Approaches that emphasise the importance of metropolitan policy and imperialism
Historians use official documents because sources originating in the metropole were more easily available than those which came from the periphery. Historians working before the 1970s lacked much of the theoretical framework that more recent historians have been able to utilise. Metropolitan approaches illustrate how the intentions of policymakers in Britain were never matched by the realities of colonial rule on the periphery.
Interpretations of the importance of metropolitan policy
Britain’s colonial policy was based around security, economic development and trusteeship. The metropolitan authorities appointed officials and provided troops to administer and defend colonies according to these principles. The implementation of colonial policy was complicated and was hindered by domestic political pressure and the need to economise.
The protection of imperial possessions from external and internal threats was considered the most important aspect of metropolitan policy. British politicians prioritised the defence of Britain over that of the colonies. From the late 1840s until the late 1870s, Britain decided to concentrate its armed forces at home, and many troops were withdrawn from the colonies of settlement. Britain also began to cut naval spending in the 1860s and 1870s.
The threatening international climate of C.1880 caused Britain to change direction and to undertake an expensive programme of naval construction. At around the same time, Britain policymakers attempted to create a more unified strategy of imperial defence, and settlement colonies such as Australia were increasingly expected to contribute to naval spending; this caused some friction since colonists were initially denied any input into the strategy.
WWI was played out in Europe but WWII was much more global in character. By the early 1940s, it was apparent that Britain was unable to guarantee the security of colonial possessions in the face of a hostile power such as Japan. This significantly weakened the bond between Britain and its colonies.
Policymakers were concerned about the internal security of colonies. Britain relied heavily on locally-recruited troops for maintenance of law and order in the colonies; it was difficult to maintain large numbers of British troops in foreign, tropical climates. The Indian Mutiny (1857-8) revealed that locally recruited troops were not always reliable and that…