario, if we look at the reactors under construction, as shown on the chart below, we obtain an idea of the maximum (i.e. assuming there is no reactor shutdown) nuclear capacity countries should reach by 2030 (WNA, “Plans For New Reactors Worldwide“, April 2024, and IAEA PRIS 14/04/2024 “Under Construction”).

Estimated countries’ share of max. nuclear generating capacity by 2030 in the world – Source: IAEA PRIS 14/04/2024 and WNA

In 2030, in share of the world production, if the United States still lead, China overtakes France. Then follow Russia, the Republic of Korea, Ukraine, Japan, Canada and India, which enters the group of the largest nuclear energy producers. All together, these nine countries represent 80 % of the world nuclear energy production.

By 2039 China leads the world in nuclear energy production

We can then add the “classical” nuclear plants that are planned, i.e. according to the WNA’s taxonomy, those plants for which “approvals, funding or commitment [is] in place, mostly expected to be in operation within the next 15 years” (WNA, “Plans For New Reactors Worldwide“, April 2024).

Thus by 2039, we can estimate to have a maximum nuclear generating capacity per country (without SMR and AMR) as shown on the chart below.

Estimated countries’ share of max. nuclear generating capacity by 2039 in the world – Source: IAEA PRIS 14/04/2024 and WNA

In 2039, in share of the world production, China now leads the world followed by the United States, France, Russia, the Republic of Korea, India, Ukraine, Japan, and Canada. All together, these nine countries represent 81 % of the world nuclear energy production.

From 2040 onwards China’s nuclear energy production dwarves other countries

Finally, we can add to the nuclear energy capacity the proposed nuclear plants, which correspond, according to the WNA to “Specific programme or site proposals” but for which the timing is very uncertain (Ibid.). We can assume they will start operating in more than 15 years, thus earliest in 2040.

We see here efforts made by most country, led especially by China, with 186,4 GWe proposed, followed in a lesser way by Russia with 37,7 GWe, and India with 32 GWe, as seen in the chart below. The nuclear capacity China proposes to build represents half of the 2024 nuclear capacity for the whole world.

If no further efforts at planning for new reactors and at proposing programmes are made, within a quarter of a century, the United States will have completely lost its dominating place and will be far behind China. France, similarly seems to be plagued by an inability to plan and propose ahead, falling from the second to the fourth place in terms of nuclear energy capacity, and from representing 16% of the world nuclear energy capacity to 8%.

Estimated countries’ share of max. nuclear generating capacity after 2040 in the world – Source: IAEA PRIS 14/04/2024 and WNA

After 2040, always looking at maximum capacity for the base case scenario, and without taking into consideration SMRs and AMRs, in share of the world production, China now leads by far followed by the United States, Russia, France, India, the Republic of Korea, Japan and Ukraine. Canada is not part anymore of the main nuclear energy producers. All together, these eight countries represent 80 % of the world nuclear energy production.

Yet, more must be done

Nonetheless, if we do not take into account SMRs and AMRs, despite China’s sustained efforts to develop its nuclear energy generating capacity, which implies the Middle Kingdom potentially represents one quarter of the world after 2040, so far, globally, we are short of the objectives set to treble nuclear capacity.

We pay the absence of long term planning we saw in the previous article and the consequent deficiency in terms of reactors under construction.

Apart for China, this lack of anticipation has not yet been corrected and is still operating at the stage of planification of reactors. We may assume that the new pro-nuclear global policies will amend this approach. However, considering the long timeline necessary between the decision to build nuclear generators and their commercial connection to the grid – approximately 15 years – firm and committed decisions will have to be taken by the end of 2024, latest 2025, if we want to see the objectives to treble world capacity by 2050 met.

A widespread use of SMRs and AMRs could help close the gap. It could also help papering over difficulties at anticipation, rather than addressing the problem. However, the SMR and AMR approaches are still novel, with more than 80 different designs for SMRs and we have little real life experience for their use, advantages and drawbacks (IAEA, Joanne Liou, “What are Small Modular Reactors (SMRs)?“, 13 September 2023; Charles Cuvelliez, “Nucléaire : pourquoi tant d’attirance pour les SMR  ?“, La Tribune, 28 May 2023) . Detailed scenarios must be done before their deployment. Obviously, human beings cannot escape the imperatives of anticipation and planning, especially in terms of governance and in the nuclear field.

What about security and warfare?

A direct geopolitical consequence of the trebling of nuclear capacities lies in the multiplication of nuclear generators on a territory. What will that imply in terms of future war strategy and tactics?

When one sees the multiple drama surrounding Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant since the start of the war (e.g. among many “Is Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant at risk of an ‘accident’?“, Al Jazeera, 16 Apr 2024), one may easily imagine the dangers entailed by an attack on a country with many nuclear reactors (e.g. Joanna Przybylak, “Nuclear power plants in war zones: Lessons learned from the war in Ukraine“, Security and Defense Quarterly, 2023. doi:10.35467/sdq/174810; Marc Léger, “Le nucléaire, la guerre et le droit de la guerre, SFEN, 25 July 2023; Assemblée Nationale, “Rapport de la commission d’enquête sur la sûreté et la sécurité des installations nucléaires“, 2018 ).

Indeed, any civilian nuclear installation may become weaponised by belligerants, from hindering energy supply to blackmailing opponents (Przybylak, “Nuclear power plants in war zones…), through forbidding carpet-bombing, or counter-attacking and sacrificing population in exchange for casualties inflicted to an occupation force, etc.

Imagine how the maps below could look like with the increase in nuclear capacity already planned we saw, to which would be added what is necessary to fill the gap to meet the trebling objectives.

Now, imagine how the maps could look like if SMR and AMR are widely added, including by commercial and industrial actors, as reportedly envisioned, for example in the U.S. by Microsoft and OpenAi to power a supercomputer for Artificial Intelligence development, or in France by Cristal Union, a cooperative group, producer of sugar and alcohol (Sebastian Moss, “Microsoft & OpenAI consider $100bn, 5GW ‘Stargate’ AI data center – report“, Data Center Dynamics, 29 March 2024 ;”Le sucrier Cristal Union installera-t-il un miniréacteur nucléaire Jimmy à Bazancourt ?“, L’Usine Nouvelle, 9 April 2024).

We should also take into account that the very size and technology of SMR should allow to locate them underground or underwater (World Nuclear Association, “Small Nuclear Power Reactors“, February 2024). In that case, the way to attack or protect those underground or underwater facilities, alongside related types of potential damages, will have to be considered. For example, although the WNA highlights that underwater facilities are safer from “man-made … hazards” (ibid.), divers teams or submersibles may also conduct attacking operations. The sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline should serve as a lesson (e.g. UN Briefings, SC/15351, “Briefers Urge Security Council to Independently Investigate 2022 Nord Stream Pipeline Incident…“, 11 July 2023). The deleterious and wide-ranging impacts of such attacks would also need to be taken into account.

Design and deployment criteria for SMRs, with their various security stakes, will certainly be included in state’s defensive and attacking doctrines.

In terms of both defense and attack, according to the aims of the attacker, the evolution towards more nuclear plants will demand careful planning. Scenarios, using red teaming notably – i.e. understanding the enemy’s ideologies and beliefs, aims, resources, strategy etc. – will imperatively need to be crafted, to ensure security.

Estimated uranium requirements per country

Now we have a base case scenario for the future nuclear energy capacities per country, what does that imply in terms of demand for uranium?

A country’s demand for reactor-related uranium for a year is, as seen, first determined by the number of operating nuclear plants for that country. It is called “uranium requirements” and is measured in tonnes of uranium per year: tU/y (NEA/IAEA, Red Book 2022, p. 111).

However, uranium requirements are also sensitive mainly to four factors depending on the type of generator and the way it is operated: fuel cycle length or lifetime fuel cycle, uranium enrichment level and strategies of optimisation (level of tails assays chosen in the enrichment phase), discharge burn-up and capacity (or load) factors (NEA/IAEA, Red Book 2022, pp. 111-112).

As a result, the statistics given for uranium requirements are about purchase or acquisition of uranium and not consumption, which is adjusted by operators according to needs and context (Ibid.).

Here again, we shall create a base case scenario. This will allow for further detailed scenarios considering these factors and operators adjustments. We rely first on the assessments and hypotheses made by the NEA/IAEA in the Red Book 2022, i.e. “160 tU/GWe/yr, under the new assumption of a tails assay of 0.25% over the lifetime of the reactor”, knowing that, before the Fukushima accident, the Red Book used 175 tU/GWe/yr, with a tails assay of 0.30% (pp. 111-112, table p.100). Then we use the WNA latest data (published April 2024).

For the base case scenario, we use the NEA/IAEA and WNA assumptions for future nuclear reactors. Variations considering technological evolution should then be added to the base case scenario.


Load Factor: “also called Capacity Factor, for a given period, is the ratio of the energy which the power reactor unit has produced over that period divided by the energy it would have produced at its reference power capacity over that period” (IAEA/Power Reactor Information System’s Glossary).

Lifecycle of nuclear fuel: It depends on the type of reactor. “In a pressurized
water reactor, it lasts about three to seven years,
depending on the fuel and its location in the reactor
core”. See, for example, IAEA “Lifecycle of Nuclear Fuel” (pdf).

The discharge burn-up of nuclear fuel is usually defined as the thermal energy output during the lifetime
of the fuel divided by the initial mass of heavy metal (denoted HMi). (See p. 14, NEA, “Very High Burn-ups in Light Water Reactors“, 2019).

First we should note that each country displays different “efficiency” in terms of GWe produced per tU, which also changes according to years and source of data, as shown on the chart below.

The world average for this “efficiency” seems however to remain almost constant (0,0064 for 2022 WNA data; 0,0063 for 2020/21 Red Book 2022 data). For want of another more reliable way, we use the latest “efficiency” (2022 WNA) also for the future. This “efficiency” will vary, notably considering technological evolution and types of reactors and should also lead to construct further scenarios. For those countries without nuclear energy in 2022, we use the world average efficiency, i.e. 0,0064.*

The results obtained for the base case scenario are rough estimates of future uranium requirements per country. They are indications of future trends, which will then change according to the various efforts made by each country to fill the gap to the trebling objective by 2050.

As we did for the estimated nuclear energy capacity, the next charts show the estimated yearly uranium requirements per country up until 2030, until 2039 and then after 2040 with uncertain timeline.

By 2030, China will have been catching up with the U.S. as largest purchaser of uranium. Global demand will have increased but without fundamentally altering the ranking of the largest purchasers.

However, by 2039, China will have overtaken the U.S. by far, to say nothing of other countries. It will absorb 31% of the total world uranium requirements.

Considering the long timeframes necessary to bring about new production of uranium, as seen in the previous article, it is necessary that suppliers as well as other “consumer” countries start considering the large increase of China’s requirements and include it in their strategies.

After 2040, China’s uranium requirements will dwarf other countries’ including those of the U.S.. They could represent 3,7 times those of America. China could absorb 44% of the world uranium requirements. Furthermore, the order of uranium purchasers changes. China and the U.S. are followed by Russia then India. France is only at the 5th position, when it was third, just after the U.S., previously.

Whatever its ranking in terms of uranium requirements, for a country, being able to acquire uranium will be fundamental. Indeed not only the costs to build nuclear plants are heavy, but also such investments mean dependency on electricity and nuclear-generated power grows. Thus, the strong increase in China’s requirements, if not planned also with others in mind, could give rise to bitter competition for uranium.

All actors will need to take those trends into account.

Considering this context, what is the outlook for the supply of uranium? This is what we shall see with the next article.


*For the 2020 and 2021 data of the NEA/IAEA “Red Book”, note that some fleet of nuclear reactors use mixed oxide (MOX) fuel while others don’t. MOX fuel is constituted by plutonium, from reprocessed nuclear fuel or from weapons-grade plutonium, mixed with either natural uranium, reprocessed uranium or depleted uranium. At the start of 2021, the countries using MOX fuel are France (23 reactors), India (one reactor), and the Netherlands (one reactor) (NEA/IAEA, Red Book 2022, pp.123-124).

As MOX fuel is not counted as uranium requirement in the NEA/IAEA statistics, we may assume that the high efficiency of energy production per tU shown by France compared with other countries in the Red Book 2022 stems from the use of MOX fuel (Ibid & p.100).

The statistics of the WNA (April 2024) specify that uranium requirements are for 2024 (title of the column), but give as source: “World Nuclear Association, The Nuclear Fuel Report (published September 2023, reference scenario forecast) – for uranium requirements”, which would imply that the uranium requirements given are for 2022.

Uranium and the Renewal of Nuclear Energy

(Art direction and design: Jean-Dominique Lavoix-Carli)

A new era starts for nuclear energy.

The December 2023 “Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy by 2050”, signed by 22 states, officially cemented the beginning of the renewal of nuclear energy (see Helene Lavoix, “The Return of Nuclear Energy“, The Red Team Analysis Society, 26 March 2024). Then, on 21 March 2024, 33 governments and international agencies reasserted their commitment with the first Nuclear Energy Summit. The nuclear industry endorsed the two declarations and their objectives.

However, as we started outlining previously with a case study focused on the Franco-Mongolian deal (Ibid.), this new era will also come with new geopolitical challenges and tensions, as states seek to reduce the potential for insecurity linked to nuclear energy.

This article continues exploring what the renewal of nuclear energy entails for the future. First, we highlight the need to look at the whole nuclear fuel cycle, while stressing that anticipation and long-term planning are key, if we want to succeed in trebling nuclear energy by 2050. Second, starting with the beginning of the cycle, mining and milling uranium, we focus on the various types of uranium reserves and evaluate their availability considering objectives.

Finally, we move from reserves to uranium production and highlight a growing risk of undersupply, considering potential future demand, that will need to be overcome. This coming quest for uranium security will be intertwined with political and geopolitical issues, while itself becoming a geopolitical stake, in an escalating feedback loop.

The nuclear fuel cycle and long-term planning

A very large part of the world is thus committed to try trebling nuclear power generation by 2050, i.e. in 26 years.

This implies meeting many challenges, which go beyond the fundamental, but not sufficient, “cost, performance, safety and waste management” efforts highlighted by international agencies (International Energy Agency – IEA, Nuclear Power and Secure Energy Transitions, 2022; Nuclear Energy Agency – NEA, Meeting Climate Change Targets: The Role of Nuclear Energy, OECD Publishing, 2022, Paris, pp.39-46).

Actually, if we want to understand what it means to treble the nuclear energy capacity, then we need to look at what is called the nuclear energy or nuclear fuel cycle (see diagram below). Trebling our capacity to produce nuclear energy does not only mean “simply” trebling the energy generated by nuclear plants. It will also demand that the whole nuclear cycle allows for this major increase.

The Nuclear Fuel Cycle – diagram from “Nuclear Fuel Cycle Overview” – World Nuclear Association – April 2021 (Between each industrial step the chemical symbol for the type of uranium obtained is given – e.g. U3O8 = triuranium octoxide. U3O8 is a compound of uranium, solid that is transported from the mill to the conversion unit under the form of “yellowcake”).

Each step will bring its own challenges (for a detailed explanation of the industrial process, read “Nuclear Fuel Cycle – Overview” – World Nuclear Association – April 2021).

The issue is even more complex as changes taking place at one step of the process will reverberate on other steps. For example, projects that include recycling nuclear fuel as well as operate in a fully closed fuel cycle, for instance fast neutron reactors, could alter the fuel cycle by lowering the need for uranium (e.g. Lucy Ashton, “When nuclear waste is an asset, not a burden“, IAEA, September 2023; Orano, “Traitement & recyclage des combustibles usés : ce qu’il faut retenir“).

Furthermore, changes at each step, including building a new nuclear plant -apart for Small Modular Reactors (SMR) – for example, belong to the long term.

For instance, China’s Shidaowan high temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) nuclear power plant, the world first generation-IV nuclear power plant, went officially into commercial operations in December 2023. Its construction started in 2012 and it began generating power in December 2021 (Xinhua, “World’s 1st 4th-generation nuclear power plant goes into commercial operation in China“, Global Times, 7 December 2023). It therefore took 12 years from the start of construction to final launch. The timeline is even longer if we consider research and development, as, for example, for Generation-IV reactors “several innovative concepts … have been under development for decades” (NEA, Meeting Climate Change Targets, p.28).

