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Ivory Coast

Chapter 5. National Security

Gold leaf over wooden sculpture of a leopard, a symbol of power among the Akan

ITS ADMIRERS HAVE lauded Côte d'Ivoire's international security policy as moderate, pragmatic, flexible, realistic, conservative, and responsible; its critics have derided it as reactionary and neocolonialist. Its principal objective, according to President Félix Houphouët-Boigny, was to maintain regional peace and security in order to promote economic development at home. Diplomacy--rather than the threat of military intervention--was the vehicle he employed to achieve this objective.

Côte d'Ivoire does not have a long or distinguished national military history. Even after the country gained independence in 1960, the Ivoirian military continued to rely on French advisers, troops, and military aid. The military structure and the culture of French colonial rule remained virtually intact in the nascent Ivoirian nation, preserved by Houphouët-Boigny's deliberate reliance on the former colonial power for security guarantees and assistance. Consequently, the Franco-Ivoirian relationship had a profound impact on the organization, mission, matériel, and political behavior of the armed forces. Whereas at least half of the countries in Africa were under military rule in the mid-1980s, and all but a few had experienced at least one successful military coup d'état, the Ivoirian army was notably quiescent. The armed forces of Côte d'Ivoire were not actively involved in the independence movement. They had not fought in any foreign wars, executed any coups, or had to defend the country from external aggression. In early 1988, they remained a relatively small, lightly armed, and politically mute force, heavily influenced by French doctrine, equipment, and advisers.

In the late 1980s, the central mission of the Ivoirian armed forces was self-defense. The military was not prepared by doctrine or available resources for offensive operations. The armed forces had modest overland mobility, some light weaponry, and limited armor and air defense capabilities; the navy was suited only for coastal defense missions; and the air force, with its small fleet of aircraft, could carry out only token air defense, interdiction, transport, and support operations. The air force had no helicopters for tactical mobility or attack. With the establishment in 1984 of a radar network linking Bouaké and Yamoussoukro, some territorial surveillance was possible, but the military had no long-range ground or maritime surveillance capability.

These limited resources were consistent with the national defense policy and mission and appeared adequate and appropriate in the context of Côte d'Ivoire's regional security needs. Côte d'Ivoire had a larger military establishment than any of its immediate neighbors. Although in 1987 the armies of Ghana and Guinea--with 9,000 and 8,500 troops, respectively--were technically larger than Côte d'Ivoire's armed forces, their equipment was neither numerically nor qualitatively superior. Until the mid1980s , Ghana had a substantially larger navy (numbering 1,200 personnel), but it had no offensive capability. Only the Malian air force, with twenty-seven combat aircraft, posed a potential threat.

Data as of November 1988