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Decolonization (or decolonisation) is the undoing of colonialism, where a nation establishes and maintains dependent territory (courial governments). The Oxford English Dictionary defines decolonization as "the withdrawal from its colonies of a colonial power; the acquisition of political or economic independence by such colonies." It can be understood politically (attaining independence, autonomous home rule, union with the metropole or another state) or culturally (removal of pernicious colonial effects.) The term refers particularly to the dismantlement, in the years after World War II, of the colonial empires established prior to World War I throughout the world.
The United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization has stated that in the process of decolonization there is no alternative to the colonizer's allowance of self-determination, but in practice decolonization may involve either nonviolent revolution or national liberation wars by pro-independence groups. It may be intramural or involve the intervention of foreign powers acting individually or through international bodies such as the United Nations. Although examples of decolonization can be found as early as the writings of Thucydides, there have been several particularly active periods of decolonization in modern times. These are the breakup of the Spanish Empire in the 19th century; of the German, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and Russian Empires following World War I; of the British, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Belgian and Italian colonial empires following World War II; of the Russian Empire successor union following the Cold War; and others.
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Decolonization is a political process, frequently involving violence. In extreme circumstances, there is a war of independence, sometimes following a revolution. More often, there is a dynamic cycle where negotiations fail, minor disturbances ensue resulting in suppression by the police and military forces, escalating into more violent revolts that lead to further negotiations until independence is granted. In rare cases, the actions of the pro-independence movements are characterized by nonviolence, with the Indian independence movement led by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi being one of the most notable examples, and the violence comes as active suppression from the occupying forces or as political opposition from forces representing minority local communities who feel threatened by the prospect of independence. For example, there was a war of independence in French Indochina, while in some countries in French West Africa (excluding the Maghreb countries) decolonization resulted from a combination of insurrection and negotiation. The process is only complete when the de facto government of the newly independent country is recognized as the de jure sovereign state by the community of nations.
Independence is often difficult to achieve without the encouragement and practical support from one or more external parties. The motives for giving such aid are varied: nations of the same ethnic and/or religious stock may sympathize with the people of the country, or a strong nation may attempt to destabilize a colony as a tactical move to weaken a rival or enemy colonizing power or to create space for its own sphere of influence; examples of this include British support of the Haitian Revolution against France, and the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, in which the United States warned the European powers not to interfere in the affairs of the newly independent states of the Western Hemisphere.
As world opinion became more pro-independence following World War I, there was an institutionalised collective effort to advance the cause of decolonization through the League of Nations. Under Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, a number of mandates were created. The expressed intention was to prepare these countries for self-government, but are often interpreted as a mere redistribution of control over the former colonies of the defeated powers, mainly Germany and the Ottoman Empire. This reassignment work continued through the United Nations, with a similar system of trust territories created to adjust control over both former colonies and mandated territories.
In referendums, some colonial populations have chosen to retain their colonial status, such as Gibraltar and French Guiana. There are even examples, such as the Falklands War, in which an Imperial power goes to war to defend the right of a colony to continue to be a colony. Colonial powers have sometimes promoted decolonization in order to shed the financial, military and other burdens that tend to grow in those colonies where the colonial governments have become more benign.
Decolonization is rarely achieved through a single historical act, but rather progresses through one or more stages of decolonization, each of which can be offered or fought for: these can include the introduction of elected representatives (advisory or voting; minority or majority or even exclusive), degrees of autonomy or self-rule. Thus, the final phase of decolonisation may in fact concern little more than handing over responsibility for foreign relations and security, and soliciting de jure recognition for the new sovereignty. But, even following the recognition of statehood, a degree of continuity can be maintained through bilateral treaties between now equal governments involving practicalities such as military training, mutual protection pacts, or even a garrison and/or military bases.
There is some debate over whether or not the Americas can be considered decolonized, as it was the colonist and their descendants who revolted and declared their independence instead of the indigenous peoples, as is usually the case. Furthermore, included in this list of states where "decolonization" has not occurred as per the ideas reflected above are Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Great Britain's Thirteen North American colonies were the first to break from the British Empire in 1776, and were recognized as an independent nation by the Treaty of Paris in 1783 after Britain's defeat at the hands of American militias and the French. The United States of America was the first European colonial entity to achieve independence and the first independent nation in the Americas.
