Journal of Strategic Studies, 43(4), 2020, pp. 508-33.
Scholars argue that the 1991 Gulf War, when the United States worked hard to secure approval from the United Nations (UN), set a precedent for legitimate military intervention that other states, especially other liberal democracies, subsequently felt compelled to follow. France, however, continued to intervene unilaterally in its traditional African sphere of influence for several years, without seeking approval from the UN or regional bodies. Even after France drew widespread opprobrium for its support of a murderous regime in Rwanda, French leaders deployed thousands of combat troops unilaterally on various missions. This article relies on original interviews with French policymakers as well as on primary documents to make the case that the 2002–04 Côte d’Ivoire intervention finally steered French Africa policy towards greater multilateralism. It drove home the danger that unilateral interventions could fuel anti-French sentiment among African audiences, undermining France’s regional influence. Ultimately, therefore, concerns about African acceptance more than broader international pressure led France to fully embrace new norms of legitimate intervention.