Note that a new timeline will be created as the Small Modular Reactors (SMR) multiply, as wished by governments (e.g. Nathan Canas et Paul Messad, “La Commission vise la construction d’un premier petit réacteur nucléaire en Europe «d’ici 2030»“, Euractiv, 7 Feb 2024; forthcoming IAEA International Conference on Small Modular Reactors and their Applications, 21–25 October 2024, Vienna, Austria). Indeed SMRs are meant to be built in 2 to 3 years – 40 months, i.e. 3,33 years, for example for the French EDF NUWARD (e.g. Nathalie Mayer, “Comment ce mini réacteur nucléaire SMR va décarboner l’Amérique du Nord“, Révolution Energétique, 1 Feb 2023). However this shorter timeframe will demand even more long-term anticipation for the operators of the remaining part of the fuel cycle as timeframes will conflict.

Hence, possible futures for each step will need to be foreseen, while impacts on every other step for each scenario will have to be evaluated.

Anticipation and long-term planning are of the essence for the nuclear industry.

For instance, over the last decades, a focus on a temporarily depressed nuclear market, the absence of consideration of geopolitical security stakes, short-termism and financialization, added to adverse public opinion and lack of political courage among others, all favouring an inability to anticipate and thus plan ahead, have increasingly plagued many countries and led them to fall in terms of nuclear energy behind other states with a less myopic worldview (e.g. in the case of France, Assemblée nationale, Rapport de la commission d’enquête visant à établir les raisons de la perte de souveraineté et d’indépendance énergétique de la France, 30 mars 2023, pp. 20-26, 268-309).

For example, the IEA highlights that “investment in nuclear power in advanced economies has stalled over the last two decades”(Nuclear Power and Secure Energy Transitions, June 2022, p.16). Now these countries will have to catch up.

Globally, as a result, to reach the new objectives for the nuclear energy capacity, the world must now overcome a “global installed nuclear capacity gap (2020-2050)” (NEA, Meeting Climate Change Targets…, p.39).

“Global installed nuclear capacity gap (2020-2050)” figure 23 from NEA, Meeting Climate Change Targets: The Role of Nuclear Energy, OECD Publishing, 2022, Paris, p.39

This example highlights how dangerous the absence of long-term vision is and how difficult to overcome it is in the case of nuclear energy.

Furthermore, however huge the task the NEA highlights, this gap is “only” about the “power generation” phase of the cycle (Ibid. pp. 38-39).

Power generation is indeed critical as it is the driver for the whole chain of processes.

We thus need to pay heed to the recommandations the IEA and the NEA crafted to allow the nuclear to play its full role in achieving net zero by 2050 (IEA) by trebling nuclear power production by 2050 (NEA):

  • Acting now (NEA)
  • Understanding and reducing costs (NEA) and Make electricity markets value dispatchable low emissions capacity (IEA)
  • Improving deployment timelines (NEA)
  • Accelerate the development and deployment of small modular reactors (IEA)
  • Extend plant lifetimes (IEA)
  • Financing and investing, with “the right policy frameworks” (NEA) and Create financing frameworks to support new reactors (IEA)
  • Make long-term support [by governments] contingent on the industry delivering safe projects on time and on budget (IEA)
  • Building public confidence (NEA)
  • Promote efficient and effective safety regulation (IEA)
  • Implement solutions for nuclear waste disposal (notably involving citizens) (IEA)
  • Breaking the silence on nuclear energy, ensuring full representation in policy discussions about clean energy and climate change (NEA)
NEA, Meeting Climate Change Targets…, pp.39-46 and IEA, Nuclear Power and Secure Energy Transitions, p. 12.

Yet, we must also consider the remaining part of the nuclear fuel cycle to avoid disappointments and unintended consequences, bearing in mind the importance of feedback loops between the different steps of the nuclear fuel cycle, of timelines and obviously of anticipation, without forgetting the political and geopolitical context and stakes.

We focus here on the first part of the cycle, uranium mining and milling, seen from a geopolitical and international security perspective.

Uranium reserves

If nuclear energy must triple by 2050, then the supply of fuel, i.e. uranium, needed for the plants must also increase. The first question is thus to know if there is enough uranium available to meet this objective. We must thus look at uranium reserves.

According to the international official reference estimates, the “Red Book”, a joint publication of the NEA and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), there is sufficient uranium to meet current and long term needs, including those implied by new developments:

“Identified recoverable resources, including reasonably assured resources and inferred resources (at a cost <USD 260/kgU, equivalent to USD 100/lb U3O8) are sufficient for more than 130 years, considering the uranium requirements 0f the year 2020.”

NEA/IAEA Uranium 2022: Resources, Production and Demand (Red Book), pp. 14-15.

The previous edition of the “Red Book” (published every two years) estimated that uranium recoverable resources (at a cost <USD 260/kgU, equivalent to USD 100/lb U3O8) were sufficient for over 135 years for the uranium requirements of 2019 (NEA/IAEA Uranium 2020: Resources, Production and Demand ). The decrease from 2020 to 2022 stemmed from “mine depletions, …downgrading of resources, …reassessment of recoverability factors” (NEA/IAEA Uranium 2022, pp.19-20).

Let us look more in detail at the estimates of uranium supply for future needs, considering current political and industrial willingness to triple nuclear capacity by 2050.

First we shall assess estimates of uranium requirements considering objectives, then we shall look at the reserves of uranium given these estimated future uranium requirements.

Having been published before the plans to triple nuclear energy by 2050, the “Red Book” estimated in 2022 that a high demand case would correspond to a nuclear net generating capacity of 677 GWe in 2040, i.e. an increase of around 70% compared with 2020 capacity (NEA/IAEA, Uranium 2022, p. 12). The “Red Book” estimated in that case that “world annual reactor-related uranium requirements (excluding the use of mixed oxide fuels, which is marginal)” are “projected to rise to 108.200 tU/y by 2040” (Ibid. – note that here, ideally, different scenarios should be made according to variations for each step of the cycle, for example the different types of generators that will be built. In the framework of this article we shall rely on the NEA/IAEA estimates).

The NEA, for its part estimated that “the average IPCC 1.5°C scenario requires nuclear energy to reach 1.160 GWe (gigawatts electrical) by 2050 (NEA, Meeting Climate Change Targets, p. 33). We know that the 2021 net energy generating capacity was of 393 GWe (Gigawatt electrical) requiring about 60.100 tU/y (tonnes of uranium per year) (NEA/IAEA, Uranium 2022, p. 12). Thus the new target corresponds to almost tripling the current world nuclear capacity by 2050. It was the objective endorsed by twenty two countries and the nuclear industry at the COP 28 in December 2023 (see Lavoix, “The Return of Nuclear Energy“). It is thus this objective and not the “high demand case” scenario of the 2022 “Red Book” that we must consider and for which we need to evaluate uranium requirements.

If we use the ratio of uranium related requirements per GWe of the 2022 “Red Book”, and the yearly progression in capacity of the IEA Net Zero by 2050 revised for the World Outlook 2023, and apply them to the officially endorsed objectives of the NEA, we obtain the following table for the yearly needs in tU/y.

Nuclear Capacity – Red Book 2022

677 GWe
Reactor-related uranium requirement

108 200 tU/y
Nuclear produced energy (NEA scenario)
4 984 TWh6 271 TWh7 070 TWh7 617 TWh
Nuclear Capacity (NEA scenario)
685 GWe871 GWe1 030 GWe1 160 GWe
Estimated reactor-related uranium requirement tU/y (calculated)49.355 tU/y109.496 tU/y139.248 tU/y164.548 tU/y185.394 tU/y

Now, in the next table, we estimate the reserves of uranium available, starting from the figures given in the 2022 Red Book.

Available resources vary according to price – the higher the price, the more reserve available. Thus, to be able to estimate the reserves of uranium available for the increase in nuclear capacities, we need first to assess the future price of uranium.

The price range used is as follows:

/ KgU<US$‎ 40,00<US$‎ 80,00<US$‎ 130,00<US$‎ 260,00
/lb U3O8<US$‎ 15,00<US$‎ 30,00<US$‎ 50,00<US$‎ 100,00
Range of price of Uranium for reserves from NEA/IEAE Uranium 2022: Resources, Production and Demand

In January 2024, for the first time since April-July 2007, spot uranium prices rose above USD 100,00/lbU3O8. Long term price traded at USD 72. On 29 February, a pound of U3O8 traded USD 95 on the spot market and long term contract traded USD 75 (Cameco using month-end prices by UxC and TradeTech ). On 31 March 2024, a pound of U3O8 traded USD 87,75 , the the long-term contract traded USD 77,5.

Uranium Price from January 2020 to March 2024 and price range for uranium reserves estimates

We see a slight decrease over the last three months for spot prices, bt these prices concern only “15% to 25% of all annual uranium transactions” (NEA/IAEA, Uranium 2022, p.128). On the other hand, long-term contracts are steadily rising. Furthermore, for both spot and long term contracts, prices have risen over the last five years. Finally and most importantly we must take into account the officially planned development of nuclear capabilities. Thus, in market conditions, it is very likely that long-term prices will rise above USD 100/lb U3O8 as the trebling objective starts truly being implemented. We make here the hypothesis that this will be true from 2030 onwards.

If ever the imperatives of energy production were high enough in terms of national security, un the future, uranium could become a nationalised resource. Then market price would become irrelevant. In that case, the reserves at the highest cost would most likely represent a reality in terms of quantity.

As a result, we consider here reserves available at the highest cost, i.e. USD 260/kgU, equivalent to USD 100/lb U3O8.

We take into account the various types of resources as categorised in the Red Book: “Identified recoverable resources, including reasonably assured resources” [corresponding approximately to decisions to mine] “and inferred resources” [corresponding to decisions to carry out in-depth studies], and finally “undiscovered resources” [expected to exist based on geological knowledge] (NEA/IAEA, Uranium 2022, p. 17) . The various types of reserves and the stages of uranium exploration, mining and process are portrayed on the timeline below.

We obtain the following table with years of remaining resources. For example, the production used to calculate the number of years of uranium left for the year 2035 is the production of 2035.

2021 (Red Book 2022)20222030203520402050
Estimated reactor-related uranium requirement tU/y
49 355 109 496139 248164 548185 394
Identified recoverable resources (IRR) tU 7.917.5007.868.1457.423.9506.766.9745.931.4854.121.461
Number of years of sufficient IRR 13015968493622
RAR tU4.688.3004.638.9454.194.7503.537.7742.702.285892.261
Number of years of sufficient RAR
Inferred Ressources tU3.229.2003.229.2003.229.2003.229.2003.229.2003.229.200
Number of years of sufficient IR
Undiscovered resources tU5.703.4605.703.4605.703.4605.703.4605.703.4605.703.460
Number of years of sufficient UR
IRR = Identified recoverable resources (RAR + inferred resources) – RAR = reasonably assured resources – UR = Undiscovered resources -Source: 2022 Red Book. Estimates of number of years: own estimates – Reserves are those available at a cost <USD 260/kgU, equivalent to USD 100/lb U3O8 – For the years 2022 to 2029, the reserves to consider could be those available
at a cost <USD 130/kgU, equivalent to USD 50/lb U3O8. The figures for this decade would be lower but nonetheless globally sufficient (IRR = 6.029.145 in 2022; RAR 3.814.500) – For the estimated identified recoverable resources, no new discovery was added, the estimated reserves given in the Red Book 2022 were diminished by the estimated uranium required for the period. The years of “reserve” correspond to an estimated uranium requirement for the year of the column.

According to the table above, assuming the intermediary objectives until 2050 are reached, then, indeed, up until 2050 there is enough reserve of uranium of the “reasonably assured resources” type. However, in 2050, there will only be 5 years left of this type, 17 years of the type “inferred resources” and 31 years of the type “undiscovered resources”.

Meanwhile, the map of identified recoverable conventional uranium resources – RAR + Inferred R (for a lower price, i.e. <US$‎ 50,00/lb U3O8 or <US$‎ 130,00/kgU), as drawn by the NEA/IAEA is as follows:

Source: Figure 1-1, NEA/IAEA, Uranium 2022, p. 18

Even though the NEA/IAEA highlights the “widespread” distribution of uranium resources, the map let us anticipate uranium will be increasingly part of future geopolitical stakes.

For now, considering estimated available uranium resources, the question is not so much to know if there are enough reserves globally in the world, but if current and planned uranium production is sufficient to meet the rise of nuclear capacities or, alternatively if the production can increase quickly enough to meet that increase.

Increasing uranium production to meet objectives

What is the status of potential uranium production?

The NEA/IAEA estimates production capability, using a mix of countries’ projections of production capability from 2025 through 2040 with their own evaluations when a country did not communicate information (for the whole paragraph, NEA/IAEA, Uranium 2022, pp.89-91). They use two metrics. First, we have the most certain uranium production projection, i.e. those resulting from “existing and committed production centres”, labelled A-II. Then, we have larger but less certain production projections, i.e. those stemming from “existing, committed, planned and prospective production centres”, labelled B-II. B-II thus includes A-II. The results are reproduced in the first line of the next table.

We then compare these estimates to the uranium requirement to reach the trebling goal we calculated earlier and estimate as a result if the world produces or not enough uranium.

en tU/y

Total projected production (NEA/IAEA)69675 83 105 67 105107 850 55 095 104 480 49 47598 250?
Estimated reactor-related uranium requirement (RTAS)

109 496
139 248
164 548
185 394
Possible yearly Uranium deficit

-42 391 -1 646-84 153 -34 768 -115 073 -66 298 ?
Table of the total projected production of uranium for the years 2025-2040 (source: Uranium 2022: Resources, Production and Demand, pp.89-91), Estimated reactor-related uranium requirement (own estimates) and difference between projected production and what would be necessary.

The estimates are made for a price inferior to USD 130/KgU (i.e. less than USD 50/lb U3O8), knowing that, in 2024, we are above those prices, as seen. Indeed, as for reserves, the lower the price the more likely mines or part of them will be closed, hence a lowered production. Reversely, the higher the price, the more likely a mine will produce at full capacity. Considering the rising price for uranium, which is likely to be sustained as we treble nuclear capacities, it is possible that the potential for uranium production to 2040 be higher. The supplementary possible production is however impossible to evaluate without further detailed information per mine. We can expect that the next edition of the “Red Book” will include these projections.

For now, considering the large undersupply of uranium for each milestone year of the scenario – up for 2040 almost 1,5 times the 2022 production, assuming each year we manage to catch up with the previous year’s deficit, it is obvious that a major effort must be made in terms of development of mines and processing capabilities.

We thus meet a global problem: to increase in a timely manner uranium production.

The fatality of geography for uranium production

Then, in 2020 and 2021, uranium was produced only in 17 countries “with total global production amounting to 47 342 tU in 2020 and 47 472 tU in 2021” (NEA/IAEA, Uranium 2022, p. 116). In 2022, the World Nuclear Association estimated that the world production reached 49.355 tU (“World Uranium Mining Production“, Updated August 2023).

Only six countries (Kazakhstan, Namibia, Canada, Australia, Uzbekistan and Russia) accounted for 88% of the production and 10 countries (the former plus Niger, China, India and Ukraine) for 99% (NEA/IAEA, Uranium 2022).

Thus, as for the reserves, the projected production is unequally shared among countries as the four interactive maps below show. A large part of Africa, Central America, Europe, the Near East, South East Asia and some parts of South America have no or hardly any production.

Uranium projected production in tU/y

(Data from Table 1.23. World production capability to 2040, estimates B-II in Uranium 2022: Resources, Production and Demand, p. 90)





Again, this unequal spread of production let us expect future geopolitical competition for uranium production.

Increasing uranium production, timeliness and geopolitics

Being able to have enough uranium in the future when needed will greatly depend, on the one hand, upon the demand, of course, and, on the other, upon the production capacity of the mines being currently exploited, of their remaining lifespan, as well as on the status of current exploration, added to the delay existing between successful exploration and full capacity production in terms of mining and milling. And here, for now, we make abstraction of the remaining part of the nuclear cycle as well as of transportation.

For example, as shown in the timeline below, according to Orano, one of the leading international groups in the nuclear energy sector, between 15 and 25 years are needed between the discovery of a potentially useful deposit of uranium and the start of mining and milling operations (pp. 6-7), assuming there is no unforeseen event of a geopolitical type for instance. Then, a mine will be exploited for 15 to 20 years, followed by a period of 10 years and more to remediate the mining and milling site, possibly converting it, while constantly monitoring it (Ibid.).

Timeline – Uranium exploration, mining and process – redesigned from
2023 Orano’s mining activities, pp. 6-7 with approximately corresponding reserves as explained in NEA/IAEA Uranium 2022, p. 17. (Back to reserves.)

