History[edit | edit source]

Beginning with the emergence of the United States in the 1770s, decolonization took place in the context of Atlantic history, against the background of the American and French revolutions. Decolonization became a popular movement in many colonies in the 20th century, and a reality after 1945.

Decolonization after 1918[edit | edit source]

Western European colonial powers[edit | edit source]

File:Socialism liberation.jpg

Czechoslovak anti-colonialist propaganda poster: "Socialism opened the door of liberation for colonial nations."

The New Imperialism period, with the scramble for Africa and the Opium Wars, marked the zenith of European colonization. It also marked the acceleration of the trends that would end it. The extraordinary material demands of the conflict had spread economic change across the world (notably inflation), and the associated social pressures of "war imperialism" created both peasant unrest and a burgeoning middle class.

Economic growth created stakeholders with their own demands, while racial issues meant these people clearly stood apart from the colonial middle-class and had to form their own group. The start of mass nationalism, as a concept and practice, would fatally undermine the ideologies of imperialism.

There were, naturally, other factors, from agrarian change (and disaster – French Indochina), changes or developments in religion (Buddhism in Burma, Islam in the Dutch East Indies, marginally people like John Chilembwe in Nyasaland), and the impact of the 1930s Great Depression.

The Great Depression, despite the concentration of its impact on the industrialized world, was also exceptionally damaging in the rural colonies. Agricultural prices fell much harder and faster than those of industrial goods. From around 1925 until the European and the Pacific Wars, the colonies suffered. The colonial powers concentrated on domestic issues, protectionism and tariffs, disregarding the damage done to international trade flows. The colonies, almost all primary "cash crop" producers, lost the majority of their export income and were forced away from the "open" complementary colonial economies to "closed" systems. While some areas returned to subsistence farming (British Malaya) others diversified (India, West Africa), and some began to industrialise. These economies would not fit the colonial straitjacket when efforts were made to renew the links. Further, the European-owned and -run plantations proved more vulnerable to extended deflation than native capitalists, reducing the dominance of "white" farmers in colonial economies and making the European governments and investors of the 1930s co-opt indigenous elites — despite the implications for the future. Colonial reform also hastened their end; notably the move from non-interventionist collaborative systems towards directed, disruptive, direct management to drive economic change. The creation of genuine bureaucratic government boosted the formation of indigenous bourgeoisie.

United Kingdom[edit | edit source]

File:Easter 1916.jpg

A mural in Belfast depicting the Easter Rising of 1916

The emergence of indigenous bourgeois elites was especially characteristic of the British Empire, which seemed less capable (or less ruthless) in controlling political nationalism. Driven by pragmatic demands of budgets and manpower the British made deals with the nationalist elites. Across the empire, the general protocol was to convene a constitutional conference in London to discuss the transition to greater self-government and then independence, submit a report of the constitutional conference to parliament, if approved submit a bill to Parliament at Westminster to terminate the responsibility of the United Kingdom (with a copy of the new constitution annexed), and finally, if approved, issuance of an Order of Council fixing the exact date of independence.

London dealt with the white dominions, retained strategic resources at the cost of reducing direct control in Egypt, and made numerous reforms in the British Raj, culminating in the Government of India Act (1935). Despite these efforts though, the British Government continued to slowly lose their control of the Raj. The end of the Pacific War allowed India, in addition to various other European colonies, to take advantage of the postwar chaos that had begun to exist in Europe during the mid-1940s. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, India's independence movement leader, realized the advantage in conducting a peaceful resistance to the British Empire's attempts to retake control of their "crown jewel". By becoming a symbol of both peace and opposition to British imperialism, many Indian citizens began to view the British as the cause of India's problems leading to a newfound sense of nationalism among its population. With this new wave of Indian nationalism, Gandhi was eventually able to garner the support needed to negotiate with the British and create an Indian dominion equal to the other dominions in 1947.

