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International Factors In Shaping Decolonisation History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

How important are international factors in shaping decolonisation? This paper will demonstrate that to understand the importance of international factors in shaping decolonisation, a number of ways are possible to achieve this separation , such as by the rights of conquest, whereby the colony or the mother country/metropole or both, have been defeated by an outside source, as seen on an international scale with World Wars (the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War One is a good example), or through local uprisings (the breakaway of the New England colonies from the British Empire is another example), or the full integration of a colony into the metropole (a good example is Martinique) . Obviously because of the complexities involved, a few examples need to be studied. So in answering the question, the fates of the First British Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the French Empire will be used to show, in what part international factors and indeed localised factors come to play in decolonisation.

Therefore it is helpful to know what decolonisation actually means, and the factors that can have a bearing on the outcome of decolonisation. The term decolonisation has to a certain extent replaced what was scholarly called ‘the end of empire’ by some historians (Block 5, p. 7). This paper is going to work on the principle this means the undoing of colonialism; where settlements (like the New England colonies for instance) have been established by a country (in this instance Britain), whereby the local government and jurisdiction is subject to the metropole (the British government in this instance). So in the case of the New England colonies; though they did have a certain amount of autonomy, they were still subject to the will of the British government, that is; under the metrocentric focus of the mother country, whereby ongoing decision making and opinions that are formulated there, have a direct bearing on what the colony can and cannot do, this obviously can cause problems if fundamental principals are not adhered to. One of the reasons the New England colonists had fled Britain, was to be able to worship in their own way. However an unfortunate consequence of Britain winning the Seven Years War, when it won a French territory in North America; namely the province of Quebec, caused many problems, such as the introduction of the Quebec Act, which meant French civil law was used and the Catholic church was recognized. Although this Act applied only to Quebec, a number of settlers were upset because of border changes, which bought them under the influence of French civil law and a hated Catholic Church (Block 5, Unit 17, p.37). So it can be seen that because of an international war, the unintended consequences of Britain winning the war was a factor in the New England colonies having a war of independence, this of course was only one of many factors, although the account given in 1772 by Dr. Joseph Warren (Primary Source 8.1), who died in the Battle of Bunker hill in 1775,does go into detail about the concerns that the colonists had about a standing British army in the American colonies, and the fact the colony was 3000 miles away from the metropole, so making it hard for the metropole to look after the colonists interests, hence the ‘no taxation without representation’ slogan leading up to the Declaration of Independence (Primary Source 17.1). So lack of proper representation in the metropole can have a major bearing on why colonies decide to become decolonised.

However decolonisation is achievable in a number of ways, as we have already seen the decolonisation can take place by wars of independence for instance, or by a negotiated non-violent secession or by a full integration into the mother country/metropole. Therefore other international factors come into play with the decolonisation process, treaties have to be signed to show acceptance of the terms of secession; thus in the treaty of 1783 with the conclusion of the War of Independence, the New England colonies were recognized officially by Britain as a totally independent state, once this happened international recognition was shown by other nations (though of course France had already recognized the new state). So an important factor is international recognition of the newly formed state.

The following examples will help to clarify the different ways independence comes about; one way is for the colony to reject the metropole, or become part of a new state (the thirteen New England colonies in actual fact did both of these things forming the new state called the United States of America, with its own constitution and currency the Dollar), another way is to actually become an integral part of an existing state, that is to have all the rights of the metropole as if physically attached to it; a good example is Martinique, an island in the Caribbean which is also a Department of France (though it did have the option of being made independent from France) which means it has all the same rights as actually being integrated in the French mainland, that is, its currency is the Euro and it is part of the EU; though it is physically extant from Europe (Block 6, unit 22, p. 190). France though did have problems with some colonies, one in particular was Algeria and decolonisation came at a heavy price in violence and death, this in actual fact followed Frantz Fanon’s philosophy as shown in the course DVD, Chapter one, ‘Frantz Fanon’ whereby Fanon projects the idea that for colonial subjects to achieve their own cultural identities, this could only be done by an armed struggle and the rejection of the culture of the metropole. Although an unfortunate outcome for losers in these conflicts is retribution, there are similarities in the outcomes, such as the pied noirs and harkis in Algeria (who fled to France) (Block 5, Unit 20, p. 138) and the New England Loyalists (who went to Canada) to avoid retribution. In Block 5, p. 12, it shows Algeria was supported by at least two countries (Tunisia and Egypt), whereby the FLN (National Liberation Front) had wealthy patrons. This echoes the American War of Independence, were the French and its allies supported the rebels.