With the invasion of Spain by Napoleon in 1806, the American colonies declared autonomy and loyalty to the King Fernand VII. The Contract was broken and the regions of the Spanish Empire had to decide whether to show allegiance to the Junta of Cadiz (the only territory in Spain free from Napoleon) or have a junta (assembly) of its own. The economic monopoly of the metropolis was the main reason why many countries decided to become independent from Spain. In 1809, the independence wars of Latin America begun with a revolt in La Paz, Bolivia. In 1807 and 1808 the Vice Royalty of the River Plate was invaded by the English, after their 2nd defeat a Frenchman called Santiague de Liniers was proclaimed new Vice Roi by the local population, and later accepted by Spain. In May 1810 in Buenos Aires a Junta was created but in Montevideo it wasn't recognized by the local government who followed the authority of the Junta of Cadiz, the rivalry between the 2 harbors was the main reason for the distrust between the 2 cities. During the next 15 years, the Spanish and Royalist on one side, and the rebels fought in South America and Mexico. Numerous countries declared their independence. In 1824, the Spanish forces were defeated in the Battle of Ayacucho. The mainland was free and in 1898, Spain lost Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Spanish American War, Puerto Rico became a Colony of the U.S.A. but Cuba was independent in 1902.
A number of peoples (mainly Christians in the Balkans) previously conquered by the Ottoman Empire were able to achieve independence in the 19th century, a process that peaked at the time of the Ottoman defeat in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78.
In the wake of the 1798 French Invasion of Egypt and its subsequent expulsion in 1801, the commander of an Albanian regiment, Muhammad Ali, was able to gain control of Egypt. Although he was acknowledged by the Sultan in Constantinople in 1805 as his pasha, Muhammad Ali was in reality monarch of a practically sovereign state.
The Greek War of Independence (1821—1829) was fought to liberate Greece from a three centuries long Ottoman occupation. Independence was secured by the intervention of the British and French navies and the French and Russian armies, but Greece was limited to an area including perhaps only one-third of ethnic Greeks, that later grew significantly with the Megali Idea project. The war ended many of the privileges of the Phanariot Greeks of Constantinople.
Following a failed Bulgarian revolt in 1876, the subsequent Russo-Turkish war ended with the provisional Treaty of San Stefano established a huge new realm of Bulgaria including most of Macedonia and Thrace. The final 1878 Treaty of Berlin allowed the other Great Powers to limit the size of the new Russian client state and even briefly divided this rump state in two, Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia, but the irredentist claims from the first treaty would direct Bulgarian claims through the first and second Balkan Wars and both World Wars.
The independence of the Principality of Montenegro from the Ottoman Empire was recognized at the congress of Berlin in 1878. However, the Montenegrin nation has been de facto independent since 1711 (officially accepted by the Tsardom of Russia by the order of Tsar Petr I Alexeyevich-Romanov. In the period 1795-8, Montenegro once again claimed independence after the Battle of Krusi. In 1806, it was recognized as a power fighting against Napoleon, meaning that it had a fully mobilized and supplied army ( by Russia, trough Admiral Dmitry Senyavin at the Bay of Kotor ). In the period of reign of Petar II Petrović-Njegoš, Montenegro was again colonized by Turkey, but that changed with the coming of Knyaz Danilo I, with a totally successful war against Turkey in the late 1850s ending with a decisive victory of the Montenegrin army under Grand Duke Mirko Petrović-Njegoš, brother of Danilo I, at the Battle of Grahovac. The full independence was given to Montenegro, after almost 170 years of fighting the Turks, Bosniaks, Albanians and the French (1806-1814) at the Congress of Berlin.
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 World War II, 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.
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 responsibity 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 World War II allowed India, in addition to various other European colonies, to take advantage of the postwar chaos that had began 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 push back the British and create an independent India 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.
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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 American Indians, France, 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 and other states like France and the UK from acquiring new colonies in the mainland, yet the French were allowed to support the Mexican monarchy and the Spaniards 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.
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." The end of World War II saw America producing 46% of the world's GDP, but pouring billions of dollars into the Marshall Plan and restoring independent (if anti-Communist) democracies in Japan and West Germany. The post-war period also saw America push hard to accelerate decolonialization and bring an end to the colonial empires of its Western allies, most importantly during the 1956 Suez Crisis, but American military bases were established around the world and direct and indirect interventions continued in Korea, Indochina, Latin America (inter alia, the 1965 occupation of the Dominican Republic), Africa, and the Middle East to oppose Communist invasions and insurgencies. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the United States has been far less active in the Americas, but invaded Afghanistan and Iraq following the September 11 attacks in 2001, establishing army and air bases in Central Asia.
Japan had gained several substantial colonial concessions in east Asia such as Taiwan and Korea. Pursuing a colonial policy comparable to those of European powers, Japan settled significant populations of ethnic Japanese in its colonies while simultaneously suppressing indigenous ethnic populations by enforcing the learning and use of the Japanese language in schools. Other methods such as public interaction, and attempts to eradicate the use of Korean, Hokkien, and Hakka among the indigenous peoples, were seen to be used. Japan also set up Imperial universities in Korea (Keijo Imperial University) and Taiwan (Taihoku University) to compel education.