In other terms, assuming we need to add to our resources some totally new uranium site, the discovery of an uranium site taking place at the start of 2024 would correspond to a production starting between 2039 and 2049. Hence if we want to be able to treble our energy production by 2050, all necessary supplementary discoveries of sites must have taken place by 2025 if we want to be absolutely certain to produce enough uranium for 2050.

We know from our analysis of uranium reserves that globally we may use mainly RAR reserves to increase the supply of uranium. We may thus, again globally, focus on these RAR reserves.

In that case, because 5 years are needed between the “decision to mine” and the actual production of a mine, then we shall need to make sure that all “feasibility studies and decisions to mine” are taken 5 years before the need for uranium occurs. It means that to meet 2030 objectives, all “decisions to mine” will need to have been firmly taken by 2025. Not only “planned and prospective production centres” will need to be fully operational, but some further 1646 t will have to be produced from somewhere, either from existing sites where production capabilities will be increased, or from new mines included within the RAR reserves. The challenge will increase each year, with new “decisions to mine” having been taken by 2030 for, at best, 34 768 tU/y.

Practically, the “decisions to mine” translate into having mining permits with the country where the mine is located, then making the last studies and then constructing the industrial facilities, if needed.

Thus, by 2030, globally, the producing mines and milling capacities will need to represent 2,82 times those of 2022.

Obviously, here geopolitics will play an important role as sour relations with a country, competitive or adverse external influence may derail any project. Similarly the security situation within a country will also be key as instability up to civil war, organised crime, terrorist and guerrillas activities will have the power to question mining permits – for example in the case of a coup – or to strongly hinder if not stop the completion of final surveys and the construction of industrial facilities. Obviously, the challenges will continue throughout the production period.

These difficulties are not new but as instability spreads in the world and as international tensions heightens, then the political and geopolitical risks to uranium production will increase. Furthermore, because of the trebling objective for nuclear energy, the stakes linked to uranium production will be higher. As a result, the threats to uranium production will intensify.

Thus, if, globally, we know that we have enough RAR reserves, and it seems we need not worry about availability of supply, this security is partly an illusion.

Apart in statistics, in the real world there is no such thing as globally available uranium resources where each company and country can take anytime whatever amount of supply it needs. Geological surveys, industrial logic, timeline and competition, domestic instability, national interest and international tensions, all taking place under the rising stress brought about by climate change must imperatively be taken into account.

Furthermore, as highlighted above, the shorter timeline between the start of a SMR and its completion may create new challenges for the whole industry as 2 to 3,5 years (the time to build a SMR) is far below the 5 years necessary between the decision to mine is taken and the start of production.

The real question is thus to rise uranium production according to the trebling objectives in a way that allows each nuclear plant, whatever its type, to function and produce energy, while considering resources, mining and milling timeline and process alongside domestic security situation, national interest and geopolitics, while climatic conditions change and become more extreme.

Countries that plan to increase nuclear power capabilities must, in the same time, secure, in a timely manner, their supply of uranium, either through their national nuclear company or through nuclear companies of other nationalities. Similarly, companies will need to plan strategically ahead.

Indeed, as seen above globally, at country level, the energy security stakes linked to uranium will increase for a country as a threat to its uranium supply will mean its electricity production may become dangerously destabilised. The danger will intensify with the rise of electrification advocated (NZE). 

To anticipate further the new world that will be born as we seek to fuel the renewal of nuclear energy, we need to find ways to move beyond a global approach, adapted to the nuclear specificities.

AI at War (1) – Ukraine

(Art direction: Jean-Dominique Lavoix-Carli)

Combat robots, AI targeted air strikes, new generation cyber and information warfare, AI generated deep-fakes, unmanned air and sea military vehicles, and smart artillery are being currently massively projected on the theatres of operations of Ukraine, Gaza and the Red Sea.

As it happens, those new weapons systems are different iterations of the projection of AI power on the different dimensions of those battlefields.

AI power on the battlefield

According to Hélène Lavoix, we define “AI power” as the intersection between AI and the different conceptions and ways to exercise power (“When Artificial Intelligence will Power Geopolitics – Presenting AI”, The Red Team Analysis Society, November 27, 2017). As we saw in previous articles, in the military field, AI power may translate itself as an enhancement of firepower, as well as of the “observe, orient, decide and act”, i.e. the “OODA” loop (Jean-Michel Valantin, “Militarizing Artificial Intelligence – China (2)”, The Red Team Analysis Society, May 22, 2018).

If we look at the war in Ukraine, AI power, as we shall see, appears to be a multidimensional technological form of continuation of politics and war. This begs the question of the political and strategic meaning of AI (fire) power and of AI powered operational and tactical enhancement. We should also wonder about the counter-measures to these capabilities, and how they mitigate or reinforce the “battlefield AI power”.

Furthermore, the projection of AI power on the current battlefields by several of the belligerent parties is also a way to experiment with those new capabilities in real war and combat conditions. As Carl von Clausewitz establishes, “war is nothing but the continuation of politics with other means” (Carl von Clausewitz, On War,  1832, Penguin Classics, London).

Hence, in this new series, we are going to study how, in war situations, the projection of AI power on the theatre of operations and on the battlefield is the “continuation of politics”. Reciprocally, we are also going to see how, in these situations, AI power merges with politics, and how it creates continuities between the politics of war and warfare operations and tactics.

Applying this approach to Ukraine, this article thus looks at the way the integration of AI power to the politics and war continuum currently operates. First, this article describes how the big U.S. AI companies project themselves in Ukraine. It also analyses the consequences of this technological projection on the Ukrainian state and military. Then, we shall study the way Russia reacts by deploying its own AI-powered capabilities on the battlefield. Finally, we shall analyse the political and strategic consequences that AI power entails.

AI Force projections

Because of its multidimensional extensions, the AI field encompasses the data, software products and robotics fields. Reciprocally, those fields have become extensions, declinations and implementations as well as forms of AI power (Hélène Lavoix, “Exploring cascading impacts with AI”, The Red Team Analysis Society, May 17, 2023 and “Portal to AI-Understanding AI and Foreseeing the AI powered world”,  “Portal to Quantum Information Science and Technology- Towards a Quantum AI World ?” The Red Team Analysis Society).

The war in Ukraine, the great AI attractor

Since 2022 and 2023, the war in Ukraine has become an attractor and an “in vivo” laboratory for those new capabilities in a war environment (Vera Bergengruen, “How Tech giants helped turn Ukraine into a giant AI war lab”, Time Magazine, February 8, 2024).

As it happens, from 26 February 2022 onwards, i.e. two days after the start of the war, the tech billionaire Elon Musk provided the embattled country with internet service. He achieved this through the connection of portable relay antennas with his Starlink satellites constellation (Ronan Farrow, “Elon Musk’s shadow rule”, The New-Yorker, 21 August 2023.

Soon after that, Starlink became an essential support for the Ukrainian military communications. Thus, the Starlink constellation became a major support of the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (OODA) loop (Farrow, ibid). One must keep in mind that the OODA loop is a central tool of modern warfar. This process allowss the coordination between command and control authorities, the flows of information and the decision making process with digital tools while abattle is going on.

Indeed, from the U.S. perspective,  “Command and Control” (C2) is dedicated to the exercise of coordination and authority for a given mission. C2 depends on the  the “Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance” (C4ISR), dedicated to the coordination of all C2 levels during a given operation (Gemma Caroll, “Command, control and intelligence to 2021: the global C2/C4ISR market“, Naval Technology, 30 May 2012 and Elsa B. Kania, Battlefield Singularity: Artificial Intelligence, Military Revolution, and China’s Future Military Power, Center for a New American Security, November 2017).

These command levels are those involved in the management of military operations through the function of coordination of the units, actions, weapons systems, jointness and command during warfare operations. The “intelligentization” (i.e. the addition of artificial intelligence to a system) of C2 and C4ISR and C5ISR (C5 standing for cyber-defense) levels is meant to enhance the rapidity of treatment of data and information flows produced by the deployment of troops, weapons systems, and platforms to such a speed that human capabilities are largely exceeded (Kania, ibid).

The Ukrainian state in the Amazon cloud

In the same time, during the first hours of the war, on 24 February 22, Amazon started to help the Ukrainian government. The giant company offered to secure the Ukrainian state’s administrative and economic data. Then, Amazon uploaded 10 million gigabytes of data in its cloud.

The uploading was backed up by massive downloading of the same data in thousands of suitcase-size hard drives, dubbed “Snowball edge units” (Katherine Tangalakis-Rippert, “Amazon helped rescue the Ukrainian government and economy using suitcase-sized hard drives brought in over the Polish border: ‘You can’t take out the cloud with a cruise missile‘”, Business Insider, 19 December 2022).

Thus, the Ukrainian administrative system remains operational, and secure from any conventional strike (Tangalakis-Rippert, ibid)).

Palantir as state resiliency solution

Starting in June 2022, the AI company Palantir offered its services to the Kiev government. Palantir, originally partly funded by CIA’s capital venture service, is a data analytics software company. It has been known as the “Google for spies” since its creation in 2004 (Vera Bergengruen,ibid).

It is one of the most advanced AI U.S. companies, that uses machine learning  capabilities (knowing that machine learning includes deep learning, see, Hélène Lavoix, “When Artificial Intelligence will Power Geopolitics – Presenting AI“, The Red Team Analysis Society, 27 Nov 2017). Palantir’s specialty is in collecting and treating data for security and Defense organizations.

The FBI, CIA, Special Forces, Homeland Security, Immigration Control enforcement, police departments and numerous foreign agencies rent Palantir services (Sharon Weinberger, “Palantir, Big Data’s scariest, most secretive unicorn, is going public. But is its crystal ball just smoke and mirrors?”, New York Magazine, Sept. 28, 2020, Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, The fight for a human future at the new frontier of power, London, Profile Books, 2019 and Kenneth Payne, I, Warbot, the dawn of artificially intelligent conflict, London, Hurst, 2021).

In Ukraine, Palantir has rapidly become a vital infrastructure. Its deep learning and machine learning capabilities ensure the administrative continuity of the Ukrainian civil service and government, from economics to education and, obviously, the military (Vera bergengruen, ibid). On the military side, Palantir is part of a multi-actors very innovative and territory-wide data extraction system. 

It seems that one of the factors for the important Russian losses, at least in military ordnance, results from NATO’s Palantir supported targeting, through the Palantir’s Metaconstellation tool (Margarita Konaev, “Tomorrow’s technology in today’s war: the use of AI and autonomous technologies in the war in Ukraine and implications fr strategic stability“, CNA, September 2023). According to a CNA report, this AI powered tool analyses data produced by sensors on the Ukrainian theatre of operation. Those data flows are completed by satellite observation and electronic interceptions. Then, Palantir  identifies targets and produces firepower solutions.

At the start of the war, the Ukrainian ministry of technology modified an app used to download pictures. This app was widely distributed to the civilian population as well as to the troops. Then, Ukrainians started using it to photograph Russian troops or military ordnance and to transmit it with geo-coordinates.

Deep learning software treat those pictures and coordinates in real time. The results are compared with satellite imagery. Targeting units receive then the information, in order to launch an artillery or a drone strike. AI tools power the whole process in order to create an ultra-rapid OODA loop (Robin Fontes and Dr Jorrit Kamminga, “Ukraine a living lab for AI warfare”, National Defense, 3/24/2023).

This loop integrates the air and space U.S. and NATO capabilities, which support the Ukraine war effort. In other words, the U.S. puts its air and space power at work in order to turbocharge the Ukrainian military and the Palantir’s Metaconstellation systems supports the integration of US space power and AI power  in order to greatly accelerate the OODA loop.

Indeed, since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, the U.S. have become a major air and space power. The famous “shock and awe” strategy, devised in order to attain “rapid dominance” in Iraq in 2003 was based on the coordination of space, electronic, and air capabilities with ground forces (Oliver Burkeman, “Shock tactics”, The Guardian, 25 march 2003). It created a “dome” of planes, missiles, artillery, and information, which was used to destroy the Iraqi troops and to protect U.S. forces, while the latter were quickly advancing on Baghdad (Gordon and Trainor, The Endgamethe inside story of the struggle for Iraq, from George W. Bush to Barack Obama, 2012).

In other terms, the satellite systems, the air force and the ground forces were immersed in multi-layer information feeds, which helped coordinating the strikes against the Iraqi forces, and thus reduced greatly any direct contact between the U.S. forces and the Iraqi forces during the invasion phase. Then, the concepts of air, space and cyber dominance were distributed in the different arms of the U.S military.

Since 2003, those concepts and capabilities have become major tenets of all military and warfare operations, from secret and tactical operations to major deployment, as those in the Red Sea, and in Ukraine.

Thus, if we take on the one hand the involvement of U.S. tech companies in Ukraine and on the other the U.S. support to the Ukrainian military, then the war in Ukraine war becomes the de facto moment of hybridization between the U.S. military air and space power and the American private AI companies. (Jean-Michel Valantin, « On the Necessity to be an Air and Space Power to be a Great Power ? », The Red Team Analysis Society, November 16, 2015 and “Apocalypse on the Red Sea“, The Red Team Analysis Society, 20 February, 2024, Theodora Ogden, Anna Knack, Mélusine Lebret, James Black and Vasilios Mavroudis, “The Role of the Space  Domain in the Russia-Ukraine War and the Impact of Converging Space and AI Technologies” CETaS Expert Analysis, February 2024).

Not Google, but Maven

In this context, it is interesting to note that in 2017 Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google, partnered with the U.S. military. This partnership was known as Project Maven. Contested by Google employees, it was abandoned in 2018 by Google. However, the Department of Defense kept it alive without Google.

From the U.S. military side, the National Geospatial-intelligence Agency (NGA) is in charge of piloting the project. It maps the Earth for military and strategic use (Courtney Albon, “Geospatial-intelligence agency making strides on Project Maven AI”, C4ISR, May 22, 2023, Saleha Mohsin, “Inside project Maven, The US military’s AI Project”, Bloomberg, 29 February 2024 ).

The Agency develops Maven Project with a number of of partners, among them Palantir, in order to turn the project into an AI machine learning combat situational awareness tool, able to intervene on the battlefield (Steven Musil, “Palantir extends US Defense contract that prompted protest at Google”, CNet, Sept. 29; 2022).

It is now in its development phase. The goal of this high interest project is to develop unmanned systems AI powered systems able take pictures, data, imagery and full motion captures and to process those in order to identify targets.

There are not a lot of detailed open sources about project Maven’s development. However, it seems that the Ukraine war is a testing ground for some beta applications related to this project. For example, the Maven AI uses data from the theatre of operations to train itself. Especially, this training aims at identifying Russian equipment from the general landscape and destroying it (Jack Poulson, “Where drone warfare intersects with Ukraine and U.S information operations”, Tech Inquiry, 2023/13/03).

And then, there were drones

It is in this technological context that, by October 2023, Turkey would have provided Ukraine with 50 of the Bayraktar TB2 air drones (Agnes Helou, “With Turkish drones in the headlines, what happened to Bayraktar TB2?, Breaking Defense, October 6, 2023). These are unmanned autonomous drones, with observation and bombing capabilities (Maragarita Konaev, ibid).

In the same time, the Ukrainian military started to use small drones, including the U.S. Switchblade Tactical, developed in 2015 by the U.S. Army, in order to support the troops in Afghanistan. Those drones are for observation, telemetry, targeting and bombing (Michael Peck, “Kamikaze drones add a new layer of lethality to remote forces”, C4ISR, 19 September, 2015).

The Ukrainian military also uses the Phoenix Ghost drone, a loitering munition (.e. an explosive drone) (Konaev, ibid). Then, on 1 February 2024, swarm drones sank a Russian small warship in the Black Sea (Ellie Cook, “Ukraine deployed “swarming tactics” to sink Russian warship”, Newsweek, 8 February, 2024).

AI is a wolf for AI

However, if the Americans mobilise AI power to support the war in Ukraine, the same is true on the Russian side and its allies. The war triggers a race for counter-measures against the Western militarization of AI power.

For example, Russia rapidly developed a symmetric effort in the use of drones. Since 2023, the Russian military completes its own drones arsenal with the Iranian Shaheed 132 and Mojaheed drones. Those machines are equipped with active electronic warfare weapons systems. Then, those weapons systems disabled numerous Ukrainian drones, especially the Bayraktars (Konaev, ibid,  Agnes Helou, “With Turkish drones in the headlines, what happened to Bayraktar TB2?, Breaking Defense, October 6, 2023 and Jeff Mason and Steve Holland, “Russia hundreds of Iranian drones to attack Ukraine, US say”, Reuters, June 10, 2023).

