Thinking Security: A Reflectivist Approach to France’s Security Policy-Making in sub-Saharan Africa

Erforth, Benedikt (2015) Thinking Security: A Reflectivist Approach to France’s Security Policy-Making in sub-Saharan Africa. PhD thesis, University of Trento.

PDF - Doctoral Thesis


Recent years have witnessed increased French military activism in Africa. Despite efforts to normalise its post-colonial relationship and considerable downsizing of its permanent military presence, France remains a sought-after actor in solving African security problems. Notwithstanding French decision-makers’ repeated promises that the gendarme of Africa belongs to the past, French troops have participated in nine military operations since the turn of the millennium. Against all expectations, the Hollande administration has stood out for being particularly interventionist, concerting a military intervention in Mali and deploying a peacekeeping force to the Central African Republic within two years of assuming office. The ambiguity between an interventionist policy and a disengaged discourse suggests that French military interventionism in sub-Saharan Africa no longer follows the same automaticity as in the past. The two interventions in Mali and the CAR testify to the intense ideational struggles between different belief systems that had shaped French actors’ minds and thus influenced decision-making processes and policy outcomes. Economic interests and neo-colonial continuity have been traditionally identified as the root causes of French interventionism in francophone Africa. For the past two decades the literature on French-African relations has been dominated by the so-called continuity vs. change debate, which scrutinises the presence of colonial / neo-colonial practices in the post-1990 French foreign policy. While ideational approaches to France’s African policy are not rare, few studies have engaged with the decision-making processes that produce French military interventions. Most studies focus on policy outcomes, which are rooted in static conceptualisations of ideas that are aggregated at the level of the state. Starting from these observations, the present study argues that the mere analysis of policy outcomes tells us little about the actual motivations that drive French foreign and security policy in Africa. Instead of analysing French interventionism by relying on a predefined set of explanatory variables that are juxtaposed with a series of observable outcomes in order to falsify predefined hypotheses, this thesis explains French interventionism by drawing on actors’ subjective perceptions and motivations. The study uses the actors’ own utterances to explain why French decision-makers are ready to accept the considerable risks and costs involved in guaranteeing or re-establishing the security of African countries. Adopting an actor-centred constructivist ontology, this study not only identifies ideas as core explanatory variables but also traces their emergence and subsequent development throughout decision-making processes. This approach goes beyond the dichotomous view that reduces French motivations to material interests or post-colonial ambitions. Relying on discursive material such as official statements, verbatim reports of press conferences and parliamentary hearings, policy reports, and thirty-two high-level interviews with French decision-makers, the present study narrates military intervention in Mali and the CAR from the perspective of French foreign policy elites under the Hollande Presidency. This recent and largely unexplored empirical material provides new insights into France’s foreign and defence policy. The study also demonstrates why and how the “Africa factor” still matters in France’s foreign policy considerations. The importance of Africa in France’s security policy has less to do with neo-colonial ambitions per se, than with the understanding French policy-makers have of themselves and their country. More generally, the findings show how comprehensive explanations of foreign policy can be produced by considering actors’ subjective perceptions. In so doing, the study not only explains France’s current policies in sub-Saharan Africa, but also offers insights into foreign policy decision-making processes in general, and thereby provides further evidence about how ideational factors influence the making of world politics. Keywords: France, Africa, Mali, CAR, foreign policy analysis, international security, decision-making, political psychology, constructivism

Item Type:Doctoral Thesis (PhD)
Doctoral School:International Studies
PhD Cycle:27
Subjects:Area 14 - Scienze politiche e sociali > SPS/04 SCIENZA POLITICA
Uncontrolled Keywords:Keywords: France, Africa, Mali, CAR, foreign policy analysis, international security, decision-making, political psychology, constructivism
Repository Staff approval on:16 Jun 2015 12:07

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