World War II gave the Japanese Empire occasion to conquer vast swaths of Asia, sweeping into China and seizing the Western colonies of Vietnam, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Burma, Malaya, Timor and Indonesia among others, albeit only for the duration of the war. An estimated 20 million Chinese died during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1931–1945). Following its surrender to the Allies in 1945, Japan was deprived of all its colonies. Japan further claims that the southern Kuril Islands are a small portion of its own national territory, colonized by the Soviet Union.
After World War I, the colonized people were frustrated at France's failure to recognize the effort provided by the French colonies (resources, but more importantly colonial troops - the famous tirailleurs). Although in Paris the Great Mosque of Paris was constructed as recognition of these efforts, the French state had no intention to allow self-rule, let alone grant independence to the colonized people. Thus, nationalism in the colonies became stronger in between the two wars, leading to Abd el-Krim's Rif War (1921–1925) in Morocco and to the creation of Messali Hadj's Star of North Africa in Algeria in 1925. However, these movements would gain full potential only after World War II. The October 27, 1946 Constitution creating the Fourth Republic substituted the French Union to the colonial empire. On the night of March 29, 1947, a nationalist uprising in Madagascar led the French government headed by Paul Ramadier (Socialist) to violent repression: one year of bitter fighting, 11,000-40,000 Malagasy died. On May 8, 1945, the Sétif massacre took place in Algeria.
In 1946, the states of French Indochina withdrew from the Union, leading to the Indochina War (1946–54) against Ho Chi Minh, who had been a co-founder of the French Communist Party in 1920 and had founded the Vietminh in 1941. In 1956, Morocco and Tunisia gained their independence, while the Algerian War was raging (1954–1962). Similarly, a decade earlier, Laos and Cambodia achieved independence in order for the French to focus to keeping Vietnam. With Charles de Gaulle's return to power in 1958 amidst turmoil and threats of a right-wing coups d'état to protect "French Algeria", the decolonization was completed with the independence of Sub-Saharan Africa's colonies in 1960 and the March 19, 1962 Evian Accords, which put an end to the Algerian war. The OAS movement unsuccessfully tried to block the accords with a series of bombings, including an attempted assassination against Charles de Gaulle.
To this day, the Algerian war — officially called until the 1990s a "public order operation" — remains a trauma for both France and Algeria. Philosopher Paul Ricœur has spoken of the necessity of a "decolonization of memory", starting with the recognition of the 1961 Paris massacre during the Algerian war and the recognition of the decisive role of African and especially North African immigrant manpower in the Trente Glorieuses post–World War II economic growth period. In the 1960s, due to economic needs for post-war reconstruction and rapid economic growth, French employers actively sought to recruit manpower from the colonies, explaining today's multiethnic population.
The Soviet Union sought to effect the abolishment of colonial governance by Western countries and replace it with the rule of a local Communist Party under the influence of the Soviet Union, either by direct subversion of Western-leaning or -controlled governments or indirectly by influence of political leadership and support. Many of the revolutions and civil war of this time period were inspired or influenced in this way. The conflicts in Vietnam, Nicaragua, Congo, and Sudan, among others, have been characterized as such.
Most Soviet leaders expressed the Marxist-Leninist view that imperialism was the height of capitalism, and generated a class-stratified society. It followed, then, that Soviet leadership would encourage independence movements in colonized territories, especially as the Cold War progressed. Though this was the view expressed by their leaders, such interventions can be interpreted[who?] as the expansion of Soviet interests, not just as aiding the oppressed peoples of the world. Because so many of these wars of independence expanded into general Cold War conflicts, the United States also supported several such independence movements in opposition to Soviet interests.
Nikita Khrushchev's famous shoe-banging incident occurred in the context of a United Nations debate on colonialism in 1960. After Khrushchev had decried western colonialism, Filipino delegate Lorenzo Sumulong accused him of hypocrisy, claiming that the Soviet Union was at that time doing exactly the same thing to the countries of Eastern Europe. Khrushchev then reportedly became enraged and theatrically banged his shoe on the table while berating Sumulong as a "toady of imperialism," though accounts of the incident differ.