It also appears that, from the Ukrainian side, one of the answers to the massive Russian use of electronic warfare has been the integration of AI to drones. This way, the development of the autonomy of new drones would compensate for the loss of ground control (Konaev, ibid and Paul Mozur and Aaron Krolik, “The invisible war in Ukraine being fought on over radio waves”, International New-York Times, in Deccan Herald, 19 November 2023).

Drones attrition

As it happens, electronic warfare weapons systems are only part of the anti-aerial and conventional weapons systems arsenals, alongside artillery, missiles and anti aerial machine guns. According to a RUSI report, 90% of all drones used by both sides between February and July 2022 were destroyed (Mykhaylo Zabrodskyi, Jack Watling, Oleksandr V. Danylyuk, and Nick Reynolds, Preliminary Lessons in Conventional Warfighting from Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine: February-July 2022, RUSI, Nov. 30, 2022, p. 37).

This entails large production capabilities for Russia, Ukraine, the U.S. and the foreign suppliers.

Russia AI (fire) power

As American AI companies, Russian AI companies test their innovations on the Ukrainian battlefield. For example, the Russian military used the Lancet-3 loitering munition. The Russian Zala Aerogroup produces the Lancet-3 (Konaev, ibid).

The Lancet-3 is able to autonomously target and strike in designated areas. For example, in June 2022, it was used during the fights in the region of Zaporozhnye region. In July 2023, those drones were also used against the Ukrainian forces during their failed summer counter-offensive (Konaev, ibid).

From robot combat to AI Performative warfare

It must be noted that Russia also launched ground drones, which exchange shots with Ukrainian air drones and with the first Ukrainian ground drones. In other words, Ukraine happens to be the first drone on drone combat battlefield (Zachary Kallenborn, “Robots are fighting robots in Russia’s war in Ukraine”, Wired, 30 January, 2024).

AI is also largely present in the area of what we call the “meta-theatre of operations”. We define this area as the universe emerging from the intersection of information warfare, cyber warfare, propaganda, and political warfare operations. The proliferation of messages, fake information, deep-fake videos, etc… cross the meta theatre of operations. As it happens, AI generates lots of those contents (Konaev).

Then, those are projected in dozens of millions of brains and minds through social media platforms. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Youtube, Telegram, the Russian VK, Chinese WeChat, become both medium and “weapons of massive distribution” of militarized contents. In other terms, the hybridation of AI generation of content with social networks is tantamount to an industrial production of performative warfare operations (Matthew Ford and Andrew Hoskins, Radical War, Data, Attention and Control in the 21st Century, Hurst Publishing, 2022).

Politics of the AI Battlefield

So, it now appears that Ukraine is a gigantic testing ground both for the militarization and weaponization of AI power and for the political use of AI power in a time of war.

Suspending state failing

The latter reveals itself in the way Amazon, Starlink and Palantir have literally become the electronic and data platforms and infrastructures of the Ukrainians. Thus, at least, those giant U.S. tech companies were able to literally “suspend” the risk of administrative discontinuity of the Ukrainian state ( On warfare and collapsing states, see Lawrence Freedman, The Future of War: a History, Penguin Books, 2017 and David Kilcullen, The Dragons and the Snakes, How the Rest Learned to fight the West, Hurst, 2020).

That was a crucial political and strategic move. Indeed, the Ukraine state, i.e. the complex of institutions guaranteeing civil as well as military service, is ensuring the security and safety of its territory and population. At the very least, its economic, fiscal and finance systems is what enables the Ukraine military functioning.

However, the “co-integration” of Amazon,  Starlink and Palantir and other AI companies and of the Ukraine state turns the latter into what we qualify here of an externally AI powered state (Hélène Lavoix, Exploring cascading impacts with AIThe Red Team Analysis Society, May 17, 2023 and “Artificial Intelligence, Computing Power and Geopolitics (2) ?” The Red Team Analysis Society).

Clausewitz and the GAFAM

As Clausewitz establishes, war is the continuation of politics with other means. So, the projection of AI (military) and (fire) power on the Ukrainian theatre of operations and on the battlefield is one of the families of the means of this continuation. Historically, it is also the first iteration of AI power in war operations and combat.

In the case, for example, of Palantir, its capability to treat massive amounts of data turns it into an entity that establishes a continuum through the “fog of war” to the daily complexities of a relatively (dis)functional Ukraine public service and economy in a time of war (Slawomir Matuszak, “A struggle to survive. Ukraine’s economy in wartime”, Centre for Eastern Studies, 2022-10-18).

In other terms, Palantir becomes both the digital mean of the continuity of state as well as its military “continuation through other means”. The machine learning of Palantir is both politics and its OODA loop continuity.

What about electricity?

This hybridization of the political and military institutions as well as of combat zones with AI power turns the electric grid into a strategic and existential asset. In this perspective, the constant Russian hammering of the Ukrainian electric grid and power utilities takes on an anti-AI power dimension.

So, depriving Ukraine of electricity means not only weakening the Ukrainian economic and life conditions, but also the power conditions of the U.S. AI hybrid entity that the Ukrainian state and military have become (Talya Vatman, “Russian attacks on Ukraine energy sector have escalated again as winter sets in”, International Energy Agency / IEA, 17 January 2024).

State strategies and private technologies

The strategic significance of this new political situation reveals itself since the start of the war. For example, Palantir has played a key role in communications during several battles, including the fierce siege of Mariupol, while helps restoring civil and military communications. (Konaev).

However, in October 2023, several Ukrainian units had to face communication’s outages because of a failing Starlink internet connection. So, they were forced to stop and commanders had to urgently come on the frontlines (Ronan Farrow, ibid).

Indeed, Elon Musk, Starlink CEO, had unilaterally decided to shut down the network. It seems he did so in order to obtain a 400 million dollars contract with the U.S. Department of Defense, that was a long time in the works (Alex Marquardt, “Exclusive : Musk’s Space X says it can no longer pay for critical satellite services in Ukraine, asks Pentagon to pick up the tab”, CNN, October 14, 2022, and Steven Feldstein, “The answer to Starlink is more Starlinks”, The Atlantic, September 12, 2023).

In other words, the hybridation of the Ukraine military and of Starlink created for Ukraine a situation of profound technological and political dependency upon the will of a private foreign person. In return, this person has acquired an immense power through its satellite constellation and communication devices.

Reciprocally, the political status of Amazon, Starlink, and Palantir becomes something quite complex and ambivalent. Those are private U.S. companies that are able to project their AI power in order to hybrid themselves with the civilian and military structures of a foreign state. Thus, they make this state dependent upon their good will.

AIs and the flight of the Fates

In other words, Palantir, Starlink, Amazon, Alphabet and some others are becoming the technological and political equivalent of what the Greek gods were for the troops, warriors and political leaders during the Trojan war. Following this line of thought, AIs become the equivalent of transcendant beings able to intervene in human affairs, such as war (Peter Sloterdijk, After God, Polity Press, 2020).

However, if this is quite true on the Ukrainian side of the war, it is not so on the Russian side. President Putin, its government and the Russian state are not dependent on foreign AI platforms. The conventional war they wage against Ukraine also integrates and tests AI power. But in this case, the AI power development dynamic is at the service of the Russian national interest.

From AI (fire) power to AI World

Thus, from a geopolitical point of view, one may say that the AI dimension of the Ukraine war opposes the U.S. public-private AI power integration into the Ukrainian state structures to the Russian AI national power. It can also be said that, for now, the sovereignty of the Ukrainian state on the unoccupied parts of its territory is technologically dependent from the same US AI power.

However, as the Starlink-Musk incident emphasizes, this sovereignty is very fragile if, or when, the foreign AI power switches off. Those political continuities induced by AI power are thus creating powerful political and strategic ambiguities and vulnerabilities.

This political ambiguity is even more pervasive. Indeed, on the Ukrainian side, private capabilities appear as being the bulk of AI power. Meanwhile, the US Department of Defense satellite and space power capabilities have to combine with them. Thus, the Ukraine war becomes an additional  driver  of the US political and military authorities dependency on private technologies and interests.

Then, the massive injection of AI power in the Ukrainian war turnspower generation and distribution as the very existential condition for the continuity of the Ukrainian state and the efficiency of its military arm. This dynamic also means that the war has turbocharged the integration of Ukraine to “AI World”, that is to say the world emerging from the development and implementation of AI (Hélène Lavoix, “When Artificial Intelligence will Power Geopolitics – Presenting AI”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, November 27, 2017).

This current reality begs the question of the use of AI power in other theatres of operations, especially in asymmetric warfare.

Indeed, how efficient is AI on theatres of operations and battlefields that drastically limit the efficiency of targeting while dramatically increasing the very costs of ultra-modern war for the AI power equipped foe?

That is what we shall see with the Gaza and Red Sea war case study.

Anticipate and Get Ready for the Future – Podcast

Strategic Foresight or How Not to Be Surprised.

Listen to Dr Helene Lavoix’s interview by Julien Devaureix for Sismique, “the channel with over 4 million listeners.

“In today’s highly volatile and rapidly changing environment, it is imperative for our contemporary societies and for all players, whether private or public, to reduce the uncertainty associated with the future. The primary objective is to survive and progress in the best possible way. To achieve this, we need to identify and assess the changes that are already underway and that we will have to face in the future.”

Julien Devaureix, Introduction to the Podcast “Anticipate and Get Ready for the Future – Hélène Lavoix”, Sismique, 2 April 2024

Interview in French (check below on Youtube for an automatic translation in English)
Access the page of the interview on Sismique (transcript and notes).

Interview recorded on 12 mars 2024

What are we talking about?
0:00 Introduction
9:04 The importance of Strategic Foresight
17:36 Understanding World Dynamics
22:16 Weak signals and anticipation
40:54 Mechanisms to restrict power.
49:29 Towards a Mad Max life.
52:41 Tensions between democracies and authoritarianism.
55:22 Kant on democracy and universal law.
1:06:14 Democracy in question
1:12:53 The impact of violence on society
1:19:58 Anticipate to better protect yourself
1:23:13 The importance of individual foresight

The sequences of the interview of Dr Lavoix by Julien Devaureix, Sismique

Listen on Apple Podcasts

The Return of Nuclear Energy

(Art direction and design: Jean-Dominique Lavoix-Carli)

On 21 March 2024, thirty two heads of states and governments and special envoys met in Brussels for a summit that received little media attention, despite a very high level attendance. This meeting was the first ever Nuclear Energy Summit, jointly hosted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Belgium (IAEA Website).

Why is nuclear energy coming back on the agenda and why such a high level interest? What did leaders decide and which leaders? Could the renewal of interest in nuclear energy entail new geopolitical challenges? These are questions this article explores and answers, taking as example in terms of geopolitics and energy security the case of the Franco-Mongolian € 1.6 billion deal for uranium.

Why nuclear energy increasingly matters

Keeping our way of life while reducing GHG emissions means nuclear energy

Energy is a fundamental element of life. Energy is key for the development of all the activities that underlie a civilization. Thomas Homer-Dixon highlighted that is was a master resource (The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of civilization, Knopf, 2006). Energy is indeed present and indispensable from every step of the food chain – food being itself energy – to transportation, industry, trade and availability of goods, defense, etc.

The amount of energy human life and its civilizations use – excluding food – is measured as the world final energy consumption. In 2022, this world final energy consumption represented 442,4 EJ (Exajoules), a 1,7% increase compared with 2019. To allow this demand to be met, the world had to supply globally 632 EJ in 2022 (International Energy Agency (IEA), World Energy Outlook 2023, October 2023; IEA, Net Zero by 2050 – A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector, May 2021). Renewables (solar, wind, hydro, modern solid, liquid and gazeous bioenergy) represented only 11,7% of the energy supply, while together, oil, gas and coal represented 79,4% of the energy supply.

At the same time, climate change is increasingly obvious, and threatens human ways of life. Hence, there is an absolute necessity to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the culprit for climate change.

As governments and populations wish, as much as possible, to keep their model of civilizations, and as the way we produce energy is a major cause of GHG emissions, then human beings must rethink the very production of energy.

Considering the challenge of GHG emission and civilizational constraints, in 2021, the International Energy Agency (IEA) created a scenario for the world energy sector that would allow reaching net zero emissions (NZE) by 2050: Net Zero by 2050 – A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector. It included in its scenario efforts to make some relatively minor behavioural change and to develop new technologies such as carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), but fundamentally the scenario is about changing our way to produce energy. The IEA slightly revised the data used with the publication of the World Energy Outlook 2023, but the logic and the scenario remain the same.

In this scenario, global demand for energy must decrease to 406 EJ final energy consumption in 2030 and to 343 by 2050, with a substantial increase in the share of electricity in this global demand (IEA, World Energy Outlook 2023). The latter must represent 53% of global energy demand in 2050, when it represented 20% in 2022 (Ibid.).

Correspondingly, the supply energy mix must change.

Thus, not only renewables, but also nuclear energy must increase, while other energy sources must decrease until 2050. Renewables must represent, respectively for 2030 and 2050, 29% then 71% of the energy supply, and nuclear 7,5% then 12,4% (Ibid.).

This means reverting the trend towards moving away from nuclear energy, which was notably triggered by the 2011 accident at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant in Japan, after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Indeed, according to the IEA scenario, continuing using nuclear energy and increasing nuclear power generation is key to see the NZE scenario being successfully achieved. The international body estimated that a “Low Nuclear and CCUS case” would make the transition far more costly and less likely (IEA, Net Zero by 2050, p.120). If the “global nuclear power output were 60% lower in 2050 than in the NZE” – i.e. approximately 24,4 EJ – then the IEA estimates the added cost in investments to USD 2 trillion and the added cost of electricity to consumers between 2021 and 2050 to USD 260 billion.

As a result, if we want to keep the same type of civilization, not only nuclear energy must be kept but it must be drastically developed.

Doubling the nuclear energy capacity by 2050?

If we consider the IEA NZE scenario, how does that translate in terms of nuclear energy capacity?

On 1st January 2021, the world counted 442 commercial nuclear reactors operating and connected to the grid in 31 countries, while 52 reactors were under construction (Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA)/International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Uranium 2022: Resources, Production and Demand – also called “Red Book“, p. 99). The 2021 net energy generating capacity was of 393 GWe (Gigawatt electrical) requiring about 60.100 tU/y (tonnes of uranium per year) (Ibid. p. 12). As a result, in 2020, about 2.523 TWh (Terawatt hours) were generated (Ibid.).

The IEA, for its part, estimates this amount to 2.698 TWh, corresponding to 29 EJ (IEA, Net Zero by 2050…, Annex A, Tables for scenario projections).

The IEA NZE 2050 scenario plans that nuclear electricity production should reach 3.777 TWh by 2030, 4.855 TWh by 2040 and 5.497 TWh by 2050 (ibid., p. 198). It estimates that the corresponding nuclear net generating capacity should be 515 GWe in 2030, 730 GWe in 2040 and 812 GWe in 2050 (Ibid. p. 198).

If we follow the figures in the “Red Book” and use them for the IEA NZE scenario, then nuclear electricity production should reach 3.532 TWh by 2030, 4.540 TWh by 2040 and 5.140 TWh by 2050. Everything being equal, this would translate in a nuclear net generating capacity of 550 GWe in 2030, 707 GWe in 2040 and 800 GWe in 2050.

In both cases, the IEA NZE 2050 scenario demands doubling the nuclear energy capacity by 2050.

States and industry step in to trebling nuclear energy capacity by 2050

However, according to the NEA, “the average IPCC 1.5°C scenario requires nuclear energy to reach 1.160 GWe (gigawatts electrical) by 2050 (NEA, Meeting Climate Change Targets: The Role of Nuclear Energy, OECD Publishing, 2022, Paris, p. 33).

It is this figure the NEA took as objective for the new nuclear energy capacity (Ibid.).

This means almost tripling the current world nuclear capacity by 2050, and not “only” doubling it.

The “Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy by 2050”

The objective to triple the current nuclear capacity was supported by the World Nuclear Association (WNA), the international organisation representing the global nuclear industry. In September 2023, the WNA and the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation, as founders, supported by the IAEA, launched an advocacy effort, “Net Zero Nuclear”, ahead of the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP28), that:

“Calls for unprecedented collaboration between government and industry leaders to at least triple global nuclear capacity to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.”

