A World Too Fast for Theories: Oil, Ideology, and the Economic Decolonization of Algeria

Thursday, January 7, 2016: 1:20 PM
Grand Hall D (Hyatt Regency Atlanta)
Jeffrey James Byrne, University of British Columbia
This paper uses new evidence from the archives of Algeria, rich-world countries, and international institutions to reinterpret and re-emphasise the Third World’s contribution economic globalisation and the end of the Cold War. Algeria epitomized the rise and fall of the “Third Worldist” project to transform the global economy in the 1960s and 1970s. On achieving independence in 1962, the country’s new elite sought to use its significant oil and natural gas resources to fuel a socialist program of industrialization and state-building. In that sense, like so many other developing countries dependent on export revenues, Algeria’s economic strategy was nationalist yet extroverted. Indeed, the Third World project was always trade-oriented, with “diversification” (of trading partners and transportation networks) being the mantra of the New International Economic Order announced by the Algerian president, Houari Boumedienne, in 1974. However, the 1970s and 1980s heralded two new existential dangers to the Third World project and the NIEO: first, the abatement of the Cold War, which encouraged East-West economic integration at the expense of the Southern Hemisphere; and second, neoliberal globalization, an alternate model of economic diversification that directly challenged the sovereignty of poor states. In that light, the Algerian experience suggests two radical reinterpretations of the history of the global political economy in this era. First, the NIEO and the oil shocks of the 1970s should be understood as the Third World’s effort to defeat détente and re-ignite the Cold War. Second, it is worth considering to what extent the destruction of the Third World state was the purpose, rather than a supposedly regrettable by-product of American neoliberal foreign economic policy.