The term "Third World" was coined by French demographer Alfred Sauvy in 1952, on the model of the Third Estate, which, according to the Abbé Sieyès, represented everything, but was nothing: "...because at the end this ignored, exploited, scorned Third World like the Third Estate, wants to become something too" (Sauvy). The emergence of this new political entity, in the frame of the Cold War, was complex and painful. Several tentatives were made to organize newly independent states in order to oppose a common front towards both the US's and the USSR's influence on them, with the consequences of the Sino-Soviet split already at works. Thus, the Non-Aligned Movement constituted itself, around the main figures of Jawaharlal Nehru, the leader of India, Sukarno, the Indonesian president, Josip Broz Tito the Communist leader of Yugoslavia, and Gamal Abdel Nasser, head of Egypt who successfully opposed the French and British imperial powers during the 1956 Suez crisis. After the 1954 Geneva Conference which put an end to the First Indochina War, the 1955 Bandung Conference gathered Nasser, Nehru, Tito, Sukarno, the leader of Indonesia, and Zhou Enlai, Premier of the People's Republic of China. In 1960, the UN General Assembly voted the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. The next year, the Non-Aligned Movement was officially created in Belgrade (1961), and was followed in 1964 by the creation of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) which tried to promote a New International Economic Order (NIEO). The NIEO was opposed to the 1944 Bretton Woods system, which had benefited the leading states which had created it, and remained in force until 1971 after the United States' suspension of convertibility from dollars to gold. The main tenets of the NIEO were:
The UNCTAD however wasn't very effective in implementing this New International Economic Order (NIEO), and social and economic inequalities between industrialized countries and the Third World kept on growing throughout the 1960s until the 21st century. The 1973 oil crisis which followed the Yom Kippur War (October 1973) was triggered by the OPEC which decided an embargo against the US and Western countries, causing a fourfold increase in the price of oil, which lasted five months, starting on October 17, 1973, and ending on March 18, 1974. OPEC nations then agreed, on January 7, 1975, to raise crude oil prices by 10%. At that time, OPEC nations — including many who had recently nationalised their oil industries — joined the call for a New International Economic Order to be initiated by coalitions of primary producers. Concluding the First OPEC Summit in Algiers they called for stable and just commodity prices, an international food and agriculture program, technology transfer from North to South, and the democratization of the economic system. But industrialized countries quickly began to look for substitutes to OPEC petroleum, with the oil companies investing the majority of their research capital in the US and European countries or others, politically sure countries. The OPEC lost more and more influence on the world prices of oil.
The second oil crisis occurred in the wake of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Then, the 1982 Latin American debt crisis exploded in Mexico first, then Argentina and Brazil, which proved unable to pay back their debts, jeopardizing the existence of the international economic system.
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The following list shows the colonial powers following the end of hostilities in 1945, and their colonial or administrative possessions. The year of decolonization is given chronologically in parentheses.
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A non-exhaustive list of assassinated leaders would include:
Due to a common history and culture, former colonial powers created institutions which more loosely associated their former colonies. Membership is voluntary, and in some cases can be revoked if a member state loses some objective criteria (usually a requirement for democratic governance). The organizations serve cultural, economic, and political purposes between the associated countries, although no such organization has become politically prominent as an entity in its own right.
|Former Colonial Power||Organization||Founded|
|United Kingdom||Commonwealth of Nations||1931|
|Spain & Portugal||Latin Union||1954|
|Organization of Ibero-American States||1991|
|Portugal||Community of Portuguese Language Countries||1996|
|Russia||Commonwealth of Independent States||1991|
|Freely Associated States||1982|
|Netherlands||De Nederlandse Taalunie||1980|
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There is quite a bit of controversy over decolonisation. The end goal tends to be universally regarded as good, but there has been much debate over the best way to grant full independence.
John Kenneth Galbraith argues that the post–World War II decolonization was brought about for economic reasons. In A Journey Through Economic Time, he writes, "The engine of economic well-being was now within and between the advanced industrial countries. Domestic economic growth — as now measured and much discussed — came to be seen as far more important than the erstwhile colonial trade.... The economic effect in the United States from the granting of independence to the Philippines was unnoticeable, partly due to the Bell Trade Act, which allowed American monopoly in the economy of the Philippines. The departure of India and Pakistan made small economic difference in the United Kingdom. Dutch economists calculated that the economic effect from the loss of the great Dutch empire in Indonesia was compensated for by a couple of years or so of domestic post-war economic growth. The end of the colonial era is celebrated in the history books as a triumph of national aspiration in the former colonies and of benign good sense on the part of the colonial powers. Lurking beneath, as so often happens, was a strong current of economic interest — or in this case, disinterest."