NZN website

Among the main partners of the advocacy effort, we find the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and the Americano-Japanese alliance GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy.

Then, on 2 December 2023, at the COP28 in the United Arab Emirates, the trebling objective was officially endorsed. There, French President Emmanuel Macron and American Special Envoy John Kerry announced the “Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy by 2050” (Présidence de la République Française, official text, 2 Dec 2023), signed by 22 countries that thus showed their commitment to make efforts to reach this goal (Nuclear Energy Agency, “COP28 recognises the critical role of nuclear energy for reducing the effects of climate change“, 21 December 2023).

The 22 signatories of the “Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy by 2050” were Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Ghana, Hungary, Japan, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Sweden, Ukraine, the UAE, the United Kingdom and the United States (ISHII Noriyuki, “22 Countries Sign Declaration to Triple Global Nuclear Energy Capacity“, JAIF News, 2 December 2023).

The 22 signatories of the 2023 “Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy by 2050”.

China and Russia were thus initially not part of the signatories, despite their growing role in nuclear generation. For example, 27 of the 31 reactors built since 2017 are of Russian or Chinese design (IAE, Nuclear Power and Secure Energy Transitions, p.15).

A couple of days later, on 5 December, the nuclear industry followed suite. “120 companies, headquartered in 25 countries, and active in over 140 nations worldwide” endorsed the Net Zero Nuclear Industry Pledge (Press statements, “Net Zero Nuclear Industry Pledge sets goal for tripling of nuclear energy by 2050“, 5 December 2023). At industry level Russia through Rosatom was part of the signatories. However, neither the CNNC, although having supported the initiative, nor the China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) signed the pledge.

Unsurprisingly, geopolitics and national interest are also part of the agenda.

The First Nuclear Energy Summit

To follow suite on the “Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy by 2050”, and as promised in December 2023, governments and international agencies convened the first Nuclear Energy Summit on 21 March 2024.

In the run up to the 21 March Summit, as they prepared it, the members of the European Nuclear Alliance (Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Hungary, the Netherlands,Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden), created on 28 February 2023, reasserted their commitment to nuclear energy alongside renewable energies (Declaration of the EU Nuclear Alliance – Meeting of March 4th, 2024).

Finally, 33 countries attended the Nuclear Energy Summit, from the initial 22 countries involved in the December 2023 declaration, and signed the new “Nuclear Energy Declaration” (Belga News Agency,Nuclear declaration adopted by over 30 countries at first nuclear energy summit“, 21 March 2024; 32 countries by some accounts, e.g. “Leaders commit to ‘unlock potential’ of nuclear energy at landmark summit“, World Nuclear News, 21 March 2024):

“We, the leaders of countries operating nuclear power plants, or expanding or embarking on or exploring the option of nuclear power … reaffirm our strong commitment to nuclear energy as a key component of our global strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from both power and industrial sectors, ensure energy security, enhance energy resilience, and promote long-term sustainable development and clean energy transition….”

Extract from the Summit Declaration, “Leaders commit to ‘unlock potential’ of nuclear energy at landmark summit“, World Nuclear News, 21 March 2024

Unsurprisingly, the nuclear industry also endorsed the declaration (Industry Statement pdf).

We are thus entering a totally new era for nuclear energy, compared with years of disengagement and fear.

Towards a geopolitics of nuclear energy?

In terms of international relations, in 2024, China joined the signatories, but Russia was still not part of them (e.g. CGTN, President Xi’s special envoy to attend first nuclear energy summit in Brussels; Nuclear energy declaration adopted at Brussels summit).

Interestingly, if in March 2024 some countries joined the new nuclear effort, some of the countries that had signed the initial declaration were not present in Brussels. The reasons for their absence may be multiple, some of them simple and with no geopolitical component. Yet, those countries were signatories of the 2023 declaration and not of the 2024 one. We represented the evolving participation in the map below:

Mongolia, notably, did not joint fellow states in 2024, despite holding significant amount of reserves of uranium, having signed nuclear cooperation agreements with, for example, India in 2009 and France in 2010, and planning to develop nuclear power (e.g. World Nuclear Association, “Uranium in Mongolia“, September 2022).

Yet, in October 2023, following the first ever visit of a French President to Mongolia in May 2023, when Mongolian President Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh was in Paris for a three-day state visit, France and Mongolia signed a € 1.6 billion deal, which would notably include mining of uranium by French Orano – one of the leading international nuclear industrial actor (Le Monde/AFP, “Emmanuel Macron en visite en Mongolie, une première pour un président français“, 21 May 2023; Mailys Pene-Lassus, “Mongolia opens way for uranium mining with $1.7bn French deal“, Nikkei Asia, 13 October 2023).

This deal is part of French efforts at diversifying its supply of uranium, which is fundamental for the country’s security.

Indeed, considering that 70% of French electricity comes from nuclear energy, that France’s supply of uranium originated in 2022 from five main sources according to Euratom – Kazhakstan 37,3%, Niger 20,2%, Namibia 15,8%, Australia 13,9% and Uzbekistan 12,9% – and that French relations with Niger are at best tense following the coup d’Etat, even though Orano only highlighted a delay in operations, mining restarting indeed in February 2024, it is key for France to diversify its supply of uranium (World Nuclear Association, “Nuclear Power in France“, March 2024; Euratom cited in Assma Maad, “A quel point la France est-elle dépendante de l’uranium nigérien ?“, Le Monde, 3 August 2023; Olanrewaju Kola, “Niger severs diplomatic ties with Nigeria, France, US, Togo“, Anadolu Agency, August 2023; Laura Kayali, “France closes embassy in Niger“, Politico, 2 January 2024; “Orano : arrêtée depuis le coup d’Etat, la production d’uranium redémarre timidement au Niger“, La Tribune, 16 February 2024).

Furthermore, when the coup in Niger had already increased French insecurity in terms of uranium supply, Kazakhstan warned in January 2024 it could have to reduce its production forecast (Ibid.), which was confirmed in March 2024 (Colin Hay, “Global uranium supply in jeopardy as Kazatomprom lowers production forecasts“, Small Caps, 18 March 2024).

As a result, the diversification of uranium supply became even more important.

Unfortunately, on 22 February 2024, information surfaced that the Franco-Mongolian deal was facing challenges and could be postponed until June (Bloomberg News, “France’s $1.6 billion uranium deal with Mongolia faces delays“,, 22 February 2024).

Knowing that Russia supplies more than 80% of the petroleum products needed by Mongolia, and that Russia “had to” “cut energy supplies to its neighbour” in December leading to rationing (Ibid.), and considering the tense relations between U.S. allies and Russia, including as a result of the war in Ukraine, we may make the hypothesis that Russia’s actions and Mongolia’s dependence on Russia played a part in the setback impacting the Franco-Mongolian uranium deal.

France’s uranium supply is thus under threat and the country sees one of its efforts at diversifying its supplies potentially undermined, at best delayed. We cannot ignore that Russian influence may have played a part in these hurdles. Although firmer evidence would be needed here too, we may nonetheless wonder in which way these challenges related to the supply in uranium and thus to nuclear energy did not play a part in the new, harsher approach on Russia taken by France on 27 February 2024 (e.g. Le Monde & AFP, “War in Ukraine: Macron doesn’t rule out sending Western troops on the ground, announces missile coalition“, Le Monde, 27 Feb 2024).

This case study, although involving many hypotheses, highlights how the new era for nuclear energy, as ushered by the two international 2023 and 2024 declarations, will also come with new geopolitical challenges and tensions, as states seek to reduce the potential for insecurity.

When studying and developing policy recommendations for the trebling of nuclear energy capacities, international agencies stress the various challenges ahead, focusing on “cost, performance, safety and waste management” (IEA, Nuclear Power and Secure Energy Transitions, 2022; NEA, Meeting Climate Change Targets: The Role of Nuclear Energy, OECD Publishing, 2022, Paris, pp.39-46). The March 2024 Nuclear Energy Summit emphasised, among others, the complexity of financing the heavy investments in nuclear energy (e.g. Nuclear Energy Summit 2024’s Programme; Nuclear newswire, “Nuclear Energy Declaration adopted at Brussels summit“, 22 March 2024).

Furthermore, as the case study above highlights, challenges could also stem from uranium mining and milling as exploration and industrial process converges with geopolitics.

In future articles, we shall thus focus on those challenges the world is likely to face to fuel nuclear energy’s new development, i.e. uranium mining and milling in the unsettled world of international politics.

Climate Change, Planetary Boundaries and Geopolitical Stakes

Adapting and Making the World Sustainable Again

Strategic Foresight, Early Warning and Geopolitics Serve the Future

Planetary boundaries* are being overstepped. These changes are fundamentally upsetting our world. These mutations are here to last, spread and increase.

We must act now. We must prepare to adapt to the myriad of alterations taking place in all areas. We must be creative to design new solutions to make the world sustainable again.

We put all our expertise at the service of these objectives.

In this section of the think tank, we develop an experimental approach to address all the issues related to the environment, climate change and geopolitics, or more broadly national and international security.**

We want this new initiative to be geared towards action and towards changing mindsets.

If you want to participate in making the world sustainable again, while enhancing your preparedness, join us by becoming a partner of this project: Contact us.

Categories are being reorganised. In the meantime…

French translations: Only recent articles are human translations. We gradually review the automatic translation (DeepL) of the remaining 600 plus articles…

>> To Think-Tank Page

>> To Issues and Stakes in Geopolitics

The Present and The Future

Following the seminal works by Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Center et al. on planetary boundaries*, by Thomas Homer Dixon*** and many others, as well as our own findings over the last fifteen years, we have organised this new project through two approaches.

Each perspective corresponds to a way to understand a world that considers climate change and planetary boundaries.

The Present and Near Future
Planetary boundaries and impacts

The first approach is – relatively – classical. It starts from planetary boundaries. That system is powerful and extremely valuable, not least because each boundary is measurable and can be monitored.

This frame of reference is a way to categorise and order our comprehension of and knowledge about the world that corresponds to the past and the present. It is how we think the world currently. It allows orientation and action without upsetting too much the categories to which we are used.

The translation of the overstepping of planetary boundaries into impacts relevant to human societies needs to be further developed. This is what we shall endeavour here, within our field of expertise.

Further into the Future
Blueprint for a different world

The second perspective is located further into future, notably in terms of mindset.

It seeks to find a different way to look at our world, as we integrate a blueprint for our planet (and beyond) where planetary boundaries are being overstepped. Its focus is on national and international security and geopolitics, as these will be determining features of this new world.

The objective is to find a better way to understand this new world for adaptation and action.

This approach is innovative and in the making.

The Present and Near Future

Approach through Planetary Boundaries, Impacts and Geopolitics

As the project progresses, access the articles in this section by “planetary boundary”

Energy security (links to land-system change and biogeochemical cycles)

(Not initially part of planetary boundaries, but key)

Climate Change and security, stratospheric and atmospheric changes (incl. Environmental geostrategy)

Oceans (acidification and use, links to biogeochemical cycles)

Biosphere integrity (links to land-system change and biogeochemical cycles)

Novel entities and pollutions

Should AI belong to “Novel entities”?

If you want to participate in making the world sustainable again, while enhancing your preparedness, join us by becoming a partner of this project: Contact us.

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(from left to right) Photos by Pixabay, Pixabay, Ralph W. Lambrecht (Pexels), Lukas Rodriguez (Pexels), Roger Brown (Pexels), Pixabay.

Further into the Future

An experimental blueprint to understand how to live on our planet, where planetary boundaries are being overstepped, and beyond.

As the project progresses, access the articles in this section by types of political and geopolitical stakes.

Rising physical impacts on (national) governance capabilities

This section will consider the impacts of the overstepping of planetary boundaries domestically and on the capabilities to govern of each political authority. For example, we shall look at crises, emergencies, fires, floods, etc.

Rising physical impacts with geopolitical stakes

This section will focus on the physical impacts of the overstepping of planetary boundaries on geopolitics and the international world. It will interact with the previous section in as much as capabilities of each state are affected. For example, we shall classically look at transnational conflicts related to fresh water issues. We shall also address the appearance of new spaces of competition such as the Arctic, among others.

Responses, possible consequences and political and geopolitical stakes

This section will focus on the responses that need to be created an implemented to face the overstepping of planetary boundaries and their impacts. It will address novel approaches being put forward, the making of new norms, the efforts at adaptation, creation and implementation. It will also look at the consequences of these efforts and at the novel interactions that they will generate, from cooperation to tension. As in the previous section, we shall also address the appearance of new zones and types of environments (for humanity), where human activity will need to expand, what we also called extreme environments.

If you want to participate in making the world sustainable again, while enhancing your preparedness, join us by becoming a partner of this project: Contact us.

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*Planetary boundaries: the idea and concept were developed in 2009 as “Johan Rockström led a group of 28 internationally renowned scientists to identify the nine processes that regulate the stability and resilience of the Earth system” – see Stockholm Resilience Center, “Planetary boundaries“. On that page you will find a list of updated publications. See also, for an updated paper, Steffen et al., “The nine planetary boundaries“, Stockholm Resilience Center, 2015.
In France, Aurélien Boutaud and Natacha Gondran recently contextualised and presented the idea to decision-makers and the larger public with Les limites planétaires (La Découverte, 2020).

**It builds on and follows from our contribution to Alterre-Bourgogne Franche Comté day, first panel: Hélène Lavoix, “Unsustainability, Planetary Boundaries and Geopolitical Stakes”, 21 January 2022.

***Thomas Homer Dixon, The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization (Random House Canada, 2006).

Apocalypse in the Red Sea – Anthropocene Wars (9)

(Art direction and design: Jean-Dominique Lavoix-Carli)

Given the speed and political density of the historic sequence opened by the war in Gaza, this third article only covers the period from 20 October 2023 to 10 February 2024.

In December 2023, the Pentagon launched Operation Prosperity Guardian in the Red Sea. The operation is the U.S. military reaction to the Yemeni Houthi war in the Red Sea (Sam Lagrone, “”Operation Prosperity Guardian” set to protect ships in the Red Sea, Carrier IKE in Gulf of Aden”, U.S. Naval Institute, 18 December 2023).

This operation is based on the creation of a combined naval task force, mainly with elements of the U.S. and of the UK navies, while the Houthis’ guerrilla war at sea becomes more and more intense.

In other words, the extension of the Gaza war in the Red Sea area through the Houthis offensive is triggering the emergence of a whole new theatre of operations. The Red Sea becomes the attractor for the U.S. and U.K navies, for the Houthis operations, while the international traffic of cargoes is at stake.

In the same dynamic, the Houthis’ targets of choice besides the Russian and Chinese they choose not to target reveal how a rapidly emerging multipolarity is becoming a regional reality.

This situation is even more disruptive for the West and for globalisation because the Red Sea war sees the Somali piracy reaching a new peak of activity in the Gulf of Aden, which opens up on the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait and the Red Sea.

Indeed, the Houthi Ansar Allah militia officially started their operations in solidarity with the Palestinians and against Israel and its allies. Their forces launched salvos of missiles and drones on Israel. They began attacking civil or military ships with their speed boats flotilla. They also used helicopters and mini submarines (Tara Copp and Lolita C. Baldor, “US Military shoots down missiles and drones as it faces growing threats in volatile Middle East”, AP, 20 October 2023). On 27 October, another missiles’ salvo failed to reach Israel (Michael Horton, “Houti missiles launches against Israel risk reigniting war in Yemen”, Responsible Statecraft, October 30, 2023).

The name “Operation Prosperity Guardian” is a clear reference to the global trade disruption induced by the Houthi’s continuous offensive. Indeed, several major shipping companies such as Danish Maersk, French CMA-CGM and Taiwanese Evergreen had to order their ships to avoid the Red Sea crossing. However, the Red Sea being a major maritime artery, those decisions increase the costs and duration of the cargo journey.

This triggered shockwaves through global logistical supply chains, while increasing costs for companies and customers (Simon Scarr, Adolfo Arranz, Jonathan Saul, Han Huang and Jitesh Chowdhury, “Red Sea attacks – How Houthi militants in Yemen are attacking ships in one of the busiest maritime trade routes”, Reuters, February 2, 2024).

