This month France has sent ground troops to and bombed northern Mali. This feels like the first time in a while that a country besides the US has stuck its neck out to fight violent Islamist groups that were operating in a foreign country. France has historical ties to Mali, but are there pragmatic reasons for the decision as well? The President of France, Hollande, is a socialist, which as an American I associate with being liberal and less prone to use military force abroad. So, what explains his decision?

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    Interesting question. The assumption that French governments of center-left leaning would be less prone to wage wars abroad, although perhaps natural at first sight, is actually not supported by facts. For example, the war in Algeria (1954-1962) was mainly fought by such governments (from 1954 to 1958) and ended by De Gaulle who came back to power in 1958, first continued to wage the war then ended it (and is usually considered as right-wing). Similar remarks hold with respect to the war in Indochina (1946-1954).
    – Did
    Feb 8, 2014 at 19:37
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    A country with many french speakers which is losing grip of an area the size of the UK to radical jihadis... france has a lot of trade and mining being imposed on those countries via the local elites. they need access. Jun 28, 2017 at 16:08

3 Answers 3

  1. The reason for French military action now is that the carefully crafted French-led plan of action (train African troops to fight the Islamists, with France as trainers) got thrown out the window since said Islamists declined to oblige waiting on the French/UN timetable and launched a major 2-column advance on the South that threatened to net them a complete win. Mali's government asked France to Do Something Right Now Before All Is Lost.

    That plan was basically United Nations Security Council Resolution 2085:

    adopted unanimously on 20 December 2012, authorized the deployment of the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA).

  2. The reason France cares in the first place is because they are worried that Mali will become the new Algiers and thus threaten French interests, both in Africa and at home.

    From AP story, via FNC:

    France has some 6,000 citizens and economic and strategic interests throughout the Sahel desert region that includes Mali, interests to be protected.

    But the real fear is that a state run by radical Islamists could spread the doctrine throughout the Sahel and do what al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, one of the leading radical groups in Mali, has failed to do from its home base in neighboring Algeria — strike across the Mediterranean.

    At the moment, the threat is limited to Mali and potentially its neighbors — where terrorists can target western interests but lack the structure to do damage elsewhere, said Gohel said of the Asia-Pacific Foundation think tank. "But they are growing in ascendancy. ... We're seeing the Talibanization process taking place inside Mali."


    French authorities worry that the radicals could contaminate the diaspora of Malians in France and elsewhere, much as some Algerians in France took up the jihadist cause in the 1990s, sending weapons and money to Islamist insurgents in Algeria — and carrying out terrorist attacks in France.

  • Note that the rebels fight for independence, not control over Mali. See e.g. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azawadi_declaration_of_independence
    – gerrit
    Jan 18, 2013 at 12:57
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    @gerrit - as usual, you have a complicated situation on the ground, with ethnic/nationalist (Tuareg) goals of MNLA mixed in with Islamist goals of fellow "travelers" from "Ansar Dine" who are also based in Tuareg demographics I believe. Based on history, I'm willing to wager that if that alliance wins, the latter part will dominate and want to control all of Mali
    – user4012
    Jan 18, 2013 at 14:28
  • I was wrong in my earlier comment about who fights for what.
    – gerrit
    Jan 18, 2013 at 14:29

You can invoke history, generalities about French interests there and elsewhere, the risk of spillover, etc. or focus on immediate tactical causes and domestic politics in France.

But there is a simpler, more direct answer: 75-80% of France's power is produced in nuclear power plants and a fourth of the fuel comes from Niger. Fuel imports are handled by a company called Areva, which is mostly government-owned and extremely well-connected.

And the uranium mines are in the North-West of the country, very close to the border with Algeria and Mali. France simply cannot allow this area to come under threat from anybody.


This article answers a lot of questions:


France is intervening in Mali for the sake of its energy supply. ........, and the region of West Africa is rich with uranium deposits.

Neighbouring Niger, which is the world’s fifth-largest uranium producer, accounts for 33% of France’s uranium supply, but that is set to rise. The French energy company Areva, which is mostly state-owned, is opening a new exploration site in Imouraren, about 300 kilometres from the Malian border. Areva has been calling for military protection of the uranium mines for a long time, but their requests have been rejected on the basis that elite soldiers could not be used permanently to safeguard economic interests.

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