De Gaulle and the Third World

From 1962, following the resolution of the Algerian question, support for Third World development became one of the main issues in de Gaulle's foreign policy. The emergence of the Third World, organised as an institution ever since the creation of the Movement of Non-Aligned Nations at the Bandoeng Conference in 1955, was a useful tool in implementing his strategy of denouncing American imperialism and calling for action against the hardening of the two great power blocs.

Aware that France could not pursue any ambitious foreign policy until it had first settled the problem of Algeria, i.e. given the country its independence, he managed to achieve a settlement in 1962. He had first organised the referendum of 1958 setting up the Community, a prelude to the independence that would be granted to all of French-speaking black Africa in August 1960.

These were de Gaulle's first moves to aid the Third World. He carefully avoided, however, slipping into the rut of third-world ideology so much in vogue in the 1960s. He also stood by the alliance with the USA, as he demonstrated at the time of the Cuba missile crisis in 1962.

Added to this was a policy of so-called co-operation with the newly-independent countries, as part of a contractual association between sovereign states, to encourage reciprocal advantages. This co-operation was exercised in a number of areas, economic (technical assistance, investment aid), cultural and military in particular. De Gaulle also saw himself as a sort of spokesman for the Third World in international arenas, recommending that they should be granted a form of commercial protectionism which was to form much of the basis for the Yaoundé Agreements (governing trade with the ACP – African, Caribbean and Pacific – countries) in 1963.

His visits to Latin America in 1964 showed that there was nowhere on earth beneath his consideration so long as France had any interests, cultural and linguistic in particular, that could  counterbalance American influence in the region. In a part of the world "fertilised by its spirit" and prickly on the subject of its independence, France succeeded in strengthening its positions (setting up an extensive network of Alliance Française institutes); at the same time, it sent a powerful signal of support for those struggling against US domination. De Gaulle had not forgotten that two Latin American countries (Colombia and Uruguay) had been amongst some of the first in the world to recognise Free France.

It was during his second, curtailed term of office that de Gaulle expressed his strongest opposition to American hegemony, as the Vietnam war intensified. His Phnom Penh speech in 1966 is the best illustration of that opposition, and remains to this day the symbol of France's support for the struggle of enslaved people. General de Gaulle's even-handed position in 1967 at the time of the Six Day War played a part in France's newfound popularity in the Arab world. 

De Gaulle's policy of support for Third World aspirations constituted one of the major forces behind France's growing international influence during the 1960s.