The Red Sea War : a case study in asymmetric warfare

In other words, the Red Sea war reveals that the houthis guerrillas are becoming a regional power in the Middle East. Furthermore, they develop the capability to be disruptive on a global scale. This transformation, from a land militia into a regional strategic land and sea power necessitates to understand the Houthis strategy at different levels, from the level of the war in Gaza to the level of the Yemen regional war and of the Middle East conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, including the interactions with the US military presence in the region.

This naval war also reveals how this asymmetry plays itself not only at the military level of the “weak” Houthis against the “strong” U.S. and UK navies, but also in the media-political-symbolic dimension of what we call “performative warfare”, as well as in the financial dimension of the costs of weapons systems. This latter dimension being awfully in favour of the “poor and weak” Houthis.

Thus, the Red Sea war reveals how major western powers are in dire difficulties when confronting a naval guerrilla that installs its activities on the long run. This naval war of the weak to the poor prolongs itself with the return of Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. Indeed, the latter’s actions reach a peak of activity not seen in years. As it happens, their renewed presence literally “complements” the Houthi’s naval warfare and sea power.

This synergy of the Houthis and Somali pirates sea power reveals the essence of the Red Sea war asymmetric character (Lawrence Freedman, The Future of War: a History, Penguin Books, 2017). It is a fight between a very powerful military machine – the U.S. and its allies – and a militia from a desperately poor country, added to pirates from a no less poor country.

Those warriors emerge from an extreme environment defined by one of the worst civil war on Earth. And they redefine the meaning of victory: to them, victory appears as installing their operations from the short to the middle term, while for Operation Prosperity Guardian, victory would mean eliminating the means of action of the Houthis.

In order to study the different layers of strategic meaning of the Red Sea war, we shall start by understanding how the Yemeni civil and regional war prolongs itself in the Red Sea at the occasion of the war in Gaza, and how the Houthis mobilize different levels of tactics and strategies.

Then, we shall see how the Houthi guerrilla has learned asymmetric warfare through a long war in a country ravaged by the combination of a 20 years long civil war, climate change and pandemic.

Then we shall see how the “asymmetric sea power” of the weak is reinforced by the added “poor sea power” of the Somali pirates and how globalization is thus put at risk by the emergence of this new kind of “weak but highly disruptive” sea power.

War on the Red Sea: convergence of wars, convergence of tactics

Since 20 October 2023, the Houthi militia has launched salvos of missiles from Yemen across the Red Sea, trying to strike Israel. U.S. warships intercepted and destroyed those missiles.

Since then the number of Houthis strikes and attacks has grown ceaselessly.  coinciding with the Israeli military built up and the offensive against Hamas in Gaza that lasts since the 28 October (Jean-Michel Valantin,  “The war in Gaza and China’s pivot to the Middle East”, The Red Team Analysis Society, November 22, 2023).

Who Rules the Red Sea, Rules Globalization

As it happens, the Red Sea is one of the most important maritime routes on Earth. It is home to two crucial global chokepoints. To the north, the Suez Canal links the Mediterranean Sea, the Middle East, Europe and the Atlantic Ocean, to the Red Sea. To the south, the Bab-El-Mandeb strait links the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian sea, the Indian Ocean, East Africa and South and South-East Asia.

If the Red Sea represents 10% of the international maritime traffic, it also accounts for 30% of container traffic. Those have a total value of 1000 billion dollars each year. In other terms, the Red Sea is the main artery of globalization. The freedom and security of circulation on this waterway is crucial for global trade and for global supply chains (Ariel Cohen, “The world is going into the red from the Red Sea Crisis”, Forbes, February 7, 2024, and Thibault Denamiel, Matthew Shleish, William Alan Reinsch, and Will Todman, “The global economic consequences of the attacks on the Red Sea Shipping lanes”, CSIS, January 2024).

It is also the case in the energy sector. Around 75 oil and gas tankers use the Red Sea daily. They deliver products from the Persian Gulf to Europe, or from Russia to India (Denamiel et al., ibid).

In this heated geopolitical context, the Houthi political authorities claimed they launched strikes in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza (Lori Ann Larocco, “As more tankers divert from Red Sea, there’s a “sea change” in way Europe is buying crude”, CNBC, January 24, 2024).

The Long March of the Houthis

Nevertheless, from a historical perspective, the Houthis operations in the Red Sea may very well appear as a continuation at sea of the twenty years long Yemeni civil and regional war. As it happens, the Yemeni civil war really started in 2004. Then, the NorthWest Shia Yemeni Houthi minority demanded to be fairly treated by the regime of President Saleh. The latter replied with a heavy campaign of repression. A civil war soon followed (Dr Abdo Albahesh, “The Houthi movement in Yemen: from insurgency to military coup, 2004-2014“, Medium, Oct. 23, 2018).

The support of Iran, as well as the Houthi own excellent strategists allowed the Houthi militia to multiply successes. In January 2015, the Houthi militia seized Sanaa, the Yemen capital, forcing then president Abd Rabbo Mansour Abdi to flee to Aden (Jeremy Scahill, Dirty Wars, The World is a Battlefield, Nation Books, 2013 and Marcus Montgomery, “A Timeline of the Yemen’s crisis from 1990 to the present”, Arab Centre Washington D.C., February 19, 2021, and Kali Robinson, “Yemen’s tragedy, War, Stalemate and Suffering”, Council on Foreign Relations, last updated May 1, 2023).

During the following weeks, this Houthi victory led Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to gather a military coalition against them. This coalition gathered the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait.

Their goal was to prevent the victory of Iran-allied Houthis in the immediate neighbourhood of Saudi Arabia. One must also keep in mind that Yemen literally commands the Bab-El-Mandeb Strait (Bruce Riedel, “Yemen’s war shakes up the Saudi palace”, Brookings institution, April 2019, 2015).

Apocalypse Yemen

From 2015 to 30 March 2022, Saudi Arabia launched its troops in Yemen. Meanwhile, the UAE supported this offensive with  hundreds of Columbian and U.S. mercenaries. The Emirati also hired 15.000 Sudanese soldiers alongside Saudi forces. The Saudi-led coalition also benefitted from the strong support of the U.S. Navy and special forces. The UK and French militaries provided too technical and training assistance and ammunitions contracts (“Guerre civile yéménite“, Wikipedia and Andrew Bacevich, Americas War for the Greater Middle east, A Military history, Random House, 2016).

Furthermore, since 2004, the intensity of the Yemeni war has combined with a series of drought and famines in the country. This war and climate extreme events nexus killed hundreds of thousands of people through hunger, thirst, displacements, bombings, combats and epidemics. So, in twenty years, Yemen turned into one of the deadliest places on Earth (“Starvation stalks Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen”, Al Jazeera, 11 April 2017.

On the opposite side, Iran is said to support the Houthis. The Iran Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRCG) organizes the weapons, military and technical training (Katherine Zimmerman, “Yemen’s Houthis and the expansion of Iran’s axis of resistance”, American Enterprise Institute, 2022).

Technical training is essential in order to assemble ground-to-ground and ground-to-sea missiles. Still, according to the UN, North Korea would also have provided combat drones ( David Axe, “The Houthis might be using North Korea missiles”, The National Interest, November 4, 2021, Samuel Ramani, “The North Korea-Iran relationship: an anti-american axis or a transactional partnership?”, 38 North, 24 November 2021).

A Houthi’s multilevel strategy ?

Since 2022, the string of Houthi victories has achieved a suspension of the hostilities between the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition.

So, from a geopolitical perspective, we can hypothesize that the current Houthi attacks against Israel, then against passing cargo ships and U.S. and UK warships may very well appear as a multilevel strategy. Indeed, the Yemen political and military authorities state their support to the Palestinians as soon as 20 October, when they initiate their first tentative strikes against Israel. Yet, one cannot help noticing that these strikes, then the multiple air and sea attacks against commercial and military warships in the Red Sea have strictly no military or political incidence on the way Tsahal or Hamas wage the war in Gaza.

However, from the Houthi strategic point of view, Israel also appears as an ally of the United States. And the U.S. are both militarily and politically committed against both Houthis and Iran, their main supporter (Ibrahim Jalal, “The Houthis Red Sea missile and drone attack: drivers and implications”, Middle East Institute, 20 October, 2023).

Furthermore, waging a “claimed” war against Israel, while waging a real naval war against the U.S. and the UK Navies, while disrupting one of the main arteries of globalization, elevates the geopolitical and strategic status of the Houthi militia to the status of ascending regional power.

This new regional power thus supports the Iranian influence from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea, while containing the Saudi influence (Fatima Abo Alasrar, “From Yemen to Palestine: the strategic depth of the Houthi-Iranian alliance“, Middle East Institute, February 16, 2024). Thus, the Houthis militia affirms itself as a literally pivotal power in one of the most important energy and transport region in the world.

So, in a very practical way, the stated level of military solidarity with the Palestinians and its consequent attacks induces the positioning of U.S. and Israeli destroyers in the Red Sea, in order to intercept the Houthis missiles and drones, while becoming occasional targets for the militia (Ibrahim Jalal, “The Houthis Red Sea missile and drone attack: drivers and implications”, Middle East Institute, 20 October, 2023 and John Gambrell, “Houthi rebels fire missile at US warship, escalating worst Middle East sea in decades“, PBS, January 27, 2024 ).

Indeed, when the Houthis started bombing Israel, the U.S. and UK Navies, i.e. the military allies of the enemies of the Ansar Allah / Houthi militia, were attracted in the Red Sea.

Hence, the intensification of the Houthi campaign and attacks against U.S. warships may very well also be understood as a continuation and an extension of the Yemeni regional war at sea (“Houthis target U.S destroyer in latest round of missiles attack; strike British merchant ship”, CBS News, January 27, Jana Choukeir and Nadine Awadalla, “Yemen Houthis threaten more attacks on US, UK warships”, Reuters, January 31, 2024).

Asymmetric warfare as geoeconomic warfare…

This confrontation of the Houthis versus U.S. and U.K navies triggers a strange technological and economic warfare. Indeed, the drones the Houthis use cost only 2.000 $ and the missiles cost about 100.000 $. However, the western warship use hardware costing from 1 million $ to 4 million $ to destroy the Houthis low-tech drones and missiles (Lara Seligman and Matt Berg, “A $2M missile vs a $2000 drone: Pentagon worried over cost of Houthi attacks”, Politico, December 12, 2023).

Then, as of this writing, since December 2023 the U.S./UK maritime combined force launched three bombings campaigns against Houthi bases and installations. However, basically, those bombings only destroy low-tech hardware such as pick-ups, easily replaceable missiles ramps, etc.

Then, the maritime operations against the very agile Ansar Allah speed boats fleet mobilizes combat helicopters and important tactical resources (Simon Scarr, Adolfo Arranz, Jonathan Saul, Han Huang and Jitesh Chowdhury, “Red Sea attacks – How Houthi militants in Yemen are attacking ships in one of the busiest maritime trade routes”, Reuters, February 2, 2024). However, these high level and very costly military means are unable to deter the sea attacks.

… and performative warfare

The Houthis reinforce their strategic and political efficiency through performative warfare. As did Hamas when attacking Israel during the monstrous massacre of 7 Octobre 2023, and during the subsequent Gaza battles, this strategy rests on the filming and transmission by the U.S. and UK medias of the missiles and drones salvos (Jean-Michel Valantin, “The war in Gaza and China’s pivot to the Middle East”, The Red Team Analysis Society, November 22, 2023).

The same approach is used to film the damages of the bombing campaigns on Yemeni ground. Those salvoes of videos orient perceptions on the suffering of Yemeni civilians. They also aim to create a framework of perception on how those bombings achieve very little in tactical or operational terms.

This media and information warfare projects the Houthi influence upon the global audience, while diminishing the charisma of the U.S. military power (Matthew Ford and Andrew Hoskins, Radical War, Data, Attention and Control in the 21st Century, Hurst Publishing, 2022).

The Place to Be

To add insult to injury, on 19 November 2023, a Houthi commando used a helicopter taken to the Yemeni government to hijack the passing cargo Galaxy leader.

Once taken, the ship became a kind of “Houthis maritime theme park”. It is now a touristic destination for Houthis militiamen, Houthis influencers, Yemeni families, etc ( FP Staff, “Pirate Park: Yemen Houthis convert Galaxy Leader into tourist attraction at 1$ per visit”, Firstpost, 29 January, 2024). Multiple videos of dancing warriors, tourists and parties launched with the crew are downloaded on social networks.

This performative strategy has a politically corrosive effect. Indeed, from a global perception point of view, it turns the forces that constitute Operation Prosperity Guardian into lumbering and powerless giants. Reciprocally, the small and agile forces of the Shia militia are shown as imposing tremendous costs to First World military great powers.

Taking time as victory

In this situation, the definition of victory is not military any more, but performative. So, the longer the “strategic reality show” of the humiliation of military great powers by militiamen from an Arab and lethally violent and poor country is, the more stunning the “long victory” becomes (Matthew Ford and Andrew Hoskins, Radical War, Data, Attention and Control in the 21st Century, Hurst Publishing, 2022).

Disrupting globalization…

Furthermore, this military-symbolic performative warfare goes hand in hand with a very efficient geo-economic strategy. As it happens, turning the Red Sea into a naval battle zone incites major shipowners such as Maersk or CMA-CGM to order their ships to avoid the Red Sea.

This forces ships to make a diversion around the Cap of Good Hope, lenghtening their journey while increasing costs (Tyler Durden, “Red Sea crisis send Maersk shares crashing as outlook darkens, Buybacks suspended”, ZeroHedge, February 8, 2024).

… But which globalization ?

However, Russian and Chinese ships, especially tankers, obtain a de facto safe-conduct, provided they have no business with Israel. So, Russian oil exports to China and India have safe passage. However, the Saudi, Iraq, Qatari and Kuweiti oil and LNG tankers take a longer road around the Cap of Good Hope (Michelle Wiese Bockmann, “Russia oil exports uninterrupted by mounting Houthi attacks on the Red Sea”, Lloyd’s List, 10 January 2024).

The vessels that have to use the longer route around Africa and the Cap of Good Hope have to pay larger fuel expenses, as well higher costs for containers leasing. Those that dare to use the Red Sea waterway have to pay huge premium insurance rates. Meanwhile, chronic supply chain disruption is taking hold in Europe (Thibault Denamiel, Matthew Shleish, William Alan Reinsch, and Will Todman, “The global economic consequences of the attacks on the Red Sea Shipping lanes”, CSIS, January 2024).

In other words, the Houthis successfully target Western supply chains. They also demonstrate that they are now a regional power with which other powers must reckon.

No westerners allowed

It is in this context that, on 19 January 2024, Mohamed Al Bukhaiti, a senior member of the Houthi command hierarchy, declared that the militia would not harm Russian and Chinese ships, if they were not involved with Israel (“Houthis won’t target Russian, Chinese ships in the Red Sea”, Voice of America, January 19, 2024).

This declaration confers a wider strategic meaning to the situation that a “simple” support of the Iran-backed militia to the Palestinian Hamas. Through this declaration, Mohamed Al Bukhaiti unveils the greater geopolitical landscape of the Red Sea war.

With this statement, the Houthis define the geopolitical meaning of their Red Sea operations as a war against the western supporters of Israel, but not against China and Russia. Thus, China’s and Russia’s ships acquire the strategic status of “protected navies” by the Houthis. So, implicitly, from the Houthis’ perspective, the status of China and Russia is one of “non-aligned” or “passive supporters”, or even “implicit allies” (Jean-Michel Valantin, “From the War in Gaza to the Great U.S-China War ? (2) “, The Red Team Analysis Society, December 26, 2023). On the opposite side, the members of Operation Prosperity Guardian are enemies that must know defeat.

As it happens, the efficiency of the military, geopolitical and geo-economic disruption wrought by the Houthis is optimized by the way a network of Middle Eastern non-state militias are attacking U.S. forces.

The warriors from Hell

Let’s get some Americans

As soon as 9 October 2023, i.e. two days after the horrendous massacre by Hamas in Israel, the U.S. White House, as well as the Pentagon warned the Lebanese Hezbollah, as well as Iran, not to get involved in the conflict opposing the Israeli defense force against Hamas in the Gaza strip (Jared Szuba, “Pentagon warns Iran, Hezbollah to stay out of Hamas war with Israel”, Al Monitor, October 10, 2023).

However, if, as of this writing, Hezbollah and Iran indeed appear officially to involve themselves only politically but not militarily in the Gaza crisis, there is nonetheless a proliferation of attacks against U.S. bases and military staffs. Multiple Iraqi and Syrian militias, more or less allied with the Iranian Islamic Revolution Guardian Corps, lead those attacks.

