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Decolonisation of the French and the British Empire

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Decolonization of the British and French empire

At the end of world war 2, a worldwide process of decolonization commenced in which Britain and France granted independence to all of its major colonies. The material hardships following the war combined with the clear ascendance of two 'anti-imperial' powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, and with the increased maturity of nationalist elites throughout Africa and Asia to force an end to colonialism. While the transfer of power in the British colonies were voluntarily and peaceful, there was an extended warfare of bitter sort in the french colonies which sapped the nations strength . The excessive cost in lives and money of retaining colonial domination was one that sapped French national strength and eventually forced them to grant independence.

The British interests had changed fundamentally in the post world war. The strategic priority had become guarding the empire of Europe against the soviet aggression,economic modernization and competitiveness in world markets. The British thus granted independence to it's colonies and retained influence over them through the Commonwealth. The crucial change in imperial policy was the realization that the orientation of trade,investment, and strategy was no longer towards the extra European world with its great archipelago of imperial territories . Now prosperity depended upon economic partnership with the rich industrialized states in Europe and North America. Investment abroad on the old imperial scale could not be afforded for funding a welfare state demanded the concentration of resources at home. The empire had become an irrelevant burden, an obstacle to the rational allocation of Britain's resources.1

The British emerged as the world's largest debtor at the end of the war. The country's growing financial problems led to calls within the government for major reductions in overseas commitments,especially its military spending's.2Economic weakness made the prospect of deploying British troops against rebellious colonies unpalatable. Furthermore, the British recognized that the concession of local participation in the government up to the the point of independence, was the price they had to pay for economic development with its disturbing side effects.3

There was a surge in colonial Nationalism which contributed in great extent to the breakup of the British imperial system. The colonial Politicians seized the opportunities for political action which opened up at the end of world war two. The rapid growth of anti-colonialism sentiments and the collapse of ideological legitimacy of colonialism was a damaging blow. Retaining colonies threatened international isolation, a loss of influence abroad and growing apposition at home. Thus, the conjugation of political change in the colony and the shifts in the wider global scene proved a deadly anti colonial combination.4

Due to these factors,independence was not only desirable but necessary. Hence, while the empire came to an end, the British, through the commonwealth, continued to find a limited but significant value in their old imperial associations.

In 1940, the French had suffered the worst defeat in history, overwhelmed within the space of six weeks and occupied until liberated by the allied forces in 1944. This severely damaged their pride. Thus for the French , the only way of restoring their honor and greatness lay through retaining their colonies in Asia and Africa. This lead to a war of bitter sort in the colonies which eventually forced the French to accede to their demands and grant independence.

The post-war fourth republic was accompanied by a constitutional innovation, the french union. This comprised the French republic, its overseas departments, and associated territories, presided over by the French president and a council of representatives. It was not intended to facilitate the devolution of power but to consolidate the power at the center. Despite such imaginative structuring of its constitutional arrangements, the French were confronted with the drive for independence in the colonies.5 The French policy was the same throughout the empire. Political reforms were granted only so long as they could be tending to preserve French rule. Demands for change which might ultimately destroy the French presence was disapproved.6 Their failure to understand the need for change lead to further resentment and strengthened the nationalist movements in the colonies.

The financial burden of its overseas territories began to weigh more and more heavily on France. Within the French Union, the French was responsible for financing special budget items and deficits in the normal budgets. In order to increase revenue, the French decided to hike taxes imposed on the colonies which in turn lead to shortages and inflation which further aggravated nationalist movements.7

Defeat at the hands of the Germans and Japanese exposed french weakness and they were no longer considered to be invincible. The communists in Vietnam had formed

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