Lunchtime Seminar: Tuesday 19th March 2013

Small Powers Thinking Big: Italian parallel oil diplomacy during the Algeria War

Roberto Cantoni
University of Manchester


Tuesday 19th March 2013

1 p.m. – 2 p.m.
Simon Building Room 2.57


Between 1954 and 1962 Algeria was the scene of a war for independence that principally involved the French administrations and military, and the Algerian guerrilla fighters. Contrary to what has been often described, the war did not only involve these two sides, but also other countries, together with their commercial and diplomatic apparatuses. Especially from 1956, when oil was struck in Algeria, the whole area immediately acquired political and strategic importance, and became the centre of a diplomatic and commercial struggle between the US, the USSR, France, and Italy.

Works that go beyond the dual French-Algerian framework by adopting a larger transnational view are focussed on diplomatic and political history, thus missing an element that played a major role in the war, namely the growing impact of Algerian natural resources on world energy policies. In the case of Algeria, moreover, not much importance has been given to the role of science and technology in the conflict. However, some recent contributions to the debate on the history of science of the XX century have shown how science and technology become instruments of geopolitics. The case I’m presenting testifies that post-colonial dynamics can’t be fully understood without explaining those relative to the search for primary sources and without taking account of the tools employed to carry it out.

My talk will focus on French-Italian relations. I’ll show how in the late 1950s the Italian public oil company ENI set up a veritable parallel diplomacy in Algeria in order to expand its interests in Northern Africa. While ENI would deal with the independence fighters, the Italian government would formally keep its allegiance to France in international organisations.


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