Self-Determination - Decolonization and self-determination

The principle of self-determination fared considerably better in other areas of the world. In effect, what World War I did for Eastern Europe, World War II accomplished in Asia and Africa. Between 1946 and 1960, thirty-seven new nations emerged from colonial status in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Roosevelt's efforts to implement the concept of self-determination were augmented enormously—indeed, decisively—by the rising tide of nationalism on these continents. Nevertheless, the United States was again beset with the problem of balancing its conflicting interests and its conflicting principles. As Cordell Hull wrote in his memoirs, the prime difficulty generally with regard to Asian colonial possessions was to induce the colonial powers—principally Britain, France, and the Netherlands—to adopt American ideas with regard to dependent peoples. Yet they could not be pressed too far without jeopardizing the very close cooperation the United States sought with them in Europe. Fortunately for Roosevelt's objectives, the movement for national self-determination in Asia and Africa was greatly accelerated by the quick, total collapse of French resistance to German aggression and the Japanese conquest and "liberation" of European colonial possessions in the Far East.

These events profoundly changed the attitudes of the Asian and African masses. Moreover, Roosevelt himself sought to exert a beneficial influence on his allies. For instance, despite suggestions that the date for granting full independence in the Philippines be postponed as a consequence of the ravages of war and the cooperation of prominent Filipinos with the Japanese, the United States kept its promise and the islands became independent on 4 July 1946. Nor did Britain, in its old liberality and realistic wisdom, attempt to restore its Asian empire. From 1947 it brought to fulfillment the work of true liberation that had started throughout the empire even before World War I. France, resenting its humiliation in World War II and seeking to restore old imperial glory, deeply resented Anglo-American accommodation to changing reality. Britain was held responsible for France's loss of Syria and Lebanon, and American greed or innocence—or perhaps a combination of both—was suspected of being behind the national liberation movements in Indochina and North Africa. Yet the American conflict of principles was revealed by the fact that France fought wars in Indochina and Algeria with the help of American arms and money.

On the other hand, the United Nations Charter reflected both the triumph of Wilson's concept of self-determination and the change in international relations that had occurred during the intervening years. Whereas the Covenant of the League of Nations ultimately had no references to the concept of national self-determination, the charter of the United Nations mentioned it three times. However, the charter did not insist on independence, but spoke only of self-government. The principle of federation was more promising than that of national independence. What was essential in the democratic tradition—and here the charter drew largely from Wilsonian thought—was not national independence but self-government, government based upon the consent of the governed, and respect for the equality of the peoples involved. After 1960 the right of colonial peoples to self-determination and independence was reaffirmed almost annually by the General Assembly of the United Nations.

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