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French Military Interventions in Africa: Realism vs. Ideology in French Defense Policy and Grand Strategy
Unformatted Document Text:  new period of cohabitation in June 1997 in the French government. After several years of limited activity in Africa in the late 1990s, however, France unexpectedly made a major show of military power in Côte d’Ivoire in 2002, indicating that France was ready to resume its active military policy of the previous 40 years. From 1960 to 2006, France launched 37 major military operations in Francophone sub-Saharan Africa. A policy of active military intervention entails high risks and costs, so it is unusual and surprising to see such a consistent policy by a middle power in a region outside of the main theaters of great power conflict that requires considerable military projection capacity. The continuity of French military interventions is also surprising in light of the major changes in both France’s international strategic environment and French domestic defense policies since 1960. Therefore, the primary question that I address in this paper is why we observe this continuity of French military intervention policy in Africa from 1960 to the present despite other changes that one would expect to lead to the adoption of a different policy. The conventional wisdom in the literature on this topic in both English and French is that the continuity of French interventions in Africa is due to the persistence of historical links from the colonial period tied to ideas of French republican and colonial identity. John Chipman, in the definitive source in English, French Power in Africa, argues that French activity in its former African empire is tied closely to ideas of French republicanism and exceptionalism, the key ideas that make up the French identity. French power derives from the colonial system and the idea that Africans should continue to look to France for cultural and political leadership, which in some measure is a post- colonial manifestation of the mission civilisatrice. 5 Chipman’s main point is that France is a fundamentally different state than the other states in the international system, and that 5 John Chipman, French Power in Africa (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989), 3, 5, 17-19. 3

Authors: Griffin, Christopher.
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new period of cohabitation in June 1997 in the French government. After several years
of limited activity in Africa in the late 1990s, however, France unexpectedly made a
major show of military power in Côte d’Ivoire in 2002, indicating that France was ready
to resume its active military policy of the previous 40 years.
From 1960 to 2006, France launched 37 major military operations in Francophone
sub-Saharan Africa. A policy of active military intervention entails high risks and costs,
so it is unusual and surprising to see such a consistent policy by a middle power in a
region outside of the main theaters of great power conflict that requires considerable
military projection capacity. The continuity of French military interventions is also
surprising in light of the major changes in both France’s international strategic
environment and French domestic defense policies since 1960. Therefore, the primary
question that I address in this paper is why we observe this continuity of French military
intervention policy in Africa from 1960 to the present despite other changes that one
would expect to lead to the adoption of a different policy.
The conventional wisdom in the literature on this topic in both English and
French is that the continuity of French interventions in Africa is due to the persistence of
historical links from the colonial period tied to ideas of French republican and colonial
identity. John Chipman, in the definitive source in English, French Power in Africa,
argues that French activity in its former African empire is tied closely to ideas of French
republicanism and exceptionalism, the key ideas that make up the French identity.
French power derives from the colonial system and the idea that Africans should continue
to look to France for cultural and political leadership, which in some measure is a post-
colonial manifestation of the mission civilisatrice.
Chipman’s main point is that France
is a fundamentally different state than the other states in the international system, and that
5
John Chipman, French Power in Africa (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989), 3, 5, 17-19.
3


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