Tropical Africa was only fully drawn into the colonial system at the end of the 19th century. In the north-east the continued independence of the Empire of Ethiopia remained a beacon of hope to pro-independence activists. However, with the anti-colonial wars of the 1900s (decade) barely over, new modernising forms of African Nationalism began to gain strength in the early 20th-century with the emergence of Pan-Africanism, as advocated by the Jamaican journalist Marcus Garvey (1887–1940) whose widely distributed newspapers demanded swift abolition of European imperialism, as well as republicanism in Egypt. Kwame Nkrumah (1909–1972) who was inspired by the works of Garvey led Ghana to independence from colonial rule.

United States[edit | edit source]

A former colony itself, the United States approached imperialism differently from the Great Powers and Japan. Much of its energy and rapidly expanding population was directed westward across the North American continent against Native Americans, English territorial pretensions, Spain, and Mexico. With eventual assistance from the British Navy, its Monroe Doctrine reserved the Americas as its sphere of interest, prohibiting other states (particularly Spain) from recolonizing the recently freed polities of Latin America. However, France, taking advantage of the American government's paralysis following the outbreak of the Civil War, intervened militarily in Mexico to consolidate a French-protected monarchy, and, for the same reason, Spain took the step to occupy the Dominican Republic and restore colonial rule. The end of the Civil War in 1865 prompted both France and Spain to evacuate those two countries. Spain also fought several wars against Chile and Peru for the guano deposits of their islands. Economic and political pressure, as well as assaults by filibusters, were brought to bear, but Northern fears of the expansion of slavery into new territories and the still strong Spanish Empire restrained the United States from early expansion into Cuba or Central America. America's only African colony, Liberia, was formed privately and achieved independence early. While the United States had few qualms about opening the markets of Japan, Korea, and China by military force, it advocated an Open Door Policy and opposed the direct division and colonization of those states even though Europeans kept doing it.

File:Manuel L. Quezon (November 1942).jpg

Manuel L. Quezón, the first president of the Commonwealth of the Philippines (from 1935 to 1944)


Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands in Micronesia administered by the United States from 1947 to 1986

Following the Civil War and particularly during and after the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, direct intervention in Latin America and elsewhere expanded. The United States purchased Russian America from the tsar and accepted the offer of Hawaii from rebel expatriates and seized several colonies from Spain in 1898. Barred from annexing Cuba outright by the Teller Amendment, the U.S. established it as a client state with obligations including the perpetual lease of Guantánamo Bay to the U.S. Navy. The attempt of the first governor to void the island's constitution and remain in power past the end of his term provoked a rebellion that provoked a reoccupation between 1906 and 1909, but this was again followed by devolution. Similarly, the McKinley administration, despite prosecuting the Philippine–American War against a native republic, set out that the Territory of the Philippine Islands was eventually granted independence.

Britain's 1895 attempt to reject the Monroe Doctrine during the Venezuela Crisis of 1895, the Venezuela Crisis of 1902–1903, and the establishment of the client state of Panama in 1903 via gunboat diplomacy, however, all necessitated the maintenance of Puerto Rico as a naval base to secure shipping lanes to the Caribbean and the new canal zone. In 1917, "Puerto Ricans were collectively made U.S. citizens" via the Jones Act, and in 1952 the US Congress turned the territory into a commonwealth after ratifying the Constitution born out of United States Public Law 600. The US government then declared the territory was no longer a colony and stopped transmitting information about Puerto Rico to the United Nations Decolonization Committee. As a result, the UN General Assembly removed Puerto Rico from the U.N. list of non-self-governing territories. Dissatisfied with their new political status, Puerto Ricans turned to political referendums to let make their opinions known. Several internal plebiscites, non-binding upon the United States, proposing statehood or independence for the island did not garnish a majority in 1967, 1993, and 1998. As a result of the UN not applying the full set of criteria which was enunciated in 1960 when it took favorable note of the cessation of transmission of information regarding the non-self-governing status of Puerto Rico, the nature of Puerto Rico's relationship with the U.S. continues to be the subject of ongoing debate in Puerto Rican politics, the United States Congress, and the United Nations.

