Strategic satisficing: civil-military relations and French intervention in Africa

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Few issues are more important yet less understood than outside interventions in intra-state conflicts. Under what circumstances do intervening states further their interests and when, contrarily, do they plunge into quagmires? France is a critical case. It is, statistically, the world’s second intervenor and earned the sobriquet of Africa’s gendarme through frequent interventions in African wars. The ability of such a medium-sized state to intervene with greater regularity and ostensible success than larger powers raises questions about how France manages its interventions. Do French interventions draw on the French Army’s distinctive “school” of population-centric counterinsurgency, which emphasizes the need to militarize governance in pursuit of comprehensive victories? Or do the French Fifth Republic’s civil-military institutions encourage policymakers to carefully regulate force’s employment in pursuit of limited ends? This study draws on declassified archives to test which approach most characterizes French interventions. To preview my conclusions, strategic satisficing—the use of minimal force for short durations to produce satisfactory outcomes—distinguishes the Fifth Republic’s interventions from other powers’ practices and prior French counterinsurgencies. This particular form of interventionism enables France to influence a disproportionately large number of intra-state conflicts and maintain a network of security agreements with African states.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of International Security
VolumeFirst View
Early online date3 Apr 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 Apr 2019


  • Chad
  • France
  • Africa
  • Counterinsurgency
  • Intervention
  • Satisficing
  • Civil-military relations
  • Civil wars


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