be met with. No 'third world war' was ever fought over the colonies. With a sim- plification of argument one might say that decolonization became an essentially political (and peaceful) process but that the two world wars (and primarily the second) had constituted the military process making political disengagement - rather than military engagement - possible and necessary for the coloial powers.3
Out of the manifold variety of problems - political, organizational, tactical, economic, and/or social - that could be touched upon in an analysis of 'the armed forces and decolonization' this paper will briefly deal with the following three: In the first place, what were the functions or the role(s) allotted the colonial (metropolitan) armed forces in the decolonization process; secondly, to what extent did the international community become involved in the decolonization process through the deployment of armed forces; and, thirdly, what role have the armed forces in the new states played in the postcolonial setting?
The function or role of the metropolitan armed forces
Viewed against the background of the bloody and protracted conflict in South East Asia the observation that the decolonization process has essentially been 'peaceful' may appear both ludicrous and cynical. But seen in its totality the very transition from dependence to statehood shows only limited violence in terms of the relations between colonial powers and colonial subjects. The major exceptions from the general rule are Algeria, Indochina and the Portuguese terri- tories.
The termination of British rule over India came about with almost no fighting between British and Indians (but only after a civil war between Muslims and Hindus in the Punjab that cost over half a million people their lives) and the plan for a fighting withdrawal by stages that had been drawn up by the Viceroy, Lord Wavell, was never put to the test. There was no need. The old Indian Army performed well to the end and even though it could not prevent bloodshed in the Punjab it prevented other provinces and states like Junnagad and Huderabad from opting out of the political settlement. 4
The administering authorities did apply violence also in India. In 1919 at Amritsar in Punjab a handful of Gurkhas under the command of General Dyer opened fire on an unarmed but supposedly seditious crowd, killing 400 and wounding more than a thousand. The General himself provided the following explanation for his action: "It was no longer a question of merely dispersing the crowd, but one of producing a sufficient moral effect from a military point of view, not only on those present but more especially throughout the Punjab".5 In other words, the idea was to demonstrate once and for all, through a maximum application of violence in a specific situation, that no threat to the British raj could be tolerated.