France’s interventions in Mali and the Sahel: a historical institutionalist perspective

Tony Chafer*, Gordon Cumming, Roel van der Velde

*Corresponding author for this work

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France’s interventions in Mali and the wider Sahel appear, on the face of it, to mark a new departure in French military policy in view of the approach to multilateralism adopted, the regionalisation of the response and the levels of violence deployed. Yet how ‘new’ is this approach, when set against the historical backdrop of French military interventions, and how far can it be seen as simply an adaptation of the new path dependency of multilateralism that emerged in the wake of the 1994 Rwandan genocide? These questions have not been tackled in the burgeoning literature on French military policy but will be central to this study. Focusing on critical junctures, institutional configurations, layering, conversion and drift, this article sets out the old path dependency that marked French military policy before 1994 and the new path dependency that emerged after this traumatic event. Drawing on some 50 semi-structured interviews, it explores France’s missions in the Sahel through a historical institutionalist lens, showing through an innovative conceptual framework how new and old practices and ideas are combined and how this melding of the two has been possible.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)482-507
Number of pages26
JournalThe Journal of Strategic Studies
Issue number4
Early online date16 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020


  • France
  • Africa
  • French military policy
  • peace and security
  • Sahel


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