5. Decolonization Part I
Decolonization is one of the greatest misnomers in IR. It implies that the Great powers initiated the
transformation themselves at that the colonial powers just “suddenly woke up and realized how wrong they
This was NOT TRUE. This is not a process initiated by the imperial powers but forced upon them.
They fought tooth & nail and did whatever they could to try and hold on to their former colonies.
Impact of WWII on Britain and France
Both Britain and France were defeated by Japan on non-European land; how could they hold on to the
idea that they were superior and could control the fate of about 1/3 of the world?
France was also defeated by Germany in 6 weeks – its great power status tarnished long ago;
Britain, although wasn’t defeated by Germany, was defeated by Japan in Singapore
Britain was on the verge of total economic collapse; only survived because US gave them special loans;
The French economy was devastated as well; they survived in Asia only because the Japanese
government allowed the Vichy government to continue on.
Add to this growing cold war, both were forced to channel their resources to combat the threat of
communism in the East and their own states;
WWII undermined these two states; but both saw losing their empires as long their great power status.
Action of Britain
Most powerful state, never challenged (at least on Navy) until WWI started; however after that, it’s clear that
Britain was on decline, unable to hold on to all territories some argues thus appeasement, to keep Asia and
After WWII, totally devastated, government was forced to make social changed and Britain became a welfare
state; government was forced to provide social security.
The cost, the challenges from the colonies, and the cold war, put additional pressure and brought the British
down. Yet they were unwilling to give up.
Britain’s plan: wanted to transform the entire empire, to give independence to each colony but also make them
members of the British Commonwealth; offer financial help as long as they still remain a member of British
dominion and join the Commonwealth.
Action of France:
France was never even independent in WWII: defeated in Europe in 6 weeks and Asia so their great power
status was tarnished in 1940 then 1941.
Vichy France collaborated with Nazi Germany, so France’s reputation was tarnished even further;
Tried to hold on – The Fourth Republic – contradiction in its name;
France’s plan is very much similar to British – Union Francaise.
The Atlantic Charter, 1941
Declared by Churchill and Roosevelt and it was a call for the rest of the world to rally and side with democracy to
fight the Nazi regime. In order to bring the rest of the world, they offer democracy, liberty and an economic
benefit after the war for who helped with the struggle.
This declaration further undermined their position – how can they deem themselves to be better?
Also, Roosevelt himself declared imperialism to be unethical in the new world system – UN supports self-
determination. Loss of India
In 1888, Congress party is created in India with a sole purpose of gaining independence.
Ghandi’s philosophy: passive resistance; no need for revolution, resist and disobey the local British
administration but non-violently.
Nehru who became Prime Minister of the first Indian state followed Gandhi, but did not agree with his ideology,
wanted to use the Western way.
Realized that India was too large to hold on to;
Asked India for help during WWII but got nothing;
By 1945, agreed to cut loose India and allowed it to create an independent state, but still wanted it as a
member of the Commonwealth.
Back in 1935, following the “Divide and conquer” policy, brought to India an act that allowed for the
development of a Muslim League; India would never be a united one.
Because of the internal division, violence erupts and this is what forced the Britain to give up India
completely (cut the umbilical cords asap);
August 1947, India gained independence.
Eventually India fragments into two states, Pakistan and India (incredible violence)
Independence Movements in Asia
Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
The United National Party was pro-British – why not give them independence immediately?
January 1948 Sri Lanka gained independence.
The Anti-Fascist Party Freedom league was actually pro-communist, led by General Aung San, the father of
the current prime minister of Burma;
British gave in and allowed independence although Aung San is assassinated later and both the British &
French would be found culpable.
Strong communist movement based on ethnic Chinese minority. About ½ a million of 3.5 million Chinese
participated in trying to create a communist state there;
British fought until 1960 when they managed to subdue that communist movement but only because of
concessions and compromises (Amnesty to the guerrilla fighters; rights to the Chinese ethnical minority;