France’s interventions in Mali and the wider Sahel appear to mark a new departure in French military policy in terms 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 in Africa? Should it be seen as a modified version – an adaptation – of the new type of multilateral engagement that emerged in the wake of the 1994 Rwandan genocide? Using a historical institutionalist lens, employing the notions of critical junctures, ‘layering’, and ‘drift’, this article briefly sets out the unilateral approach that marked French military policy in Africa prior to 1994 before going on to analyse the multilateral approach and associated path-dependent practices that emerged after the Rwandan genocide. Drawing on elite interviews in Europe, the US and Africa, the article shows that, while France’s engagement in the Sahel is characterised by an ostensibly novel multilateral approach, it does in fact combine new and old norms, ideas and practices.
Read the article in the Journal of Strategic Studies
Gordon D. Cumming is Professor of Language-Based Area Studies at Cardiff University. A fellow of the Royal Historical Society and alumnus of the Collegium, he has served as Professeur Invité at Sciences-Po Bordeaux and Lyons. An ex-diplomat, his British Academy and Leverhulme-funded research focuses on French and EU security and development policies. His books include: Aid to Africa (2001), French NGOs in the Global Era (2009), and La France. L’Europe et l’Aide (2013).