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This article assesses the concepts of militarism and militarization in relation to contemporary security interventions in the Sahel, a region increasingly understood through the prisms of violence, cross-border illicit flows, and limited statehood. This region is subject to security interventions that include French military action, EU-funded projects to prevent drug trafficking, and both bilateral and multilateral efforts against irregular migration. To many observers, it is experiencing an ongoing militarization. We argue that while the inextricable concepts of militarism and militarization go some way towards explaining interventions’ occasional use of military violence, they are limited in their grasp of the non-martial and symbolic violence in security practices. We instead propose a focus on assemblages of (in)security to show the heterogeneous mix of global and local actors, and often contradictory rationalities and practices that shape the logics of symbolic and martial violence in the region. Throughout, the article draws on the authors’ fieldwork in Mauritania, Senegal, and Niger, and includes two case studies on efforts against the Sahel’s ‘crime–terror nexus’ and to control irregular migration through the region. The article’s contribution is to better situate debates about militarism and militarization in relation to (in)security and to provide a more granular understanding of the Sahel’s security politics.
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