Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Mastering "Irrational" Violence: The Relegitimization of French Security Policy in Sub-Saharan Africa

Academic journal article Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Mastering "Irrational" Violence: The Relegitimization of French Security Policy in Sub-Saharan Africa

Article excerpt

The global context of the 1990s imposed constraints on French security policy in sub-Saharan Africa, but it has also offered new opportunities to reauthorize and relegitimize French military cooperation, military intervention, and prepositioned forces after the fiasco of the Rwandan genocide. It is argued that the post-Rwanda French military doctrine of the mastery of violence has relegitimized French hegemony by identifying violence as the enemy to be contained, controlled, and eliminated. The "new" military cooperation (symbolized by the program of RECAMP [Renforcement des capacites africaines au maintien de la paix]) has in fact redefined the French "right" of military intervention in Africa instead of promoting the formal objectives of security and development. KEYWORDS: France-security policy; France-Afrique; RECAMP; mastery of violence; military cooperation.

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French security policy in sub-Saharan Africa underwent important transformations after the events in Rwanda in 1994, even though France's complicity in the genocide (1) and its consequences on the French army and French military cooperation remain officially denied. The changes were informed by the restructuring of French defense policy and the subsequent reorganization of the French army. The white paper of 1994 redefined the strategic environment and thus prescribed the reorientation that the army's new force posture and doctrine took. The original functions of projection and prevention that rationalized the French use of force were combined to justify an emphasis on French military intervention abroad and even pre-emptive action. (2) The examination of the Loi de programmation militaire 2003-2008 and the defense budgets of 2004 and 2005 (3) confirmed that French military strategy has been very clearly geared toward direct military intervention outside Europe (or inside Europe within the scope of NATO). Therefore, the reorganization of the French military apparatus in Africa has had much to do with the strengthening of French projection capabilities. (4)

The most common explanations for the transformation of French security policy in sub-Saharan Africa have emphasized a rapidly evolving post-Cold War strategic environment and a "newfound" desire expressed by Africans to take responsibility in the prevention and the resolution of their conflicts and crises. (5) The concept of RECAMP (6) symbolized the reorientation and innovated in the sense that it represented the multilateralization of French military policy through "an 'Africanization' of regional security and a 'multinationalization' of Western interests exemplified by Franco-British and American-led initiatives to create regional peacekeeping forces." (7) RECAMP is indeed part of a multinational venture to reform peacekeeping in Africa. However, I argue that, while the global context imposed constraints on French African security policy, the post-Cold War hegemonic neoliberal environment also offered new opportunities to relegitimize French military cooperation and prepositioned forces in Africa.

In short, the latest version of French security policy in sub-Saharan Africa sought officially to eliminate past abuses, "errors," bavures, and so-called paradoxes. Nevertheless, as I argue here, the changes were mostly cosmetic and the post-Rwanda discourse of French military cooperation has made empires benevolent and the use of force enlightening. Put another way, French hegemony in sub-Saharan Africa has been relegitimized. Military intervention has been authorized in the name of democratic values and norms that legitimize a priori the French use of force. African armed conflicts are portrayed as apolitical, irrational, and thus "violent." The underlying assumption is that France knows best; that France knows the durable conditions for peace. The conditions that are promoted, however, reflect and reify existing relations of power. …

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