In general, the release of the colonized caused little economic loss to the colonizers. Part of the reason for this was that major costs were eliminated while major benefits were obtained by alternate means. Decolonization allowed the colonizer to disclaim responsibility for the colonized. The colonizer no longer had the burden of obligation, financial or otherwise, to their colony. However, the colonizer continued to be able to obtain cheap goods and labor as well as economic benefits (see Suez Canal Crisis) from the former colonies. Financial, political and military pressure could still be used to achieve goals desired by the colonizer. Thus decolonization allowed the goals of colonization to be largely achieved, but without its burdens.
Decolonization is not an easy matter in colonies where a large population of settlers lives, particularly if they have been there for several generations. This population, in general, may have to be repatriated, often losing considerable property. For instance, the decolonisation of Algeria by France was particularly uneasy due to the large European and Sephardic Jewish population (see also pied noir), which largely evacuated to France when Algeria became independent. In Zimbabwe, former Rhodesia, president Robert Mugabe has, starting in the 1990s, targeted white African farmers and forcibly seized their property. In some cases, decolonisation is hardly possible or impossible because of the importance of the settler population or where the indigenous population is now in the minority; such is the case of the British population of the Cayman Islands, the Russian population of Kazakhstan, and the immigrant communities of the Americas.
In this chronological overview, not every date is indisputably the decisive moment. Often, the final phase, independence, is mentioned here, though there may be years of autonomy before, e.g., as an Associated State under the British crown. For such details, see each national history.
Furthermore, note that some cases have been included that were not strictly colonized but rather protectorate, co-dominium, lease.... Changes subsequent to decolonization are usually not included; nor is the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
|1776||Great Britain||Thirteen colonies of British America declare their independence a year into a general insurrection. Recognized by Great Britain in 1783 at the Treaty of Paris.|
|1803||France||The French Empire sells Louisiana to the United States for ₣78 million.|
|1804||France||After initially revolting only to restore French control, Saint-Domingue declares its independence as Haiti. Recognized by France in 1825 in exchange for a ₣150 million indemnity, financed through French banks.|
|1810||Spain||West Florida declares independence, but is almost immediately annexed by the United States as part of Orleans Territory under its claims from the Louisiana Purchase. Annexation recognized by Spain in 1819.|
|1811||Spain||Paraguay achieves independence. Recognized by Spain in 1880.|
|Venezuela declares its independence. During its revolution, first yields, then joins Gran Colombia, before seceding to achieve independence in 1830.|
|Cartagena declares its independence. Cundinamarca and the United Provinces of New Granada followed suit in 1813. Briefly retaken by Spain, saved by Simon Bolivar and united as Colombia in 1821. Panama seceded 1903.|
|1815||Spain||The Federal League declares its independence of the restored Spanish crown, after having successfully revolted against Napoleonic Spain in 1811. Attacked by Portugal, some provinces united with the future Argentina; others, after a protracted struggle, successfully formed Uruguay in 1828. Recognized by Spain in 1870.|
|1816||Spain||The United Provinces of South America formally declare their independence of the restored Spanish crown, after having successfully revolted against Napoleonic Spain in its name in 1810. Became Argentina in 1826. Recognized by Spain in 1859.|
|1818||Spain||Chile declares its independence of the restored crown, after having unsuccessfully revolted against Napoleonic Spain in its name in 1810. Recognized by the Spanish in 1844.|
|1819||Spain||The Adams-Onís Treaty cedes Florida (also called East Florida) to the United States in exchange for US cession of its claims to Texas under the Louisiana Purchase and in exchange for settling $5 million of its residents' claims against Spain.|
|1821||Spain||Following a failed liberal insurrection in New Spain, the colony declares its independence as the Mexican Empire after a liberal mutiny succeeds in Spain. Recognized by Spain in 1836. Texas independent in 1836, annexed to the United States in 1845. Upper California and New Mexico lost to the United States in 1848.|
|Chiapas and then all of Guatemala declares its independence as part of the Mexican Empire. Independent from Mexico in 1823 as the Federal Republic of Central America. Divided into Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Guatemala in 1838; remnant renamed El Salvador in 1841.|
|Santo Domingo declares independence as Spanish Haiti, requests union with Gran Colombia, and is swiftly overrun by Haiti. It will achieve independence in 1844 only to restore Spanish rule in 1861.|
|A Chilean expeditionary force declares the independence of Peru. Bolivia formed from Upper Peru in 1825. Recognized by Spain in 1879.|
