Denise Fisher

France, which is both an external and resident South Pacific power by virtue of its possessions there, pursues, or simply inherits, multiple strategic benefits. But the strategic context has changed in recent years. China's increased presence; consequent changes in the engagement of the US, Japan and Taiwan; and the involvement of other players in the global search for resources, means that France is one of many more with influence and interests in a region considered by some as a backwater. These shifts in a way heighten the value of France's strategic returns, while impacting on France's capacity to exert influence and pursue its own objectives in the region. At the same time, France is dealing with demands for greater autonomy and even independence from its two most valuable overseas possessions on which its influence is based, New Caledonia and French Polynesia. How it responds to these demands will directly shape the nature of its future regional presence, which is a strategic asset.

Christian Olsson

In this study, we try to apply the genealogical methodology to the analysis of French, British and American military discourse on the « pacification of populations » from the xixth century until today. The objective is indeed to analyse and problematise the colonial continuities that the leitmotiv of the « hearts and minds » reveals. We do this by focusing on the « moments » that have framed and reframed the social uses and significations of this leitmotiv: firstly, the « moment » of colonial conquest ; then, the « moment » of the wars of decolonization ; finally, the « moment » of western interventionism in postcolonial states. While highlighting the colonial continuities of military practice, our main conclusion is that the meanings of the leitmotiv are extremely variable and always subjected to contradictory interpretations. The genealogy of the « hearts and minds » hence draws attention to its many discontinuities. It particularly shows how the postcolonial « moment » has subverted its colonial meanings.

The idea that the colonial past keeps surfacing in contemporary political situations has been turned by some post(-)colonial theoreticians and militant writers into an irrefutable statement of fact. Yet this analytical stance is supported by little empirically grounded research. A host of creative new literature about modern age “colonial situations” indeed help us reach a better, more nuanced understanding of what colonial domination was all about. But they often fail to capture the vernacular, non-European historicity of the “colonial encounter”. In the case of Southeast Asia, local political societies were engaged in state-formation processes long before the arrival of the Europeans: In Insulindia and in Indochina, there actually existed local imperial societies, into which the European colonial order of things became embedded. Viewed from this perspective, the “colonial situation” was a moment in long-term Euro-Asiatic imperial histories that mixed together numerous and sometimes contradictory understandings of imperial power and prowess. Talking about imperial hegemonies hence might help us escape modernist analytical dead-ends.