In order to retaliate, the U.S. forces launched bombing campaigns in Syria, Iraq and Yemen (Michael Dimino, “Bombing is not the only way out of the Houthi crisis”, Responsible Statecraft, 29 January, 2024 and Balint Szlanko, “What to know about the US strikes in Iraq and Syria, and its attacks with the UK in Yemen ?”, AP, 4 February, 2024.

However, there is an obvious firepower asymmetry between the formidable military machinery of the U.S. forces and the Houthis militia as well as the multiple militias in Iraq and Syria. And how is it that they reach an indisputable asymmetric level of success? (Stephen Biddle, Nonstate Warfare, the military methods of guerrillas, warlords, and militias, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2021).

The Houthis and the struggle for life

It has been twenty years that the Houthi militia is waging both civil and international war. It has had to fight the Saleh regime and its successors. They also survived the fight against Saudi troops, Colombian, U.S., British and Sudanese mercenaries and special forces, as well as against the U.S. Navy.

This long war takes place in one of the most arid countries on Earth. In Yemen, heat, drought and inhuman heatwaves driven by climate change exert a terrible pressure upon agriculture, while depleting water resources (Cedric de Coning and Florian Krampe, “Climate, peace and security fact sheet : Yemen”, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), June 2023. The climate and war induced famines and epidemics, especially cholera, have killed hundreds of thousands of people (377.000 by UN estimates at the end of 2022, Yemen: Why is the war there getting more violent? – BBC News).

In other words, the Yemeni civil and regional war takes place in a zone of collapse  (Jean-Michel Valantin, “Will there be climate civil wars?”, The Red Team Analysis Society, November 30, 2021 and Harald Welzer, Climate wars: what people will be killed for in the 21st century, 2012)

What doesn’t kill the Houthis…

Hence, in the Red Sea, the U.S. and UK navies try to confront one of the most robust and resilient non-state military actor in the world, on its way to probably become a state.  

The long war they have been waging has trained them to develop the necessary stamina for a protracted naval war. Meanwhile, their political authorities know that that the military and political U.S. habitus is short-term victory oriented.

As it happens, in 2024, the U.S. strategic staying power may be even shorter than usual. Indeed, the U.S. presidential election campaign already impacts the U.S. commitment in the Middle East (Mark Weisbrot, “A widening war in the Middle east could alter election results”, Centre for Economic and Policy research, January 29, 2024).

Sea power from Mad Max Land

If Yemen commands the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, the Gulf of Aden, which joins that strait to the Sea of Arabia, is commanded by Somalia. As it happens, the Somalian littoral hosts several fishermen’s communities turned pirates since the turn of the 21st century.

Those pirates attack all kinds of ships. They stop them and take the crews as hostages. Through a twenty years long experience, Somali pirates know how to exact very significant ransoms from governments and private shipping companies (Jean-Michel Valantin, “Somali Piracy: a model for tomorrow’s life in the Anthropocene?”, The Red Team Analysis Society, 28 October, 2013).

And it appears that, since the start of the Houthi’s Red Sea war, the Somali pirates are on the offensive again. The Somali piracy is reaching a level of activity not seen since 2017 (Lori Ann Larocco, “Somali pirates are back on the attack at a level not seen in years, adding to global shipping threats”, CNBC, February 6, 2024 .

The Somali pirates strike back

For example, at the peak of pirates attacks in 2009, they exacted more than 58 millions dollars through ransoms. Their learning and efficiency curve allowed them to reach 238 millions dollars in 2010 (Oceans beyond Piracy, The Economic Cost of Piracy).

Starting with the beginning of the 21st century (Parenti, Tropic of Chaos, 2011) Somali piracy’s home-made, small-scale tradecraft has been a tentative reconversion of a few (very) poor Somali fishermen. It quickly became an industrial activity, generating tens to hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Thanks to these financial successes, the pirate fleets became progressively better equipped and armed through the years. Those better conditions allow them to go farther and farther away in the Indian ocean (Valin, EchoGeo, 2009).

So, they turned a whole swathe of the Indian Ocean into a “pirates lake”. The consequent pressure led major financial actors such as the members of the insurance market, e.g. Lloyd’s, to raise insurance premiums. In 2012, those new costs reached five to six billion dollars that global trade had to bear (Tim Bailey, Thiemo Fetzer, Hannes Mueller, “The economic costs of piracy”, International Growth Centre, April 2012).

Since 2002, European, US, Russian and Asian governments have had to divert some of their Navies in the region, integrating their naval forces, for example through the “combined task to force 150”.

Combined Task Force 150 got finally efficient and imposed a strong reduction of the Somali piartes activity. However, after a steady decrease in activity between 2012 and 2017, in 2018, Somali pirates were back and even hijacked a cargo, starting again kidnapping, ransoming, etc… (Abdi Latif Dahir, “Piracy made a strong come back in Somalia in 2017”, Quartz, May 24 2018).

Piracy as a (successful) survival strategy

This is explained by the fact that the original causes of the Somali piracy phenomenon, i.e the overfishing of Somali waters by foreign industrial fleets, poverty, failing agriculture due to climate change induced drought, youth without any future, are becoming worse than at the start of the 21st century (Ian Urbina, The Outlaw Sea, Crime and Survival in the Last Untamed Frontier, 2019).

Then, following the start of the 2023-24 Red Sea War, the Somali pirates became more and more active. The reason for this probably resides in the fact that a part of the anti-piracy capabilities that were deployed in the Gulf of Aden have been recalled or are mobilized by the Operation Prosperity Guardian. In order to fight the pirates, the French navy has positioned three warships in and out of the Gulf of Aden (Lori Ann Larocco, ibid).

As it happens, the Somali pirates emerge from a nexus of “military and collapse Darwinism” that is very close to the one endured by Houthis (for the idea of “military Darwinism”, David Kilcullen, The Dragons and the Snakes, How the Rest Learned to fight the West, Hurst, 2020). Their “evolutionary artificial” pathway led them to raid the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, with such efficiency that multiple great and regional powers had to combine their maritime strength against them (Ibid.).

The Mad Max Axis

In the Western world, “armies and navies from the wasteland” are only known on screen through the movies of the Mad Max saga.

Mad Max: Fury Road – Official Theatrical Teaser Trailer [HD] – Warner Bros. Pictures – fair use.

This series of dystopian movies describes hordes of road warrior fighting each others in a world ravaged by war, climate change and state collapse.

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior – Theatrical Trailer – Warner bros. Fair use.

However, what is the fiction of Western movies is the dire reality of Yemen and Somalia. Those collapse zones literally become selective evolutionary systems from which emerge the armies for which asymmetric warfare is their way of life and survival as well as their strategic advantage, in a situation of virtual breakdown of civilization (Hélène Lavoix, “How to create new civilizations (2):  Creation and Mimesis”, The Red Team Analysis Society, 15 January, 2024).

In other terms, the convergence of the Houthis war on the Red Sea and of the new rise of Somali piracy leads to the emergence of a bipolar Houthis-Somali pirates asymmetric sea power. This “sea power from Mad Max Land” endangers the maritime dimension of Western globalization. In the same dynamic, it is dragging modern and powerful navies into a protracted, politically and financially exhausting fight.

It now remains to be seen how this coalescence of the Gaza war, of the Red Sea war and of the multiple asymmetric guerrillas taking place in the Middle East against the U.S. military is going to lead, or not, to a regional escalation towards a full scale conflict, or not.

Stabilising Or Escalating a Protest Movement?

Farmers’ protests have spread throughout Europe (notably France, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania…) since at least mid-2023 with escalation at the start of 2024, as well as in India although for different reasons. In this light, we republish two articles that address the issue of protests and how they should or could be answered.

The first article explains how and why protest movements spread, through which dynamics. This article is the second part and focuses on the role of governments and political authorities in stabilising or escalating movements. It locates protests movements in a larger more encompassing dynamic that is at work since at least 2010.

This article seeks to show how to assess the future of a protest movement with the example of the Yellow Vests and of the situation in France in 2018-2019. It looks at the way the actions of political authorities can stabilise a protest movement. Then it applies this understanding to the French movement. It can be used and applied for other protest movements, such as the farmers’ movements of 2023-2024.

Indeed, if protests in France continue, Saturday 26 January 2019 would have seen a decrease in mobilisation. According to the much debated figures given by the French Ministry of Interior, the number of protestors involved went from 287 710 people (17 November 2018), to 84 000 (19 January 2019) and 69 000 people (26 January), i.e. minus 17.85% in one week. Alternatively, the movement itself tried to develop its own way to count the participants, “Le Nombre Jaune“. The figures here went from 147 365 people on 19 January to 123 151 on 26 January, i.e. minus 16.43%.

Thus are we in a stabilising process?

Needless to say, the impact of a revolutionary France would be huge. Indeed, France has a permanent seat at the UN Security council, and is the 6th largest economic power (Business Today, 22 Nov 2018). It also has a crucial place and weight in the EU. It is thus imperative for all actors to closely monitor the events in France. Indeed, the basic rule of risk management or strategic foresight is to pay attention to high impact events, even if the probability to see such an event taking place is low (below 20%). And, in the case in France, as we shall show below, this likelihood is not that low, even if it is not highly probable (above 80%) either.

This article builds on a first part, where we focused on the birth and spread of a protest movement. It uses knowledge obtained from the past to decrypt the present and the future.

The Yellow Vest movement is part of a wider pattern of protests, which has been spreading globally since 2010. As we expected when we started monitoring these dynamics, the current global protest movements spreads, multiplies and recurs. Thus, globally, the situation is escalating. Nonetheless, each movement also displays its own idiosyncrasies, while it learns from previous protests. For each protest, when the political authorities do not stabilise the movement from the start, then the situation becomes escalating. This is exactly what has been happening so far in the French case.

In this article, we are thus concerned with national or country-wide protests. We first point out that the initial blind response of political authorities is escalating. Then we identify three stages that “rulers” can follow to stabilise a movement. For each stage, we assess the French situation, what needs to be monitored and briefly outline possible futures.

Blind first response: escalating a protest movement

As previously, to identify the phases of responses of the political authorities, we use the past case of the 1915-1916 peasant movement in Cambodia. That protest involved up to 100.000 people, which represented approximately 5% of the population. In the case of France, 5% would mean that approximately 3 million people would be in the street.

Then, 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 of the multiple motivations for escalation. They only considered the 1915 prestations (corvées) and ignored all the issues that created the rising inequalities, as well as the related resentment and feelings of injustice. The response then was built upon a complete lack of understanding of the situation. Furthermore, they incorporated the belief in a potential plot, rather than considering the real causes for grievances.

We had a similar dynamic in France. The timing is, however, worse for the French political authorities (references at the end of the article). When the first protest took place on 17 November, the government hardly reacted until 4 December 2018. Despite these three weeks, the French political authorities did not take the measure of the problem. The Prime Minister only answered on the trigger of the protest, the oil tax. He ignored all other demands, which the process of demonstrating without answer revealed. Note that the French protestors’ demand are, in essence, very similar to those expressed in 1915 in Cambodia.

The Cambodian case shows that stabilising actions must be related to the reasons for escalation. Furthermore, it points out that partial solutions are not stabilising. The French case confirms this finding. As a result, what is crucial is understanding the protest movement. The 1915 belief in a plot also underlines 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. In the French case the situation indeed looks worse as, despite an absence of immediate reaction, understanding did not improve. The French political authorities may not benefit from a proper monitoring system or from a proper analytical framework to understand what is happening. This could be inherently escalating.

Stabilisation phase 1: Listening and immediate feasible redress

In 1915, the first phase of the stabilising actions was to increase the authority’s understanding of the protest movement and of the situation. Meanwhile, the authorities took immediate measures to show they had heard and taken seriously the protestors. Throughout January 1916, the peaceful and mainly non-violent demonstrations in Phnom Penh and the dual authority (both Cambodian and French as this was a Protectorate) willingness to listen and understand allowed for real communication (i.e. exchange and listening truly to others, not communication campaigns created by advertisers and spin doctors). As a consequence, understanding arose. The only exception took place in Prey Veng. There, the anti-German fears and related belief in a foreign plot of the Resident forbade communication. 

The authorities took note of the various reasons for discontent. They 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.

In France, on 10 December 2018, the President announced measures that could partially answer the demands of the people. He also declared the start of a Great National Debate. Yet, the measures hardly actually solve the fundamental purchasing power problem of the French protestors. Meanwhile, nothing addressed their feeling of injustice. Communication seems to have improved, but only marginally. Furthermore, the many disparaging comments of elements of the elite and of the political authorities let the Yellow Vest believe that real communication is not indeed complete. The announce of the Great National Debate, however, may be seen as the promise of a real communication.

Source: Le Nombre Jaune

As a result, the mobilisation, actually, did not substantially decrease. If we take as benchmark our past example, we should have no more than a dozen people or so still demonstrating in France. It did not continue increasing either. It appears to remain stable.

Furthermore, the opinion surveys stubbornly remain favourable to the movement by more than 50% (see Wikipedia synthesis of results). There is a decrease compared with the start of the movement yet at least half of the country supports the protest. By comparison, only 31% of the French people have a favourable opinion of President Emmanuel Macron (25 January 2019 Survey BVA pour Orange, RTL et La Tribune). Meanwhile,Prime Minister Edouard Philippe reaches 36% (Ibid.). The same survey gives a 64% support to the Yellow Vest Movement (Ibid.). 53% of the French wish the movement to continue.

We are thus neither in a real stabilisation nor in an escalation but in an in-between phase. The movement may go one way or another. However, the Yellow Vest being more supported than the political authorities, the odds seem to be in favour of escalation.

Thus, compared with the Cambodian case, the French situation starts now the second phase at a high level of tension, with a continuing mobilisation.

Stabilisation phase 2: Rebuilding trust and asserting legitimate authority

Communication and Trust

In 1915, 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.

Selective and Just use of Force

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 protest, 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. They fought 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. This 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.

Fundamental Beliefs

The authorities understood and considered the fundamental beliefs of the population and the specific structure of religious institutions and practices. Yet, they also avoided escalating ways. Indeed, they prevented people to take advantage of the latter. In agreement with the heads of the two Buddhist branches  (Mohanikay and Thommayut), they suspended all travels by monks to Siam. They informed all pagodas of this measure to prevent rebellious leaders using Buddhist robes and Pagodas networks to escape.

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. Second, they 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. Thus, they would not drag along other villagers. In turn, this decreased opportunities for violence. Residents similarly toured the less agitated provinces.

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

French Measures

The Great National Debate

Planned Great Debate Session – Official – 28 January 2019

Compared with the French Yellow Vest Protest, we see the crucial importance of the Great National Debate. Indeed, it is an absolute necessity to truly create communication, to rebuild trust and legitimacy and to find solutions.

Meanwhile, the political authorities must also go and see the people. This is what seems to start happening, for example with the President organising large meetings with mayors. However, some signals would indicate that we are also facing an orchestrated communication campaign – not to confuse with understanding and communicating (e.g. Gerard Poujade (French mayor) “Souillac Inside“, Le Blog de Mediapart, 20 janvier 2019).

Thus, to know if the political authorities will succeed in stabilising the French Yellow Vest Movement, monitoring the way the Great Debate takes place is crucial. It must not be about convincing people that this or that policy is right and will bear some fruits in an unknown time. It has to be about listening to all fundamental grievances and feeling of injustice and finding ways to address them.

Fundamental Beliefs

Historically constructed beliefs and norms, including fundamental respect for others, as constructed in France will also need to be respected. The resurgence of the use of old regional flags as well as the use of the Marseillaise, the French national hymn, by the protestors, are an indication that these deep collective beliefs are operating.

Just use of force?

Finally, 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, not to be fully present?

The loss of an eye by a protestor on 26 January, as well as the number of casualties among demonstrators that the media initially ignored, and the political authorities rarely acknowledged may indicate that the conditions for a perception of a just use of force are not present. An indication of this phenomenon is the absence of precise and updated figures regarding casualties. On 20 December 2018, the official number of casualties was 1843 for the Yellow Vest and the college students (which briefly protested) and 1048 for the police force (“Gilets jaunes et lycéens: 2891 blessés depuis le début du mouvement“, BFMTV, 20 December 2018). At the end of January, we only have mid-January blurred official figures of 2000 Yellow Vest and 1000 policemen (AFP, “Gilets jaunes” gravement blessés: la colère monte et met la police sous pression“, Le Point, 17 January 2019)

Furthermore, the police force (including the Gendarmes) also increasingly expresses grievances, similar to those of the Yellow Vest (e.g. Syndicat Alternative “Gilets jaunes, ras-le-bol policier, revendications” 15 Dec 2018; “Nous aussi on va les enfiler, les gilets”, prévient un syndicat de police“, Valeurs Actuelles, 10 Dec 2018; “IJAT des gendarmes mobiles : toujours pas payée …“, APNM GendXXI,25 January 2019)

In 1915, symbolic and coercive power interacted, mutually reinforced each other and lent legitimacy to the authority-system. Now, in France, the dynamics does not look as positive.

