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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: September 2019

2 - The British Empire and the Meaning of ‘Minimum Force Necessary’ in Colonial Counter-Insurgencies Operations, c.1857–1967


Britain’s position as a global power from the middle of the nineteenth century onwards was challenged from two directions. External enemies, principally Russia, France and Germany, emerged as increasingly powerful rivals. Internally disparate groups of nationalists coalesced at different times and in different places to try to subvert British rule. By the middle of the twentieth century these two forces united to help undercut the props that had sustained the empire, with the result that between 1945 and 1970 the British shed most of their remaining colonial responsibilities. But in doing so they also developed a narrative of colonialism that explained both how they had governed their empire, and why they were willing to surrender it. Britain’s imperial mission was to bring the rule of law and good governance to peoples who would not otherwise have enjoyed such benefits. To accomplish that mission they had ruled their empire with the maximum of political cajolery and the minimum of physical force. This story was not entirely a myth.

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