|Ottoman Empire||Greece revolts. Recognized by the Porte in 1832 in the Treaty of Constantinople.|
|1822||Spain||Quito declares independence as a part of Gran Colombia. Independent from Colombia as Ecuador in 1830. Recognized by Spain in 1840.|
|Portugal||Brazil, long the seat of the Portuguese royal government, declares independence under a rogue prince after the king returns to Lisbon. Recognized by Portugal in 1825.|
|1847||United States||Liberia declares its independence as an organized nation.|
|1852||Ottoman Empire||Montenegro declares its independence. Recognized in 1878 at the Congress of Berlin. Voluntarily united with Serbia as Yugoslavia in 1918.|
|1864||Great Britain||The United States of the Ionian Islands, a majority Greek protectorate, peaceably united with modern Greece by the Treaty of London.|
|1865||Spain||Santo Domingo regains independence as the Dominican Republic after four years as a restored colony.|
|1867||Russia||The Russian Empire sells Alaska to the United States for $7.2 million. Attained statehood on January 3, 1959.|
|1867||Great Britain||The United Kingdom grants autonomy to Canada. This is popularly considered Canada's independence day, but Britain retained legal powers over Canada until 1931, and a role in Canada constitutional law until 1982.|
|1868||Spain||Cuba briefly declares itself independent before being reconquered.|
|1869||Ottoman Empire||Serbia declares its full independence from the Ottoman Empire. Recognized in 1878 at the Congress of Berlin. Renamed Yugoslavia in 1918.|
|1877||Ottoman Empire||The United Principalities of Romania declare their independence. Recognized in 1878 at the Congress of Berlin.|
|1898||Spain||The United States (barred from annexing Cuba itself by the Teller Amendment) forces Spain to abjure its own claims to the island in the Treaty of Paris ending the Spanish-American War. Various other Spanish colonies are purchased for $20 million, including the Philippines, which are granted independence in 1934.|
|1902||United States||Cuba granted independence. Guantanamo Bay is leased in perpetuity as a US Naval base.|
|1908||Ottoman Empire||Bulgaria, largely autonomous since the Congress of Berlin, declares itself fully independent of the Ottoman Empire.|
|1912||Ottoman Empire||Albania declares independence. Recognized in the 1913 Treaty of London.|
|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 Germany, Austria, and Hungary following World War I and from Soviet Russia and Soviet Ukraine after the Polish-Soviet 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. Wolga Tatars declare independence of the Idel-Ural State, other ethnic groups including Volga Germans join them. Kazaks declare independence of the Alash Autonomy.|
|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. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania also declare independence. Occupied by the Soviet Union from 1940 to 1991.|
|Austria-Hungary||Bohemia, Moravia, and sections of Silesia, Galicia, and Hungary declare their independence as Czechoslovakia. Recognized in the Treaty of Trianon in 1920. Slovakia independent from 1939 to 1945. Carpathian Ruthenia independent in 1939, eventually annexed to Ukraine. Secession of Slovakia in 1993.|
|Croatia-Slavonia and Dalmatia declare their independence as the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs and swiftly unites with Serbia as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes which later became Yugoslavia.|
|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 recognized by the United Nations in 1961.|
|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 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 League of Nations Mandate 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 mandate (previously together with Syria) - it is recognized in 1943.|
|1941||Italy||Ethiopia, Eritrea & Tigray (appended to it), and Italian Somaliland are taken by the Allies after an uneasy occupation of Ethiopia since 1935-36, and no longer joined as one colonial federal state; the Ogaden desert (disputed by Somalia) remains under British military control until 1948.|
|1942||United Kingdom||Australia ratifies the Statute of Westminster.|
|1944||Denmark||Following a plebiscite, Iceland formally becomes an independent republic on June 17, 1944.|
|1945||Japan||After surrender of Japan, Korea is occupied by the Soviet Union and 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.|
|1946||United States||The treaty of Manila is signed, effectively ending over 350 years of foreign domination in the Philippines. United States military bases continued to be stationed in the islands.|
|United Kingdom||The former emirate of Transjordan (present-day Jordan) becomes an independent Hashemite kingdom when the United Kingdom relinquishes UN trusteeship.|
|France||The former Mandate of Syria becomes an independent Republic.|
|1947||United Kingdom||New Zealand ratifies the Statute of Westminster.|
|United Kingdom||The British government leaves British India, which is partitioned into the secular Republic of India and the Muslim state of Pakistan (the eastern half of which will later become independent as Bangladesh).|
|1948||United Kingdom||In the Far East, Burma and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) become independent. In the Middle East, the state of Israel is formed less than a year after the British government withdraws from the Palestine Mandate; the remainder of Palestine becomes de facto part of the Arab states of Egypt (Gaza strip) and Transjordan (West Bank).|