However the Austro-Hungarian Empire by its very size was going to be problematic with internal strife, because of the many different national and cultural problems that existed, it was inevitable that war would come about, which indeed did happen, and it was defeated by the western allies in the First World War; this War in fact, ultimately led to the dissolution of the Ottoman, German and Russian Empires (Block 5, Unit 18, p. 73). This shows prime international factors in decolonisation can be War, which goes hand in glove with politics; thus showing the importance that geo-politics play a major part in decolonisation. Other factors also come into play as we have seen France was all for the New England colonies breaking away from Britain but the fear was that by supporting the rebellious colonists, a rebellion against its own monarchy could take place; this of course did happen In 1789, when France had spiralled into debt from being on the seemingly victorious side, after it had helped the New England colonists achieve independence, this appears to show that economic factors also played a big part in decolonisation; thus the knock on effect can lead to the destabilisation of nations that support decolonisation.

When looking at the causes of decolonisation, it helps to also look at the external influences that help a successful decolonisation to take place; the New England colonists, in allowing France to provide military and financial assistance to the New England colonies, would at first seem illogical, but working on the maxim that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ it makes sense, though this was a somewhat surprising outcome which largely helped the successful breakaway from the motherland. The support given does seem strange, in as much that the New England colonies were mostly of a Protestant persuasion, and the French were Catholics.

Why do these Wars take place; nationality, cultural differences, religion and the need for power can play a big part in the rending and tearing apart of these Empires, as proved by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, by the Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip, this was a catalyst that led to the start of the First World War, though it may well have been an excuse for war, as the Austro-Hungarian Empire may have wanted to be seen as a world power player, it was not interested in a diplomatic solution with Serbia, this can be seen in Primary Source 18.6, pp. 2-3.

However the decolonisation process can happen over a period of time, for example; the British empire has gone through transitional changes, it is generally accepted that after the Seven Years War in 1763 and the recognition of Bengal’s, dominion in India in 1765 that the first British Empire up to the rebellion that started in the American colonies in the 1770’s , was at its zenith, however, various international factors came into play; for instance without the support of France and Spain, and to a lesser degree the Dutch, the USA may not have survived the confrontations with the British. It can be seen that the breakaway of the New England colonies was a catalyst for international involvement by France, who came in on the side of the rebels, this was due to the fact that in the settlement of 1763, the British Empire acquired territories in Africa, the Caribbean and all territories east of the Mississippi in North America (Block 5, Unit 17, p. 14). Although the French involvement did not officially begin till 1778, they had been surreptitiously aiding the rebels from about 1776; likewise the Spanish also had grievances against the British, because of the ceding of Spanish Florida to the British Empire in the Treaty of Paris in 1763 (Unit 17, p. 14). The Dutch involvement came about because the rebels needed fiscal aid, which was supplied by the Netherlands. So it can be seen that what started as a civil disobedience campaign, ran the full gamut and became a civil war, inasmuch as the rebels at first still thought of themselves as British subjects though without the full representation this entailed, and eventually fought the British army that was encamped in the colonies; supposedly there to protect the colonists from attacks. The thirteen New England colonies did not see why they should be paying for a service they did not need (the threat from France had been removed in the Treaty of Paris 1763). Because of the blockades the British were using to stop the rebels being supplied, other countries became involved (a major player was Catherine the Greats Russia which had been affected by the blockades, she was a major force in the setting up of the League Of Armed Neutrality with Sweden and other European naval nations) till Britain’s defeat in 1783. With the blockading in international waters by Britain, this obviously was a major factor in the escalation of the American War of Independence

Therefore in conclusion, with the examples we have analysed, it can be seen many factors play a part in decolonisation, although not always on an international scale, the prime motivators seem politics, local and international, economics, outside support (help and recognition by other countries), neutral involvement (an example is blockading by British, which came to involve neutral countries), nationalism (self determination), religion, and of course war be it civil or international is unfortunately one of the major factors, though the Martinique example shows this can be avoided, also important is international recognition of the newly formed state. So it can be seen international factors are very important in decolonisation, though obviously the localised problems are also important as this appears to be where problems escalate from, when the colony is in conflict with the will of the mother country.

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Primary Source 8.1

Joseph Warren (1992) ‘Against a British army in the colonies’, in The

Annals of America, vol. 2: 1755-1783: Resistance and Revolution (1976)

Chicago. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc, pp. 211-16.

Primary Source 17.1

‘The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America’ (4

July 1776) in Jack P. Greene (ed.) (1975) Colonies to Nation, 1763-1789.

A Documentary History of the American Revolution, New York, W.W.

Norton and Company, pp. 298-301.

Primary Source 18.6

‘Minutes of the Common Ministerial Council, July 7, 1914’ in Samuel R.

Williamson Jr. and Russel Van Wyk (2003) July 1914: Soldiers, Statesmen,

and the Coming of the Great War: A Brief Documentary History, Boston,

Bedford/St. Martin’s, pp. 63-5.

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