Applying Discourse Theory and Interpretive Policy Analysis on Foreign Policy: The Case of the French Engagement in the Libyan War


When France and other partners within and outside the North Atlantic Treaty Organization intervened militarily in Libya to stop Muammar al-Qaddafi’s forces from crushing the anti-regime insurgency in 2011, there was a broad debate on the French motivations for this engagement. Economic interests for intervention, electoral/office-holding behavior of the incumbent French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Responsibility to Protect, or spread of democracy arguments were discussed, respectively, posing the question of more pragmatic, crude, interest-based motivations versus more noble, liberal-humanitarian ones. Reflecting the condition of incomplete information and the predicament of defense secrecy, this case study offers insights in how to cut through such a foreign policy decision-making conundrum analytically. Adopting a Weberian model-building understanding of explanation and structuring experience, it suggests using the discourse theory of the Essex School and Interpretive Policy Analysis micro-methods for investigating executive and parliamentary speech acts as observable, discursive performances of the politics of foreign policy. The following case study lays out the main debates on the French intervention in Libya, but first and foremost, it focuses on expounding how the logics-framework of Laclau, Mouffe, and the Essex School can be fruitfully combined with Interpretive Policy Analysis and applied to Foreign Policy Analysis.

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