Why haven't more French territories declared independence, compared to British colonies?


The maps below exhibit that the area of Overseas France combined > area of British Overseas Territories. E.g. unlike France still with French Guiana, the UK no longer colonizes British Guiana, or anything in Australasia or East Africa. Leftmost picture, Rightmost.

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This r/geopolitics comment doesn't definitively answer my question, for why

  1. did the UK "from Suez until Brexit had much lesser ambitions and much greater acceptance of US hegemony, so they focused on improving the economy of their own country to the exclusion of maintaining a costly global footprint."?

  2. Why didn't the UK "accept the fiscal burden of keeping them" like the French who "have always wanted to be a major player in geopolitics, and never fully accepted American hegemony"?


Posted 2020-08-31T06:47:04.897

Reputation: 1

4Other than French Guiana, I do not see that much of a difference of size in colonial possessions (and do not forget that the UK kept Hong Kong as long as it could). And thanks to the Commonwealth and its long term alliances with Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand (which you could say were copies so close to the UK that formal control no longer was needed to keep them in aligned) you could argue that the UK did need way less colonies to project its influence than France. – SJuan76 – 2020-08-31T11:55:18.267

It is true than even before WWI the UK was more amenable to giving independence to colonies (although initially only if ruled by white europeans) and that the military defeat of France during WWII and a perceived need to restore France's pretige could probably have made French politicians more "itchy" about losing parts of their empire. – SJuan76 – 2020-08-31T12:01:00.467

1For the record I find the leftmost map quite confusing, mixing British colonies across time while showing other countries colonies at a certain point in time. For instance the French conquest of North Africa took place much later than the US independence. – Erwan – 2020-08-31T12:09:05.127

The main question is not clear: the title question asks "Why haven't more French territories declared independence?" but the specific questions focus on the different geopolitical choices related to US hegemony (btw this assumes that US hegemony is a major motivation for the choice). – Erwan – 2020-08-31T12:22:13.217

1At least from the map, it's not really clear that any of the French (or indeed, the remaining British) overseas territories are colonies in the colonialist sense. They either had no native population (e.g. Ile de Reunion), are still unpopulated (Kerguelen Islands), or have chosen to remain part of France. – jamesqf – 2020-08-31T17:18:57.567

I can't speak to UK financial commitments to their territories, but France spends a substantial amount supporting theirs through various measures. Those can be quite sensitive, and I remember seeing things like Corsica's budgetary details (probably having to do with how much tax gets levied vs how much gets collected) labelled Secret Defense i.e. "military sensitive secret". Basically, the locals may not see much of an economic upside voting France out. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica – 2020-08-31T18:13:14.573

@jamesqf Yes, it's not obvious, you're right that most of them do not fit the definition. From a legal point of view, the most questionable French territory is actually Mayotte. The majority of the population voted repeatedly to remain French but only if you count the vote on each island of the Comoros separately, whereas the whole archipelago was previously under a single administration. Even fewer Mayotte residents are keen on independence from France now than in the 1960s. – Relaxed – 2020-08-31T21:37:47.243

3New Caledonia is another one (and it is actually the UN list of non-autonomous territorioes). It has a strong independence movement and while the Kanak population is numerically smaller, they do have a legitimate claim of being the indigenous inhabitants of the island and as such of being under some form of colonial rule. There is also an independence movement in French Polynesia but no really in the other French territories. – Relaxed – 2020-08-31T21:40:26.437



I will try to address the two specific questions about the difference between the French and British strategies with respect to "US hegemony", but first let's be clear about two things:

  • The fact that inhabitants of a territory claim independence or not does not depend (at least not solely) on the geopolitical policy of the colonizing country, there are many other factors at play obviously.
  • The total area of British Overseas Territories is actually larger than the area of the French Overseas territories, due to the inclusion in the former of the British Antarctic Territory. However the population of the French territories is much larger.

Now about the different strategies with respect to the US:

The UK was already a close ally of the US, including militarily: the UK was part of NATO, it had (and still has) US military bases on its soil. By contrast France was following a more independent foreign policy especially with respect to military reliance on the US: France left NATO in 1966 (it joined back in 2009) and does not have any US military bases on its soil. This is certainly what the linked Reddit answer refers to: France was prepared to keep former colonies who want to stay French despite the financial cost, in order to preserve its global military capacity.

This is not the whole answer though, since there were also major differences between the French and British relationship with their colonies.


Posted 2020-08-31T06:47:04.897

Reputation: 9 466

what does the US have to do with this question? just brought in to mention "hegemony"? – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica – 2020-09-01T05:55:27.517

@ItalianPhilosophers4Monica the two specific questions asked by OP (as opposed to the title question) are about the different strategies of the UK vs. France based on how they position themselves with respect to "US hegemony". As I said at the beginning of my answer, this is a very specific aspect of the question but it's the one OP is asking about, because apparently that's what they didn't understand in the linked Reddit answer. – Erwan – 2020-09-01T08:56:34.090


France's African colonies are much closer and easier to control. India is a vast and faraway land. The UK did not own much of north Africa. It focused on more useful resources in other countries. France is heavily involved in Mauritania uranium and other resources it needs.

The combination of distance and preference means that they have different interests in colonies.

France is closer to the global south where the colonies are so it would tend to have more. That's the real reason. Besides that the resources the uk needs are more domestic whereas france has hardly any resources.


Posted 2020-08-31T06:47:04.897


6Welcome to [politics.se]. I am trying to make sense of your answer. The OP is asking about the current colonies, but your answer seems focused in North African/Middle East colonies that have been independent for more than half a century (and of which the UK had its fair share, too). – SJuan76 – 2020-08-31T11:57:43.330

It's because france is closer @sjuan76 – None – 2020-08-31T18:11:27.500


note also that North Sea oil exploitation seems to be have mostly been after 1965 for the UK and its colonial withdrawals largely predates that. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Sea_oil

– Italian Philosophers 4 Monica – 2020-08-31T20:42:15.940

But Italy and france are still involved in Libya and Algeria – None – 2020-08-31T21:25:19.890

If you misunderstood the question initially, please edit your answer to relate to the correct question. – Itamar Mushkin – 2020-09-01T06:00:42.520

1Edited. As requested – None – 2020-09-01T06:49:38.540