The Monroe Doctrine received the Roosevelt Corollary in 1904, providing that the United States had a right and obligation to intervene "in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence" that a nation in the Western Hemisphere became vulnerable to European control. In practice, this meant that the United States was led to act as a collections agent for European creditors by administering customs duties in the Dominican Republic (1905–1941), Haiti (1915–1934), and elsewhere. The intrusiveness and bad relations this engendered were somewhat checked by the Clark Memorandum and renounced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Good Neighbor Policy."

Japan[edit | edit source]

Timeline of independence[edit | edit source]

This list includes formerly non-self-governing territories, such as colonies, protectorates, condominia, and leased territories. Changes in status of autonomy leading up to and after independence are not listed, and some dates of independence may be disputed. For details, see each national history.

18th century to World War I[edit | edit source]

Inter-War Period[edit | edit source]

Year Colonizer Event
1916 Russian Empire The independence of Russian Poland as a new kingdom is proclaimed by occupying German and Austro-Hungarian forces. Recognized by Soviet Russia in the 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Absorbed Polish regions from Austria following the European War.
1917 Russian Empire Finland declares its independence. Recognized in the 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, although Karelia remained disputed. Crimean People's Republic declares independence but Crimean Tatar forces hold out less than a month against the Bolsheviks.
1918 Russian Empire Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, Republic of Georgia and Republic of Armenia declare independence on May 26–28. Occupied by the Soviet Russia in 1920-1921. Belarus, Livonia and Lithuania also declare independence. Ukrainian indepence recognized by a seperate Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.
1919 United Kingdom End of the protectorate over Afghanistan, when the United Kingdom accepts the presence of a Soviet ambassador in Kabul.
1921 China Communist Mongolian revolutionaries, with the help of the Red Army, expel the Chinese government presence from Outer Mongolia, and Mongolia passes into the heavy influence of the Soviet Union. Mongolia was later annexed by China in 1945.
1922 United Kingdom In Ireland, following insurgency by the Irish Republican Army, most of Ireland separates from the United Kingdom as the Irish Free State, remaining as a dominion. Northern Ireland, the north-east area of the island, remains within the United Kingdom.
Egypt is unilaterally granted independence by the United Kingdom. However, four matters (imperial communications, defence, the protection of foreign interests and minorities, as well as Sudan) remain "absolutely reserved to the discretion" of the British government, which greatly restricts the full exercise of Egyptian sovereignty.
1923 United Kingdom End of the de facto protectorate over Nepal which was never truly colonized.
1930 United Kingdom The United Kingdom returns the leased port territory at Weihaiwei to China, the first episode of decolonisation in East Asia.
1931 United Kingdom The Statute of Westminster grants virtually full independence to Canada, the Irish Free State, and the Union of South Africa when it declares the British parliament incapable of passing law over these former colonies without their own consent. Doesn't take effect over New Zealand, Newfoundland, and the Commonwealth of Australia, until independently ratified by these dominions.
1932 United Kingdom Ends its protectorate over Iraq. The United Kingdom continues to station troops in the country and influence the Iraqi government until 1958.
1934 United States Establishes the Philippine Islands into a Commonwealth under the provisions of the Philippine Independence Act. Abrogates Platt Amendment, which gave it direct authority to intervene in Cuba.
1941 France Lebanon declares independence, effectively ending the French protectorate (previously together with Syria) - it is recognized in 1943.
1942 United Kingdom Australia ratifies the Statute of Westminster.
1944 Denmark Following a plebiscite, Iceland formally becomes independent from Denmark on June 17, 1944.
1945 Japan After surrender of Japan, Korea is occupied by the United States.
After surrender of Japan, Mengjiang, Manchukuo and Taiwan are returned to China.
France Vietnam declares independence, but France does not recognize it until 1954.
Netherlands Indonesia declares independence, which the Netherlands does not recognize until December 1949.
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.