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France’s new Napoleonic era

This year, in both Libya and Ivory Coast, one country has launched military strikes and dragged the international community into action against entrenched autocrats: France.

world Updated: Apr 06, 2011 23:46 IST

This year, in both Libya and Ivory Coast, one country has launched military strikes and dragged the international community into action against entrenched autocrats: France.

It’s the same France that vigorously opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq eight years ago and has advocated trying every possible approach before bringing in the guns in other international crises.

Analysts say the extraordinary turnaround may be rooted in a revival by President Nicolas Sarkozy of traditional French notions of high-minded interventionism, as well as an attempt by the French leader to ease Europe away from its longtime dependence on the US security umbrella.

At a time of upheaval in the Arab world and Asia’s rising economic might, experts say, France wants to boost Europe’s relevance with tough, human rights-based military interventions, and quash lingering rumblings about the continent’s decline.

There’s also another possible factor at play: Sarkozy faces a likely re-election campaign next year — and he may be betting that promoting France’s values of human rights can be a vote-winning appeal to the French craving for “grandeur.”

In Ivory Coast, a former French colony, France became the first country to fire its weapons on forces of Ivory Coast’s strongman Laurent Gbagbo this week. Its actions there are linked to its important economic and cultural stakes and a longtime, if relatively discreet, military presence in the country.

Within the European Union, France and Britain are the biggest military heavyweights in a bloc where some countries, notably economic powerhouse Germany, are hesitant to see their troops on foreign battlefields — a hang-up that most French don’t have.

France is seeking to shake Europe out of its hesitancy to use force when needed — and possible — and to defend its citizens and values, said one analyst. But analyst Philippe Moreau Defarges said France’s military actions in Libya and Ivory Coast shouldn’t be lumped together: the only similarity is that they target autocrats whose regimes have killed civilians in a bid to cling to power.