|United States||Republic of Korea is established in the southern part of the Korean peninsula.|
|Soviet Union||Democratic People's Republic of Korea is established in the northern part of the peninsula.|
|1949||United Kingdom||The Dominion of Newfoundland joins Canada.|
|France||Laos becomes independent.|
|Netherlands||The Netherlands recognises the sovereignty of Indonesia following an armed and diplomatic struggle since 1945.|
|1951||Italy, United Kingdom||The Mandate of Eritrea is given by the British to Ethiopia.|
|Italy, France, United Kingdom||Libya becomes an independent kingdom.|
|1952||United States||The U.S. government [argues that] Puerto Rico in the Antilles becomes a self-governing Commonwealth associated to the U.S. through the creation of the 1952 Constitution for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, which stands as a bilateral pact between two nations. This issue has been under review by the United Nations Special Committee, who continue to urge the United States to expedite self-determination processes for the island.|
|1953||France||France recognizes Cambodia's independence.|
|1954||France||Vietnam's independence recognized, though the nation is partitioned. The Puducherry enclave is incorporated into India. Beginning of the Algerian War of Independence|
|United Kingdom||The United Kingdom withdraws from the last part of Egypt it controls: the Suez Canal zone.|
|1955||United States||The Bell Trade Act is repealed, providing a more independent market for the Philippines. The Laurel–Langley Agreement is signed to take its place.|
|1956||United Kingdom||Anglo-Egyptian Sudan becomes independent.|
|France||Tunisia and the sherifian kingdom of Morocco in the Maghreb achieve independence.|
|Spain||Spain-controlled areas in Morocco become independent.|
|1957||United Kingdom||Ghana becomes independent, initiating the decolonisation of sub-Saharan Africa.|
|The Federation of Malaya became independent.|
|1958||France||Guinea on the coast of West Africa is granted independence.|
|United States||Signing of the Alaska Statehood Act by Dwight D. Eisenhower, granting Alaska the possibility of the equal rights of statehood|
|United Kingdom||UN trustee, the United Kingdom, withdraws from Iraq, which becomes an independent Hashemite Kingdom (like Jordan, but soon to become a republic through the first of several coups d'état).|
|1959||United States||Hawaii becomes the fiftieth state in the United States.|
|1960||United Kingdom||Nigeria, British Somaliland (present-day northern Somalia), and most of Cyprus become independent, though the UK retains sovereign control over Akrotiri and Dhekelia. As the State of Somaliland, the former British Somaliland protectorate merges a few days afterwards with the newly independent Trust Territory of Somalia (the former Italian Somaliland) to form the Somali Republic.|
|France||Benin (then Dahomey), Upper Volta (present-day Burkina Faso), Cameroon, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Gabon, the Mali Federation (split the same year into present-day Mali and Senegal), Mauritania, Niger, Togo and the Central African Republic (the Oubangui Chari) and Madagascar all become independent.|
|Belgium||The Belgian Congo (also known as Congo-Kinshasa, later renamed Zaire and presently the Democratic Republic of the Congo), becomes independent.|
|1961||United Kingdom||Tanganyika (formerly a German colony under UK trusteeship, merged to federal Tanzania in 1964 with the island of Zanzibar, formerly a proper British colony wrested from the Omani sultanate); Sierra Leone, Kuwait and British Cameroon become independent. South Africa declares itself a republic.|
|Portugal||The former coastal enclave colonies of Goa, Daman and Diu are taken over by India.|
|1962||United Kingdom||Uganda in Africa, and Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean, achieve independence.|
|France||End of Algerian War, Algeria becomes independent.|
|Belgium||Rwanda and Burundi (then Urundi) attain independence through the ending of the Belgian trusteeship.|
|New Zealand||The South Sea UN trusteeship over the Polynesian kingdom of Western Samoa (formerly German Samoa and nowadays called just Samoa) is relinquished.|
|1963||United Kingdom||Kenya becomes independent.|
|Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah (North Borneo) formed Malaysia with the independent Federation of Malaya. Singapore became independent of Malaysia two years later.|
|Netherlands||Netherlands New Guinea occupied by Indonesia.|
|1964||United Kingdom||Northern Rhodesia declares independence as Zambia and Malawi, formerly Nyasaland does the same. The Mediterranean island of Malta becomes independent.|
|1965||Southern Rhodesia (the present Zimbabwe) declares independence as Rhodesia, but is not recognized. Gambia is recognized as independent. The British protectorate over the Maldives archipelago in the Indian Ocean is ended.|
|1966||In the Caribbean, Barbados and Guyana; and in Africa, Botswana (then Bechuanaland) and Lesotho become independent.|
|1967||On the Arabian peninsula, Aden colony becomes independent as South Yemen, to be united with formerly Ottoman North Yemen in 1990–1991.|
|1968||Mauritius and Swaziland achieve independence.|