Stabilisation phase 3: in-depth reforms

In Cambodia in 1915, the third phase, in-depth reforms, could now begin, as promises had been made with the King’s proclamation and 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. 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 was necessary to permit stabilising actions. The pooling of resources at all levels of the politico-administrative apparatus in a bottom-up and horizontal fashion was also crucial. The authority worked in a dual fashion. If final decision-making power remained vested in the French, it still reflected joint work. Indeed, the Resident did not discard the suggestions of the Cambodian Assembly. He incorporated most of them into the final decisions.

Second, the speed with which the political authorities acted was stabilising. The visibility of the first phase of actions, compensating for those that had to be delayed, strongly contributed to the stabilisation.

Finally, the Cambodian 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.

Estates-General of 1789, revolution, old, outdated order

France and the Future

To assess what will take place in France, we shall thus need to monitor what happens with the results of the Great Debate. Furthermore, and notably, the fundamental demands of the people will have to be addressed and solved.

Two batches of measures and policies will be necessary. Some will have to be short-term and truly solve purchasing power issues and injustice feelings. They will need to allow for the longer term measures to become operative. Sole operations of “false communication” or “pedagogy” will not work, if the situation is to be properly stabilised. The real implementation of the shorter term measures will be all the more important that the protest has not been stabilised in stage 1 and remains at a high level of tension in stage 2.

Alternatively, the French political authorities may choose to use coercion and force. Indeed, one must never underestimate the power of violence of the state. Yet, this is a more expensive and less efficient way to govern. Internationally, in term of national wealth and competitiveness, and thus, ultimately, power of the ruling elite and political authorities, this would probably be a sub-optimal strategy. We may also wonder, considering the grievances of the police force if such a policy is feasible at all.

Last but not least, we may wonder if the French political authorities and France indeed can stabilise the movement. In other terms, can the country address all the grievances of the population and its feeling of injustice considering the international situation, the profound changes resulting from new technologies and climate change. Indeed, we are probably in an overall escalating phase, because the various institutions built in the past are not anymore fully adequate to deal with the reality of a transformed present, of a paradigm shift, and of the multiple pressures that we must face. To be able to reach stability again, we must adapt, transform, sometimes create, everything, from capacities to understand and beliefs, 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. It is only through the interactions they prompt, through the change they impose that a new better adapted system may hope to emerge.

This is what the Yellow Vest movement may bring to France, if the actors transmute the movement in a new national momentum, adapted to the 21st century. The other possible scenarios range from revolution and civil war, to apathy, loss of national wealth and capabilities to handle change and threat.

About the author: Dr Helene Lavoix, PhD Lond (International Relations), is the Director of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. She is specialised in strategic foresight and warning for national and international security issues. Her current focus is on Artificial Intelligence and Security.

References and Bibliography

To find, check and follow events, dates and facts on the Yellow Vest: for example, The Guardian “as it happened“; Le Figaro; France Info, Mediapart, etc.

For the Cambodian case, the references are in the first part of the article.

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.

Understanding a Protest Movement and its Crescendo

Farmers’ protests have spread throughout Europe (notably France, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania…) since at least mid-2023 with escalation at the start of 2024, as well as in India although for different reasons. In this light, we republish two articles that address the issue of protests and how they should or could be answered.

This article constitutes the first part and explains how and why protest movements spread, through which dynamics. The second article focuses on the role of governments and political authorities in stabilising or escalating movements. It locates protests movements in a larger more encompassing dynamic that is at work since at least 2010.

France faced an escalating protest movement in 2018-2019. This movement was called the “Yellow Vests” or “Yellow Vest”. The French government appeared to be always late in the way it answered it; political analysts appeared to be surprised by what was happening and to struggle to understand. Meanwhile, violence increased.

Part 2 of the article: Stabilising Or Escalating a Protest Movement?

Here we explain how a protest movement starts with a triggering demand, then spreads and grows in terms of scope and intensity, pointing out similarities with the French situation.* In the winter 2018-2019 French case, the rising loss of legitimacy not only of the government, but also of the state, dramatizes the situation and makes the matter worse.

As soon as 2011 we foresaw the rise of new political opposition movements. Indeed, geo-temporal spread must also be understood across countries, all the more so in the age of the world-wide-web and of connected societies and groups.

Since December 2010 with the “Arab Spring,” protests and demonstrations have so much flared successively in so many countries that all should be aware, at least, that something is going on.Among others, this allowed for the feared rise of “populism”, we explained in other articles.  Furthermore, earlier (weak?) signals could be found with the French 2005 riots and 2006 students’ protests, with the 2007-2008 food riots, as well as with violence in Greece during the winter 2008-2009. In 2007-2008, fifteen countries, mainly in Asia and Africa were hit by the food riots. Since then at least 25 countries (Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Egypt, France, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain, Syria, Tunisia, Thailand, Ukraine, Turkey, the U.S., UK, Yemen) have been the theatres of various types of protests with different kinds of escalations up to civil war, while sporadic demonstrations also occurred elsewhere in the MENA countries, with the Arab Spring, in Latin America and Asia, following the Spanish Indignados and then Occupy movements back in the years 2011-2012.

The recurrence and spread of those movements, their links (either direct – notably since the Arab Spring, people on social networks know and help each other – or in the world of ideas, as people have learned from other movements they witnessed), even if each mobilisation has its own dynamics and challenges, show that, in general, stabilisation is not at work. Could a case from the past help shed some light on what is happening or not happening?

The 1915-1916 peasant movement in Cambodia involved up to 100.000 people, which represented approximately 5% of the population of the country, 30.000 of whom reached Phnom Penh (i.e 1,8%) to demonstrate peacefully.[1] To give a better idea of what such mobilization represents, nowadays, for a country like the U.K. or France, 5% demonstrators would imply approximately 3 million people; for the US, 15 million people. In France, according to Government’s figure which are believed to be vastly underestimated, the Yellow Vest were 283.000 on 17 November 2018 (a Union of policemen gives more than a million people), 106.000 on 24 November and 75.000 on 1st December (i.e. respectively out of 67.12 million inhabitants, World Bank, 0,4%; 0,15% and 0,11%). as comparison, in 2012, in Tunisia, on 19 and 20 February, 40,000 protesters were in the streets, and on 25 February, 100.000, i.e. respectively 0,37% and 0,9% of the estimated 2012 population.

The  French global figures for 17 November 2018, however, hide a different reality if we look at local figures, as shown by the map below as reconstructed from the original map made by demographer Hervé Le Bras (see original article and map here)

yellow vests

by MrAlex19 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons copied from 17 November Map by Demographer Hervé le Bras – Click on map to access the original map on France 3.

   de 1,8% à 6,8%
   de 1% à 1,8%
   de 0,3% à 1%
   de 0,04% à 0,3%


The peasant movement in Cambodia, thus, representing 5% of the population, was thus huge quantitatively.

Causes, build up and lack of awareness

The main causes for the Cambodian peasant protest were reinforcing inequalities, when these were not perceived as such and thus not tackled by the political authorities (the dual administration of the French Protectorate and of the Kampuchean Kingdom).[2] Peasant resentment had progressively built up around issues ranging from taxes on tobacco to requisitions, with the latter and the underlying prestation or paid corvée system epitomising unfairness. We have exactly the same situation in France, as the Yellow Vests denounce rising inequalities over the last 30 years, and notably since the 2007-2008 financial crisis (e.g. various interviews on French TV, BBC News), as well as, in the French case, a despise shown by the French government and notably the French President Macron against people (e.g. Bloomberg 2 Dec 2018).

Actually, in the Cambodian case, weak signals of discontent had previously existed, witness the multiplying peasants’ petitions brought to governors or residents from 1907 to 1913. Yet, as these signals were spread over time and space, they were insufficient to bring the awareness that would have allowed for reforms. Since the turn of the millennium, France has known a similar situation with a multiplication of unsuccessful protests over the years.

Thus, when the Cambodian peasant movement started and spread, the authorities perceived it as sudden and massive, because of their lack of awareness. Early explanations for the causes of the protest included references to an uprising synchronous with event happening in Cochinchina and the possibility of a German-sponsored plot, maybe involving exiled Prince Yukanthor, his wife and Phya Kathatorn. With hindsight, such a plot, as all conspiracy theory, was far-fetched. Yet, for some of the actors (e.g. the Prey Veng Resident, The Gouverneur Général Roume and his Director of Indigenous Political affairs), it was a reality when the demonstrations exploded.

anarchist, bomb, terrorism, King Alfonso XIII, Spain

The insecurity and fear created by World War I, combined with the general European apprehensions regarding anarchist and revolutionary terrorist attacks and assassinations, added to a wariness arising from the removal of most troops from Indochina were conducive to belief in plots. A false understanding and awareness settled that favoured escalation. Indeed, as the protests were not understood, then wrong actions were taken, because those answers were built on the erroneous analysis.

Full awareness and conscious analysis of the widespread and deep peasant discontent reached the highest levels of the dual authority only after the escalation took place, during the Summer 1916.


When the Kompong Cham Resident sent convocations for prestation labour to Ksach-Kandal in November 1915 in prevision of road works, even though the peasants had already done their prestation for the year, the villagers used the traditional form of protest to express their discontent. They went to the King to ask for redress. As these specific demands were met, they went back to their villages, but, considering their other motives of discontent, the matter was not closed as the authorities expected.

On the contrary, the villagers planned to come back for more, i.e. the possibility to buy back the 1916 prestations. This was legally offered to them, but rarely used because the small Kampuchean population meant a lack of manpower and thus led to transform prestations into requisitions to see public work done.

In France, the trigger was supplementary taxes on oil, and as in our past case, the other motives of discontent, added to timing discrepancies in the response given by political authorities, forbids the movement to stop, even though the French government finally accepted to postpone the tax (e.g. BBC News). Furthermore, in the French case, postponement rather than cancellation added to the rising distrust between the people on the one hand, the government and the state on the other.

Mobilizing through social network and communication

The villagers spread the words of their earlier protests’ success to neighbouring villages, demanding others to follow the movement. Messages were transmitted orally by travelling leaders and via letters originally sent by the inhabitants of Kompong Cham. The letters’ contents show not only the easy use of threat and the commonality of violence, but also the way the letters were circularised to obtain mobilisation as they were transmitted from villages to villages.

Anonymous letters circulating in the villages of Prey Veng and Svay Rieng (translation 1916) – The inhabitants of Khet Kompong Cham mobilize those of Khet Prey-Veng by using threat:

“The Khum of Lovea-Em has left this letter this 15/1:

“All the village of Kas-Kos must leave on 20/01. If someone does not leave on this date, we shall come in group to hit him with knives without fault. We shall also hit with knives his children and grand-children. Moreover, we shall burn his house – beware to the one who does not leave. Because we are all very discontented.”

Other letters ended with these sentences:

“Once you will have received this letter, seriously take your precautions. If someone does not want to listen; gather and beat him until his last generation.”


“Have this letter circulate in all provinces and khums once you will have read it. Signal any delay in any village and the whole village will be severely punished.

In each Khum, the Mékhum will have to write the words “seen” on the verso.”

Shared discontent, communication and threat allowed the mobilisation to grow and spread.

We need little imagination to see that the processes that are currently at work through Facebook and Twitter are very similar, with “only” different means of communication. Those new media allow for quicker spread, and abolished distances, as pointed out by Bloomberg. As far as the content of current messages are concerned, threats also exist, witness the threats received by the most moderate among the Yellow Vests (e.g. BFMTV).

Space-time pattern: Speed of communication, escalating phases and geographical spread

In the past, the slow means of communication introduced differences in the kinds of mobilisation achieved. Each movement involved three escalating phases:

  1. Original peasant discontent and consequent demonstrations;
  2. Young villagers hoping to reach leader status and thus pushing for continuation and spread of the movement;
  3. Bandits, millenarian leaders or vengeful individuals taking advantage of the created disorders.

Each phase implied escalation in violence. Thus, the further away the villages reached, the closer they would be in terms of time to the more violent phase for the initial villages. Yet, because the authorities, once they started understanding what was happening – even if full awareness had not taken place – were also taking stabilising actions, the further away the villages, the more likely stabilising actions were operative and thus the more likely the initial mobilisation was deflected.

This explains the apparently sudden explosion of violence in some areas, such as Prey Veng, where 2000 demonstrators assaulted the Pearang salakhet (provincial tribunal) to free arrested leaders, and where the Indigenous Guard fired on the crowd killing eight individuals. These areas were far away enough to be reached during the third phase of escalation, but close enough not to feel the effects of stabilising measures. This also explains the quasi or total absence of demonstration in areas located further away, such as Kampot, Takeo, Pursat or Battambang.

The communication speed-rate explains the space-time pattern of the demonstrations. The first demonstrators of Ksach-Kandal reached Phnom Penh on 3 January 1916, the bulk on 7 and 8 January. By 20 January, the inhabitants of various Prey Veng villages had left for Phnom Penh, while the inhabitants of Thbong Khmum in Kompong Cham were about to depart. For Kompong Chhnang, the movement had spread from Choeung Prey to Mukompul in Kompong Cham to Lovek to Anlong Reach in Kompong Chhnang, but could not go further.

The consequences for our present and near future are crucial. Regarding awareness and understanding, thus capability to deal with protests, a slow pace of communication plays into the hands of those who truly want to understand. A slow pace of communication thus favours stabilisation, if we are in an overall stabilising phase.

On the contrary, as is taking place in France, technological sophistication allows speed, collapse of phases, quasi-instantaneous geographical spread, and helps muddling understanding. Besides other biases, this favours de facto escalation in the movement. This escalation in terms of violence is enhanced by the fact that the “cognitive system” of administrative apparatuses does not efficiently incorporate technological changes. Even if, in the case of 2018 France, digital change is integrated, administrative and usual political – or rather politician – processes and practices cannot accommodate the digital instantaneous spread in-built within the movement. The resulting incapacity to understand of the political authorities and elite groups around them forbids awareness, which, in turn, further leads to escalating actions, which, again,  contributes to an overall escalating phase.

With the next article, we shall look more in detail at the way political authorities may escalate or, on the contrary, stabilise such a movement.

About the author: Dr Helene Lavoix, PhD Lond (International Relations), is the Director of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. She is specialised in strategic foresight and warning for national and international security issues. Her current focus is on Artificial Intelligence and Security.

*The original title was “Protest Movements, Mobilisation, Geo-Temporal Spread: Some Lessons from History (1)”

[1] This post is a shortened and revised version of pp.114-125, Lavoix, Helene, ‘Nationalism’ and ‘genocide’ : the construction of nation-ness, authority, and opposition – the case of Cambodia (1861-1979) – PhD Thesis – School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London), 2005, where new available evidences allowed to further the analyses by Milton Osborne “Peasant Politics in Cambodia: the 1916 Affair” Modern Asian Studies, 12, 2 (1978), pp.217-243; Forest, Cambodge, pp.412-431. The interested reader will be able to refer to the original text to find detail and full references fo archives. Figures for the mobilization are from A. Pannetier, Notes Cambodgiennes: Au Coeur du Pays Khmer; (Paris: Cedorek, 1983 [1921]); pp.46-47 CAOM/RSC/693/249c/mouv1916IAPI/24/10/1916. Alain Forest estimates the overall population of Cambodia in 1911 at 1,684 million. The 1921 census finds 2,395 million inhabitants.

[2] For a schematic representation, see Lavoix, Ibid, appendix 4.2. p.321, for detailed explanations on the dual authority in Cambodia, see, notably, David P. Chandler, A History of Cambodia, (Boulder: Westview Press, [1992, 2d ed.]); Alain Forest, Le Cambodge et la Colonisation Française: Histoire d’une colonisation sans heurts (1897-1920), (Paris  L’Harmattan, 1980); Milton Osborne, The French Presence in Cochinchina and Cambodia: Rule and Response (1859-1905), (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1969); Lavoix, ibid.