How the Cold War Played a Role in the Independence of Algeria
A dive into the way international tensions between the United States and Russia helped propel the French colony of Algeria into nationhood and independence
The Cold War as a Global Conflict
The Cold War played a significant role in the process of decolonization. The struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union bled out into the independence movements of the former colonies in an undeniable way. While the Cold War is considered to have been a conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, as Betts states in Decolonization, “It was in Africa that the chilling effect of the Cold War was most strongly felt.” The United States for example boasted an ultimately anti-imperialist platform, but their worry about the spread of Communism and the empowerment of the Soviet Union affected the way they conducted international relations. In many places, the Cold War conflict of Capitalism vs Communism complicated things as the superpowers vied for power through the “third world.” However, Algeria used the U.S.’s moral ambiguity during this time to their advantage. The Cold War was used as a sort of tool by the Algerian nationalists to ensure their victory in the Algerian War for Independence.
The United States was allied with France, and so the U.S. was obligated to stand by France during the Algerian War for Independence. As their official ally, it was considered their duty to back France in all of its internal and external struggles. France had tried to maintain that the conflict in Algeria was indeed an internal issue, and not worth the consideration of international powers and the United Nations. This worked for a long time and Algeria was entirely disregarded as an independent entity throughout most of the struggle. Aït Ahmed and Cairo Khider of the National Liberation Front (NLF) took the responsibility of making the international world take a stance in the Algerian War for Independence and accept that this struggle was not solely an internal one for France. Despite these efforts, most Arab League members were unwilling to challenge French claims that it was their business and their business alone.
Bargaining Before Bullets
Aït Ahmed was a high-ranking member of the NLF during the Algerian independence movement. He knew that Algeria couldn’t win the war through strength of arms and decided that he would exploit the rivalry between the U.S. and the Soviet Union to push the movement forward. He knew that the United States would never allow North Africa to pass under Soviet influence. He used this to his advantage by communicating with the governmental leaders of the United States and explaining that “the attitudes of an independent North Africa toward the West would depend on the circumstances in which she won her independence.” This worried the U.S. that they would find an enemy in the African colonies, and that the colonies would adopt Communism as their governing policies if the U.S. didn’t offer their assistance in the pursuit of independence.
The U.S. was dealing with its own sort of moral conflict because of the independence movements throughout Africa and Asia at the time. Growing fears of Communist expansion “motivated leaders in Washington to place anti-communism ahead of anti-imperialism in for the formulation of policy.” When it seemed that there was a threat of the newly independent nations adopting Communism, the United States felt compelled to intervene. North African allies worked together to exaggerate the extent of Communist feelings as a way of pushing France to negotiate terms for independence.
As Alfred Sauvy states in Three Worlds, One Planet, “What interests each of the two [developed] worlds is to conquer the third, or at least to have it on its side.” This is an effective way to explain the needs of the United States and the Soviet Union in regard to their intervention in Africa and Asia during the Cold War. The prime minister of South Africa, Harold Macmillan made a statement in reference to this Capitalism vs Communism rivalry when addressing the South African parliament in 1960. Macmillan stated, “As I see it the great issue in this second half of the twentieth century is whether the uncommitted peoples of Asia and Africa will swing to the East or to the West.” The entire world was on edge as the superpowers vied for dominance through the conversion of these new nations. Another example of how integral this question was to the world is seen in the document Ten Principles by archbishop Alvim Pereira in 1961. The ninth of these ten principles states that “The present African independence movements, almost all of them, were born under the sign of Revolution and Communism. The doctrine of the Holy See is quite clear in its opposition to atheistic and revolutionary Communism.” It seems that everyone had their reasons to stand against one or the other of the superpowers and their proposed political ideology, and in this way, the Cold War became a global conflict.
Players, Not Pawns
Because of the supposed “Communist threat,” behind the scenes, the U.S. tried to convince France to loosen their control in Algeria. The hope was that they could maintain their role as allies with France, while convincing Algerian nationalists that the United States was their friend as well. The Bandung conference in April of 1955 exacerbated the U.S.’s feelings of unease, and it became apparent that the relationship between the U.S. and France was growing more and more tense as the Algerian War continued.
The Cold War played a huge role in Algeria’s independence. As Aït Ahmed believed, there was virtually no way that they could have won the war if it had been a battle of brute force. Having the circumstances of the Cold War to manipulate in their favor was one extremely significant factor in the way that they were able to achieve their self-governance. Independence may not have been possible without the help of the United States’ fear of Communism. It was certainly beneficial to prompt one of France’s allies to conspire in Algeria’s favor.
It is often believed that the smaller, emerging nations during the time of the Cold War were exploited and used as pawns in the conflict. However, according to Jeremi Suri, these nations understood exactly how the super powers would behave and acted accordingly in their own interests. These peoples were not being used by the superpowers in their war but were using the war to their own advantage and had a huge influence on the way things progressed.
 Betts, Raymond. Decolonization (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge, 2004. (Page 35).
 Connelly, Matthew. Rethinking the Cold War and Decolonization: The Grand Strategy of the Algerian War for Independence. International Journal of Middle East Studies 33, no. 2 (2001): 221–45. JSTOR, Ashford University Library. (Page 224).
 Connelly, Matthew. (Page 223).
 Suri, Jeremi. The Cold War, Decolonization, and Global Social Awakenings: Historical Intersections. Cold War History 6, no. 3 (August 2006): 353–363. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost, Ashford University Library. (Page 357).
 Connelly, Matthew. (Page 222).
 Sauvy, Alfred. Trois Mondes, Une Plane’te. (Three Worlds, One Planet). August 14th, 1952.
 Macmillan, Harold. Wind of Change Speech. Feb 3rd, 1960
 Pereira, Alvim. Ten Principles. 1961
 Connelly, Matthew. (Page 224).
 Suri, Jeremi. (Page 359).
Betts, Raymond. Decolonization (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge, 2004.
Connelly, Matthew. Rethinking the Cold War and Decolonization: The Grand Strategy of the Algerian War for Independence. International Journal of Middle East Studies 33, no. 2 (2001): 221–45. JSTOR, Ashford University Library.
Macmillan, Harold. Wind of Change Speech. Feb 3rd, 1960.
Pereira, Alvim. Ten Principles. 1961
Sauvy, Alfred. Trois Mondes, Une Plane’te. (Three Worlds, One Planet). August 14th, 1952.
Suri, Jeremi. The Cold War, Decolonization, and Global Social Awakenings: Historical Intersections. Cold War History 6, no. 3 (August 2006): 353–363. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost, Ashford University Library.