|Portugal||After nine years of organized guerrilla resistance, most of Guinea-Bissau comes under native control.|
|Spain||Equatorial Guinea (then Rio Muni) is made independent.|
|Australia||Relinquishes UN trusteeship (nominally shared by the United Kingdom and New Zealand) of Nauru in the South Sea.|
|1971||United Kingdom||Fiji and Tonga are given independence|
|Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and seven Trucial States (the same year, six federated together as United Arab Emirates and the seventh, Ras al-Kaimah, joined soon after) become independent Arab monarchies in the Persian Gulf as the British protectorates are lifted.|
|Pakistan||Bangladesh achieves independence from Pakistan with the military help of India.|
|1973||United Kingdom||The Bahamas are granted independence.|
|Portugal||Guerrillas unilaterally declare independence in the Southeastern regions of Guinea-Bissau.|
|1974||United Kingdom||Grenada in the Caribbean becomes independent.|
|Portugal||Guinea-Bissau on the coast of West-Africa is recognized as independent by Portugal.|
|United States||The Laurel–Langley Agreement is repealed by Ferdinand Marcos.|
|1975||France||The Comoros archipelago in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa is granted independence.|
|Portugal||Angola, Mozambique and the island groups of Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe, all four in Africa, achieve independence. East Timor declares independence, but is subsequently occupied and annexed by Indonesia nine days later.|
|Netherlands||Suriname (then Dutch Guiana) becomes independent.|
|Australia||Released from trusteeship, Papua New Guinea gains independence.|
|1976||United Kingdom||Seychelles archipelago in the Indian Ocean off the African coast becomes independent (one year after granting of self-rule).|
|Spain||The Spanish colonial rule de facto terminated over the Western Sahara (then Rio de Oro), when the territory was passed on to and partitioned between Mauritania and Morocco (which annexes the entire territory in 1979), rendering the declared independence of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic ineffective to the present day.|
|1977||France||French Somaliland, also known as the "French Territory of the Afars and the Issas" (after its dominant ethnic groups), the present Djibouti, gains independence.|
|1978||United Kingdom||Dominica in the Caribbean and the Solomon Islands, as well as Tuvalu (then the Ellice Islands), all in the South Sea, become independent.|
|1979||United States||Returns the Panama Canal Zone (held under a regime sui generis since 1903) to the republic of Panama.|
|United Kingdom||The Gilbert Islands (present-day Kiribati) in the South Sea as well as Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Saint Lucia in the Caribbean become independent.|
|1980||Zimbabwe (then [Southern] Rhodesia), already independent de facto, becomes formally independent. The joint Anglo-French colony of the New Hebrides becomes the independent island republic of Vanuatu.|
|1981||Belize (then British Honduras) and Antigua & Barbuda become independent.|
|1982||Canada gains full independence from the British parliament with the Canada Act.|
|1983||Saint Kitts and Nevis (an associated state since 1963) becomes independent.|
|1984||Brunei sultanate on Borneo becomes independent.|
|1986||Australia and New Zealand become fully independent with the Australia Act 1986 and The New Zealand Constitution Act 1986.|
|1990||South Africa||Namibia becomes independent from South Africa.|
|United States||The UN Security Council gives final approval to end the U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific (dissolved already in 1986), finalizing the independence of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, having been a colonial possession of the empire of Japan before UN trusteeship.|
|1991||Soviet Union||Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Turkmenistan become independent from the Soviet Union.|
|1991||United States||U.S. forces withdraw from Subic Bay and Clark Air Base in the Philippines ending major U.S. military presence, which lasted for almost a century.|
|1993||Ethiopia||Eritrea, a former Italian colony declares independence and is subsequently recognized.|
|1994||United States||Palau (after a transitional period as a Republic since 1981, and before part of the U.S. Trust territory of the Pacific) becomes independent from its former trustee, having been a mandate of the Japanese Empire before UN trusteeship.|
|1997||United Kingdom||The British dependent territory of Hong Kong is given to People's Republic of China.|
|1999||Portugal||Macau is given to People's Republic of China. It is the last in a series of coastal enclaves that militarily stronger powers had obtained through treaties from the Qing Empire which ruled China. Macau, like Hong Kong, is not organized into the existing provincial structure applied to other provinces of the People's Republic of China, but is guaranteed an autonomous system of government within the People's Republic of China as a "Special Administrative Region" or S.A.R.|
|2002||Indonesia||East Timor formally achieves independence after a transitional UN administration, three years after Indonesia ended its quarter-century occupation of the former Portuguese colony.|
|2011||Sudan||South Sudan formally achieves independence.|
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