Date of Award

Spring 5-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science & Geography


Graduate Program in International studies

Committee Director

Regina Karp

Committee Member

Peter Schulman

Committee Member

Geoffroy de Laforcade


Why does France continue to intervene militarily in sub-Saharan Africa despite repeated commitments, both in practice and in rhetoric, to disengage and adhere to strict non-intervention? Although many accounts of France’s African security policy have been put forth, few have analyzed French foreign policy choices through the decision-making process itself, let alone exclusively applied International Relations (IR) theories to understand those decisions. Synthesizing a narrative approach with an ontological security interpretation, which understands states as having identity security needs on top of their physical ones, I propose an alternative framework for understanding France’s security-seeking, threats to identity, and how they shape the foreign policy decision-making process. I assess the impact ‘anxiety’ had upon the interventionist debates surrounding two recent crises during the Hollande administration: the terrorist threat in Mali and the humanitarian catastrophe in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2013. My conclusions are two-fold. First, anxiety can be seen as both an inhibitor and enabler of change. Anxiety over being labeled a neocolonial power was initially conducive to bolstering the normalization of Franco-African security relations initiated at the start of the 21st century and advocated by the Hollande administration. However, as the meaning of each crisis was discursively debated and subsequently re-interpreted, the policy of non-interference became a source of anxiety itself; ontological insecurity, in each case, enabled the behavioral change that anxiety initially prevented. Second, French actors were conflicted over having to choose between contradictory identity preferences in their response to the crises. As such, decision-makers activated narratives surrounding France’s role as a puissance d’influence, using historical analogies and references to proximity in order to quiet anxieties, smooth out dissonance, and restore ontological security. In the end, I argue that French interventions in sub-Saharan Africa are a form of routinized foreign policy practice, and it is through these routines that France secures its identity as a security provider on the African continent, a democracy promoter, and a human rights defender. Without interventions, France risks losing the ability to satisfy its very self-image of being an important player in the international system.


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