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The Hollande doctrine: Plus ça change

The Hollande doctrine: Plus ça change
Published 17 Dec 2013 

Tim Dunne is Professor of International Relations at the University of Queensland; Eglantine Raux is a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland.

With the recent deployment of French troops to Mali and the Central African Republic (CAR), influential media outlets are asking whether an 'Hollande doctrine' is emerging. According to Guardian journalist Simon Tisdall, the doctrine is defined by 'a self consciously benign form of armed interventionism based on international authority and local consent'.

The New York Times falls short of claiming a new doctrine has emerged, although it endorses the argument that France's human protection policy in Africa has changed. 'The new approach', writes Alan Cowell, reiterates the centrality of international approval while noting that the overriding objective of any intervention is to quickly hand over to African forces after the initial 'rapid French deployment'.

President Hollande's foreign policy came to the fore when he decided to send troops to Mali in January to fight the terrorist groups that had taken control of the north and provide humanitarian relief. The use of chemical weapons in Syria in August triggered activism on the part of the Hollande Administration until the military option was taken off the table by the Kerry-Lavrov disarmament accord.

Then last week, Hollande's preparedness to send forces for human protection purposes was again in evidence as he committed 1000 more troops to the CAR in support of UN Security Council Resolution 2127, which is designed to protect civilians, restore the authority of the government, and stablise a country that has been in turmoil for over nine months. The French intervention force is being deployed alongside 2500 African Union soldiers.

To what extent can these cases be meaningfully described as constituting a 'doctrine'? [fold]

Agree with it or not, it was clear what the Blair doctrine stood for — not least because of the fanfare that greeted his Chicago speech in 1999. Three years later and his doctrine was in tatters as Blair signed up to a preventive war against Iraq that met none of the criteria for intervention that he had previously articulated.

The main difficulty with the idea of a Hollande doctrine is that it implies the President is transforming French foreign policy by adopting an interventionist approach to mass atrocities. Yet France has always been at the vanguard of humanitarian intervention: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose (the more it changes, the more it stays the same). No matter if the government was socialist or conservative, successive French administrations have articulated a devoir d'ingérence (duty to intervene) in response to humanitarian emergencies.

In 1991 François Mitterrand and his foreign minister Roland Dumas tried to persuade the Security Council that there was a duty to intervene to stop Saddam Hussein committing further harm to the Kurds in Iraq's north and the Shi'a in the south. It was, however, the problem that refugees posed to neighboring countries that ultimately persuaded the members of the Security Council to adopt Resolution 688, enabling the no-fly zones to be implemented.

Despite the difficulties that French interventionism encountered in the mid-1990s, especially in Bosnia, the French executive remained a strong defender of humanitarian intervention and dedicated troops to achieve this goal. Under Jacques Chirac, France participated fully in the NATO-led war against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in response to ethnic cleansing in Kosovo in 1999. In 2011, Nicolas Sarkozy led from the front in making the case for military action to protect civilians from the harm being perpetrated by Muammar Quadhafi's forces in Libya.

France's commitment to intervene in Africa is in part explained by its ties to the Francophone states. Former presidents Mitterrand and Chirac were committed to building strong relations with decolonised African states; President Sarkozy continued this legacy in 2011, not just in Libya but also in Côte d'Ivoire when French forces were deployed to restore order after ousted President Laurent Gbagbo and his supporters threatened to plunge the country into violence and turmoil. 

In short, to talk about an 'Hollande doctrine' overlooks the historical importance of the idea of a duty to intervene that has informed French foreign policy since the end of the Cold War.

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