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Understanding the public response: a strategic narrative perspective on France’s Sahelian operations

Cumming, Gordon ORCID:, Van Der Velde, Roel ORCID: and Chafer, Tony 2022. Understanding the public response: a strategic narrative perspective on France’s Sahelian operations. European Security 31 (4) , pp. 617-638. 10.1080/09662839.2022.2038568
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Strategic narratives now face unrealistic expectations as to what they can achieve in the military field. This article asks when and how such narratives lose traction during protracted military interventions. To address these questions, which are crucial at a time when so much modern warfare takes place in the “fourth” dimension, this study develops a conceptual framework that focuses initially on the weakening of a narrative’s content and, subsequently, on its loss of normative resonance and verisimilitude. The latter two factors are beyond the control of even the most skilful strategic narrator, particularly where narratives are required to appeal to audiences with different norms. Our framework is applied to the case of France’s military operations in Mali (Serval) and the Western Sahel (Barkhane). It finds that, whereas France’s compelling Serval narrative was congruent with strong French and Malian public backing, its Barkhane narrative weakened over time, resonating less with prevailing societal norms, becoming less attuned to events on the ground and ultimately coinciding with a sharp decline in public support in France and Mali. It concludes that strategic narratives afford agency to policymakers but are constantly open to contestation and struggle to cope with diverse audiences and deteriorating “evenemential” contexts.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Department of Politics and International Relations (POLIR)
Modern Languages
Publisher: Routledge
ISSN: 1746-1545
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 7 February 2022
Date of Acceptance: 2 February 2022
Last Modified: 24 Nov 2022 20:37

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