Military intervention in theory and practice: French policy in sub-Saharan Africa since 1960

  • Mel William Edward McNulty

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    French military intervention in sub-Saharan Africa since 1960 has operated according to a bilateral dynamic independent of - although often influenced by and justified in terms of - global ideological or bloc alignments. It has been characterised by mechanical responses to perceived intervention stimuli. It has frequently disregarded international law and contradicted France's self-image as homeland and promoter of human rights. It reached its nadir as a result of French support for the genocidal regime in Rwanda.
    Accordingly, this study advances two principal arguments: French military intervention in sub-Saharan Africa has been driven by a unique French or Franco-African dynamic which has operated largely independently of global bloc politics and geostrategy; and the first failure of French intervention - in Rwanda from 1990 up to and including 1994 - marked a watershed in the practice, and the beginning of a military retreat from the continent more forced than voluntary.
    International Relations intervention theory has typically disregarded the Franco-African interventionary system, although France acts in defence of its allies and interests as Realism tells us it will, in an interventionary sphere of influence comparable to that of the US in Latin America. This study considers France's legitimisation for its interventions through claimed derogations from the non-intervention norm, and identifies France's unique interventionary dynamic which arose from its regular activation of mechanical responses to perceived intervention stimuli.
    The context for these responses may be found in France's unique role in Africa since decolonisation. Throughout the Cold War, France was given carte blanche by the West to intervene in its exclusive African sphere, often in breach of those states' sovereignty. This derogation from international norms was made possible by the French-controlled creation of the new states to emerge from decolonisation, the sovereignty of which was deliberately circumscribed by military accords so that intervention frequently became an automatic feature of interstate relations along the Franco-African axis.
    This study's empirical focus - the uniqueness of this axis in the international
    system - was demonstrated by the continuity of French interventionary
    behaviour in the early 1990s, with no immediate change correspondent to the
    global shift in the balance of power and in the use and justification of military
    intervention. A perceived need to rework the legitimisation of French
    intervention only came about in 1994, during preparation for Operation
    Turquoise in Rwanda, following the first failure of intervention (and the collapse
    of a French-backed army and regime) in France's African sphere. Although the
    justificatory discourse of French military intervention was changed at this time to embrace a humanitarian agenda under a UN mandate, its practice changed - to a
    reluctant observance of the nonintervention norm - against France's will, and only as a result of the transformation since 1994 of the political and military environment in central Africa.
    Date of Award1999
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Portsmouth
    SupervisorTony Chafer (Supervisor)

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